What follows is a set of extracts from a study on migrant workers in Asia, a population group particularly badly affected by poverty. The study was conducted by ASPBAE and the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA). It examines the impact of education programmes on alternative investments from Migrant Savings Funds and poverty reduction.

ASPBAE/Migrant Forum in Asia

The Impact of MSAI Adult Education Programme on Poverty Reduction

Poverty in many regions of the world is a problem on a massive scale, growing numbers of children pushed out of learning, and exclusion of vulnerable groups from wealth distribution – despite our knowledge of the economic, social and personal benefits that accrue from investment in education. We have also witnessed a growing feminization of poverty in the last decade, and are faced with the danger that today’s imbalance of wealth and resources and human degradation caused by poverty will become tomorrow’s cause of conflict between and within nations.

UIE – UNESCO Institute for Education, Nurturing the treasure, Vision and Strategy 2002-2007


Many Asian economies are benefited by the employment of foreign workers. In most developing countries in Asia, such as in South and Southeast Asia, there is a surplus of labour for various skills that developed countries seek. On the other hand, many North Asian economies such as Japan and the New Industrializing Countries (NICs) are experiencing demographic changes such as a growing elderly population and zero population growth which are causing labour shortages and a strong demand for foreign workers.

But due to the nature of demographic changes and to changes in the industrial production systems, overseas work continues to be risky though quite beneficial for migrant workers. How then can migrant workers from the ‘South’ translate their comparative advantage of youth, skill, flexibility, and vigour to rapid savings and capital formation in the ‘North’ so that these could be transformed into capital for enterprise in the ‘South’, initiate production there, create business opportunities and jobs so that the highly risky export of labour can be mitigated?

This is the problem that many Migrant Workers associations and non-government organizations have grappled with since the 1990s.

Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments (MSAI) is a deliberate strategy by a small but growing number of migrant worker advocate groups in Asia for poverty reduction in the South. Since 1994, these advocate groups have developed deliberate education courses which study the problems of migