Earnings of migrant workers constitute a decisive factor for the subsistence of families, as well as for Indonesia’s national economy. But they are neither stable nor reliable. Feeding them into savings associations, and investing them in self-directed small enterprises, has proven to be a successful way of securing sustainable income for small scale entrepreneurs, and at the same time fostering the local economy. Unlad Kabayan works with Filipino migrant workers and has helped establish more than 700 small business enterprises. Maria Angela dlC. Villalba, UnladKabayan’s founder and executive director, tells the story.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Philippines have become the mainstays of the Philippine economy accounting for 10 % of the total population or roughly 8 million people in 2007. They are deployed in 193 countries and in ships at sea. A majority of OFWs are temporary contract workers (46.18 %) and deployed mainly in the Middle East, Japan and Hong Kong. The next largest group are permanent residents are (43.19 %) deployed mainly in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. There are an estimated 10.62 % of overseas Filipino workers who are undocumented, staying in and working in other countries without visas and work permits, mainly in the United States, Malaysia, and Europe.
The remittances of migrant workers amounted to US$18 billion in 2010 (about 10 % of GDP), compared to foreign direct investments of US$1.27 billion in the same year. OFW remittances have been considered a strategic source of income according to the government, although it is not government policy to consider migrants as a strategic economic investment.
The recent repatriation of thousands of displaced OFWs from the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring is a clear indication that banking on migrant workers as a pillar of the economy is dangerous. National growth rates since the Arab Spring and the global economic crisis have fallen drastically.
The recent trends in the global and national economy and politics and the dire impact on migrant workers have encouraged more people to get involved with Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments (MSAI) as a realistic and urgent response.
The MSAI was formulated in 1994 by the Asian Migrant Centre in Hong Kong as a proactive and empowerment-oriented strategy for migrant workers. It encouraged migrants to save and establish savings associations (savings and investment groups or SIG) and to encourage the same to invest their savings in their hometowns thus generating jobs at home which migrant workers could return to in case their work contracts are prematurely terminated, in situations of armed conflict or when the migrant worker feels that she wants to return home to start a new life at the most opportune time. The MSAI evolved as a strategy in view of the inadequacy of the traditional responses – counselling and case management, legal and paralegal assistance, language lessons to migrant workers’ problems, e.g. underpayment and non-payment of wages, physical and sexual abuse, premature termination, racism and discrimination.
The Filipino migrant population in Hong Kong at that time was about 150,000, and 95 % of them were female domestic workers. During this period, there was much unease and insecurity due to the eventual turn-over of Hong Kong to China. In other countries, migrant workers were being sent home in droves, in situations of armed conflict such as in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and in Iraq during “Desert Storm”.
The strategy called for the organization of savings associations. It started with migrants from the same origin community to organize the pool savings together and when funds mature to invest them in livelihood enterprises in their hometowns. Migrant workers on-site and members of their families at home would be trained in entrepreneurship.
Unlad Kabayan was established as the organization that would implement the strategy in the Philippines, which it began doing in 1996. (See appendix) From a strategy for productive re-integration, MSAI evolved into a broad strategy for local economy development.
To date, Unlad Kabayan has spawned 700 small entrepreneurs from savings investment groups in seven countries. The average savings of SIGs is P50,000 per member. SIGs are predominantly made up of women (64 %) who are 25-35 years old on the average. Unlad Kabayan helped build up hundreds of enterprises and developed entrepreneurs like Elsa Belarmino and Lilie Mamao.
Elsa Belarmino in her rice mill
Source: Maria Angela dlC. Villalba
“Elsa Belarmino worked as a caregiver in Taiwan. Her goal was to come home to Mainit, Surigao del Norte with capital to start a rice mill. She was fortunate to be involved in a Catholic church program for migrant workers – Hope Workers Center in Chungli, Taiwan. The center was one of the network partners of Unlad Kabayan and had embraced the Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments strategy.
She participated in preliminary education seminars for savings mobilization and promptly joined a Savings Investment Group be coming its treasurer. Her appetite to save was whetted. Her savings was only PhP150,000 when opportunity arose. She learned that the Mainit Rice Mill in her hometown went bankrupt and was up for bidding for P900,000. She convinced her savings group to invest for the initial payment to Land Bank of the Philippines. She was confident she could run the rice mill as she had learned much from her employer in Taiwan, who was also a rice trader. The savings group agreed.
After paying her placement fees, which took Elsa more than a year to negotiate, she started to seriously save. Overtime work gave Elsa additional income of NT$500 daily. She went to work saving PhP5,000 per month. While saving much of her wage, she also financed a sari-sari store in her home, which her mother ran.
Elsa won the bid and promptly came home to manage her business. The savings group continued to send investment money to rehabilitate the machines. She branched out to hog raising, selling agricultural input and renting farm machinery, to augment her income and to pay up the quarterly amortization. She continued to attend Unlad Kabayan education seminars to improve her business.
After ten years, Elsa’s children have graduated from college and her 7 year old boy is enrolled in a good school. She has also built a house for her mother. Elsa continues to run her business profitably.”
But the global crisis is sharpening the problems of the Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments.
The global and economic crisis is causing massive retrenchment and lay-offs of workers and increase in unemployment in labor receiving and sending countries alike. It has strengthened the hand of protectionism in receiving countries. Migrant workers became the first targets of massive lay-offs. More stringent immigration controls, arrest and detention of undocumented migrants, repatriation and deportation of migrants, especially in industries directly hit by the loss of investments, e.g. construction, manufacturing, electronics.
Moreover, in the last five years, the world has seen the rapid unfolding of natural disasters. The tsunami in Asia and the Pacific islands, hurricane Katrina in the US, bush fires in Australia and California and the threat of the disappearance of islands due to rising ocean levels. In November 2007, cyclone Sidr displaced 3.2 million people in Bangladesh who had to move to Dhaka or friendlier climes in India. We had our own disasters with typhoons Ondoy and Peping in 2008. And just before Christmas of 2011, typhoon Sendong (international code name Washi) claimed more than 1,200 lives and displaced almost a million people in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. In 2008 alone, 36 million people were displaced. Many of them have become “environmental refugees”.
The causes of environmental crisis are: the unregulated greed of the private sector, factories and industries, revenue from oil industries, revenue from motor vehicles. The expansion of urban settlements: flood buffer wetlands are filled to create industrial zones and residential areas. The stripping and denudation of rainfall absorbing forests by logging, mining, commercial plantations is making the earth less capable of dealing with changing amounts of rainfall and ocean rise. Over-fishing, deforestation and clearing of protective mangroves to make way for “high-value” aquaculture products.
Population growth and the scarcity of land resources are challenging an urban biased growth and development strategy. There is a concentration of businesses and social services in the urban areas such that rural areas are neglected. This leads to rural-to-urban migration and overseas migration.
The high production and consumption of consumer products lead to higher amounts of carbon emissions in developed countries and emerging markets of China and India but whose effects on global warming and climate change is global. The global financial crisis and global climate change are impacting the whole of the world’s population, but hardest hit are vulnerable populations of the poor whose only option is to move elsewhere to survive. If anything the multiple crises is bringing about a renewed affirmation of private and corporate prerogatives. There is a greater need to work together because the problems are interrelated, global and have universal effect. A new value system that looks at the good of the whole, rather than the parts, is needed. But there is a crisis of courage to enter into this new stage.
International migration is a new face for an old problem. It is, in general, a response to poverty and underdevelopment in the home country of the migrant, and a response to the labor needs or human resource need of developed host countries. International migration is a power problem.
Source: Maria Angela dlC. Villalba
International migration is a consequence of the failure of past development models. Many of the host countries for migrants are former colonial powers. Many of those who migrate are from previous colonies of the world powers. The state of underdevelopment in the South and the wealth and reach of North industrial countries are partly the result of past political and economic relationships between North and South, who were previously called, the “First World” and “Third World”.
Migrant workers are not only dealing with the immediate problems of adjusting to new work conditions and adjusting to a different culture and language in the host states, they are also part of the continuing problems of poverty in their own countries and are the direct combatants in the war against unequal relations between countries. As they try to solve problems of joblessness and low incomes in their own countries by finding jobs abroad, they must also contend with the reality of a different world view in the new workplace. Labor, a God-given right and responsibility is now a commodity that is bought and sold. There is a change of moral and ethical values which has to be addressed.
The mission of building sustainable local communities in an underdeveloped society must address the obvious – the huge cost of development. Rural enterprises cannot wait for the ideal business environment to be provided by the state, even though such is provided to multinational corporations in so called export processing zones. The “ideal” environment provided by the state includes not only physical and financial infrastructure, cheap labor and even tax breaks which benefit big corporations. The same cannot be said of small, rural enterprises, much less of social enterprises.
The enterprise itself must pay for some of the cost of underdeveloped infrastructures of the economy, such as farm to market roads, power supply, lack of water and lack of an entrepreneurial mindset in most farmers. This is said and done in the hope that the state will pay a little more attention to the poor, who pay for the cost of development on top of their taxes.
The experience of the Filipino Association for Mutual Development (FAMDev) is instructive in this regard.1 FAMDev had to purchase land to build access roads to the barangay electricity connection to the nearest line found about 500 meters away. Roads leading to the enterprises and to the community are primitive dirt roads.
Other rural enterprises, e.g. a water distribution system for drinking and irrigation, are non-existent. Product quality suffers as it is transported to the market and transport costs rise due to bad roads. The question may then be asked: Why build enterprises in the rural areas? Well, why not, if that is where the opportunity is? That is where the underdevelopment is. That is where the assets are – people and their land.
A critical aspect of global marketing is electronic advertising. But since there are no telephone connections in many rural areas, this is an advantage not available to rural enterprises there. While the state calls for local enterprises to be globally competitive, it has not provided the infrastructure (telephone access is just one of many) for rural enterprises to compete globally.
Moreover, markets and distribution centers are grossly underdeveloped. Market highways are chaotic and producers rely mainly on personal contacts. Traders and middlemen who depress prices are often the only market contacts accessible to the poor. Backyard livestock growers and rice farmers are dependent on traders and middlemen for production capital and access to the market. Households have to get organized to consolidate their production and add value to their products to increase prices or gain leverage in pricing.
The possible return of the OFW and her possible reintegration into her community was the primary rationale for the emergence of Unlad Kabayan. It is therefore a bittersweet lesson to realize that it is hard to break the cycle of migration – a cycle of dependency. Overseas migration, once considered as a stop-gap measure, has become an indispensable feature of the economy. Nowadays, the strength of the currency and health of the economy is often linked to the amount of money remitted by OFWs.
Such a dependency is mirrored at the household level of OFWs. Parents, spouses, relatives resist the idea of their OFW coming home for good. In many ways, they see them as “walking dollar”, “salvador de familia” or themselves acting like a “pensionado” and are prepared to make sacrificial lambs of them.
a) Building the minimum conditions for viable enterprises
As difficult as it is to cover major costs of development and to deal with predators on various levels, enterprises need to build minimum conditions for enterprises to operate while waiting for ideal conditions to develop. Enterprises must simply “hold the bull by the horns” or “hold the blade of the knife in order to prevent death” as they build the minimum conditions for the growth of enterprises – ready source of raw materials, competent and committed labor, reserve capital, energy sources, infrastructure and markets.
b) Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset, Spirit and Skills
Instilling the entrepreneurial mindset – with passion, perseverance, sacrificing spirit and skills is a critical need right at the beginning of a project. It takes time, lots of effort and lots of money to instil the entrepreneurial mindset among managers and workers, but this is something that cannot be postponed. In fact, this is the first and most important investment an entrepreneur must make. To learn to think and act on the job like an entrepreneur.
Transforming passive workers to entrepreneurial wealth producers requires a basic understanding on how local economies work. In the case of the Davao Oriental Coco Coir Social Enterprise (DOCHSE),2 first we needed to transform the mindsets of seasonal agricultural workers and tenants who are used to a “seasonal pace of work” to become production line workers who must deal with daily quotas of quality standard products. At another level, as stakeholders and new owners of the venture, social entrepreneurs have to broaden their understanding of economy. Whereas before, the economy was about finding work that pays somewhere, today it is about being aware of potential assets around us, figuring out factors of production, discovering markets, computing costs of materials and labor, learning about ROI, etc., through countless study meetings.
Fortunately, a manufacturing plant is able to teach practical things to farmers turned workers, in terms of production cycles, time and motion, so that they may gain a more scientific mindset. Some of them have the natural aptitude to be entre preneurs. They are the ones who get promoted to higher positions of responsibility as production team leaders and as managers.
All this demonstrates is the fact that the human element is the most dynamic and change-inducing factor in enterprise. Compared to human capital, all other requisites of development are just passive assets. The human factor makes the most difference whether a farm, a business venture or an overall development program, as the story of Lilie would show.
Lilie Mamao in her shop
Source: Maria Angela dlC. Villalba
Lilie’s story 3
Everything about Lilie Mamao is surprising. For one, her broad smile belies the street-wise Meranao entrepreneur that she is. For another, she does not know how to read or write. She does her accounting by memory and pocket calculator. And her past reads like a Greek tragedy that winds up as a Cinderella story …”and they lived happily ever after”.
She was born in the gently rolling hills that overlook Lake Lanao in a village called Munai at the height of the Meranao rebellion in 1975 in the Philippines. She was the second among 6 children. Since her infancy, she has had to be evacuated from her gentle home-turned-battlefield, to safer places. In the noise and disruptions of war, no one paid attention to her startling character as a hard-nosed refugee, breadwinner and defender of her siblings.
As culture dictated, no one really expected much from Lilie, she being a girl and not being the eldest. Few expected her to succeed in life apart from serving a future husband.
But every time people thought she would sink into the sea of poverty and deprivation, she would bubble to the surface like a life buoy, triumphant and defiant as ever.
She came from a mixed marriage, her mother being a Christian and her father a good Muslim. The couple had six children. Her mother, however, as Lilie recounts, abandoned her and her siblings for another man before Lilie was in her teens. Shortly afterwards, her father was killed in a “rido”, clan conflict, which left Lilie to take care of her four younger siblings in Iligan. The eldest went to Manila to work.
How did she manage to overcome the odds?
After her mother left her and her father died, she went to do petty trade in Iligan city. With her siblings in tow, she went to live in Saray district, in Iligan among the Muslim population, hopping from house to house of relatives.
The method was simple. She would make a product loan from a Chinese or Filipino store owner – plastic bags, flowers, fresh calamansi, salt, garments, sandals, cloth, clothing, anything she knew how to sell – and promise to deliver the sales after a week. She always did apparently, because she never ran out of lenders.
Her toughest years were spent moving between Marawi and Iligan. She would make product loans – plastic bags, salt, sandals in Iligan – and then sell them in Marawi. She would then make product loans in Marawi for calamansi, flowers, and sell them in Iligan. She remembers crying against the wind, as her tears where whipped from her face, on board a rushing jeep. Eventually, she would try working in Manila. She went to Baclaran and looked for a Chinese store that was willing to loan products:
“When I arrived in Manila alone, having left my siblings with relatives in Iligan, I did not realize how tough it would be to be alone. So I went to approach this kindly looking Chinese woman who owned a clothing store in Baclaran, in Manila. I came near her and introduced myself. I am Lilie from Lanao, I said. I would like to help you sell your products. Give me a few merchandize, pants, blouses, shoes, and I will sell this nearby or in other markets in Manila.”
Sales talk was one thing Lilie was good at. She would first get into the skin of her customer, give a good scenario that the product she was selling was right for him or her and they would buy. Her sales talk was so good, she had the shop owner trusting her in no time. And then she had a strong will, to accomplish what she had promised.
“I will hate myself if I cannot deliver on a promise. I would rather drown myself than offend a customer and come short of my promise. I hate losing the trust of people. And so, whatever it takes, I must do what I promise to do. I must deserve the trust of my partners, whoever they are.”
Lilie knows about the need to have an honorable word.
Lilie’s father was a farmer in Munai. One day, a cousin of his came to borrow his horse. He was not home when this happened. So someone in the household lent the horse to the cousin. However, that evening someone told Lilie’s father, to the effect that his cousin had stolen his horse. Who changed the story, nobody knows. But the news led the father of Lilie to kill his cousin, whom he believed had stolen his horse. Too late he realized, that there was a misunderstanding. The family of the wife of his cousin then felt compelled to restore their honor by killing Lilie’s father. “Their son was not a thief.” That is how Lilie’s father died. Lilie cried. First, her mother abandoned her and her siblings. Now her father was gone as well. But it was not as simple as that in Lanao. Someone had to take care of the honor of the family. Her father had to be avenged.
As time went by and tension rose between the two clans, some village elders suggested that Lilie and the eldest son of the slain cousin should get married and their union will ensure peace between the two clans. Lilie bristled. She said, “if you force me to marry that boy, tell him to be ready to die in his sleep, because I intend to avenge the death of my father.” The marriage never happened. Eventually, Lilie did get married to another Muslim man, who is a farmer in Pantao Ragat. He has been a good father to his three children and a good husband. They have been partners in business.
Lilie encountered Unlad Kabayan through its credit assistance program (CAP). In 2004, Unlad Kabayan and the municipal government of Linamon in Lanao del Norte, mutually agreed to cooperate with each other in helping perk up production and commerce in the municipality. The municipal government leased out a building to Unlad Kabayan so that it could reach out to the Christian and Muslim population of Linamon, and to conduct education for social entrepreneurship.
Lilie became a regular and enthusiastic participant in education programs conducted by Unlad Kabayan. The curriculum topics included: a) Understanding national and local economy: assets, opportunities, and development; savings and investment?4; and entrepreneurship; b) Building an enterprise: making a business plan; managing production, cash flow and bookkeeping; registration and legal requirements; c) Access and managing credit and savings.
Soon Lilie was keen to join a women’s group of merchants. She took out a loan of 50,000 Pesos from Unlad Kabayan which went into capitalization of her store at the Linamon public market in 2007...
Lilie has achieved much in her business plans. She has been able to send her three children to college. One of them is going to graduate in March in 2012 as a nurse. Another will become a teacher after completing his college in two years. A daughter got married at 16, and although the husband is rich, Lilie is not happy with him. But that is the business of her daughter.
She and her husband expanded their farm in Pantao Ragat. And they are building their own home. Lilie now has a stall in Linamon public market with her goods business. She also has been able to purchase a van which helps her market her goods.
When asked what was the happiest day in her life? Lilie replied:
“The happiest day in my life was when my son, who is finishing his college course in order to become a nurse, told me…’Mama, I want you to stop working. I will take care of you.’”
I turned around because I did not want my son to see the tears in my eyes. But I hid my joy from my son. I said ‘What makes you think I am willing to stop working? As long as I have strength in my body I will provide not only for you, but for your brother and your sister and for my grandchild.’ ”
She looks at the fruits of her labor and is filled with peace... Salaam.
The whole world needs to review not only economic premises but their education priorities as well. The nation’s human resource is the key contributor to development. Their potential to contribute to their own and the nation’s wellbeing and development should take priority over other concerns. In so doing, the people will be mobilized in their full capacity to establish an internally driven process of development.
It must be noted here that education for children and siblings continues to be one major reason for working abroad. Most migrant workers have faced many difficulties in accessing education services for themselves. Formal education is not only expensive, it is mostly urban-centered and tends to exclude the poor and rural people. Education should be directed to developing knowledge workers not just workers who will meet skills for the market. A new education must build a new person, for a new day.
Values and social responsibility
Entrepreneurial literacy (EL) is not yet this kind of education. What it is is an encapsulation of the courses and themes that migrant and community entrepreneurs need to learn in order to cope with the triple crises that we face today. First, values are instilled that correspond to the challenges of a world that is experiencing multiple crises. Values education has been diminished in importance because the old market values are superfluous. There is far more importance given to skills for the market as against life skills.
Non-formal education by a government body like TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) teaches skills that enhance employability in response to perceived labor demands overseas. The government’s “re-integration education courses” for migrants designed to train them to become entrepreneurs are highly publicized but they lack follow-through services. It is like land reform, you give land to tenants, but provide no capital for farming, and no infrastructure support to enable the farmer to increase productivity and market his products. It does not work.
EL imparts the need for people to value themselves as key wealth creators and appreciate the resources around them including ways of sustaining the environment that support life and nurture communities.
The ABCD (asset based community development) framework enables communities to understand the dynamics of the economy and wealth-creation and appreciate the assets and opportunities they have. This allows the people to make informed and wise decisions on whether to leave or to stay and harness local resources for wealth-creation and well-being.
The emphasis is on entrepreneurship. EL develops critical and creative thinking among participants who become conversant with the prognosis of “recovery of jobless growth”. Growth will be spurred by technology and services, while joblessness increases. Young people must become more aware that joining the labor force gives them no assurance of jobs.
Literacy course in Taiwan
Source: Maria Angela dlC. Villalba
Migrants themselves must recognize their capacity and create jobs for themselves and in community efforts to create jobs for others. The MSAI model must be taught as an alternative response to “jobless growth” strategies in many developing countries, an education framework that encourages adults and the youth to seek and create more decent work at home.
Education should increase literacy or understanding of the economy. Financial literacy is becoming a favorite topic for migrant education. On the other hand, it gives focus on how migrants and their remittances can participate in the current economic model, how they can access financial products and invest in stocks and bonds. A more holistic approach is teaching about how the economy works and how wealth is created (and distributed). As it happens, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are recent realizations in the country offered only by a precious few and expensive schools.
EL encourages a thorough review of our lifestyles and the way we use and manage natural resources on our planet, which we all share. Community resilience to natural and man-made disasters is another theme in EL. It encourages innovative and creative approaches to disaster risk reduction and mitigation. But more important is the emphasis on restoration of our natural ecosystems which is at the base and support of our economic ecosystems. Climate change adaptation has been a practical starting point but the long-term requires doing business that does no harm to people and the environment. In the words of a Filipino urban planning expert, the flooding of vast areas in the city was nature’s way of reclaiming what had always been hers. We must respect it.
Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation, Inc.
Unlad Kabayan is a socially entrepreneurial NGO that harnesses entrepreneurial skills and resources of local and migrant communities for community development. (“Unlad” is to develop, progress, or prosper. “Kabayan” is what fellow Filipinos abroad call each other).
Established in the Philippines and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) in 1996, Unlad Kabayan pioneered the innovative approach of harnessing migrant workers’ resources to bear on local economy development. Central to its mission is building decent jobs and livelihood in the homeland, helping communities collectively harness their resources so Filipinos can migrate out of choice, not out of necessity.
Unlad Kabayan partners with various sectors of society: community organizations and cooperatives, NGOs, government, financial institutions and the private sector.
The organization believes that development is achieved when people enjoy a satisfactory standard of living having opportunities and access to basic needs of food, shelter and clothing and non-material needs of education, health and general wellbeing – when people attain dignity and self-esteem as result of freedom of choice.
Entrepreneurial Literacy is a series of education-training programs that aim to shift and develop values and practices of clients from passive economic producers to entrepreneurs, conscious of their contribution to development and change in their communities.
More information on the work of Unlad Kabayan can be found on its web pages: www.unladkabayan.org
1 FAMDev Savings Association of Hong Kong bought a 5.5 hectare farm in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. An integrated bio-resource farm system was established. With the huge cost for development, other migrants and savings associations in Hong Kong, Japan and Europe invested in the farm. It is managed by Neng Taojo, a leader of the TESA (Tagum Entrepreneurs and Savers Association) one of the investors.
2 DOCHSE is a plant in San Isidro, Davao Oriental producing coco fiber (coir) from coconut husks. It was established to create local jobs and generate investments from migrants. Coir is used as insulation material for cars, etc. and as erosion control net. It is exported to China where it is further processed into mattresses replacing “Styrofoam”. DOCHSE would like to produce its own mattresses but capital for equipment is hard to come by. Migrant investments come but in trickles while banks are wary of small rural enterprises, and especially so-called “social” enterprise like DOCHSE. The enterprise provides jobs to 70 workers directly employed in the plant. Another 150 families earn additional income from selling what used to be useless coconut husk.
3 From “Fruits of our Labor” Unlad Kabayan, Quezon City, Philippines, 2011, pg 9. This book contains more stories of migrant workers who successfully became entrepreneurs.
4 The Unlad Kabayan education course is progressive, involving lecture-seminars, observation and criti
quing of businesses, making a business plan, supervised work and actual business management with
business mentoring and counseling.
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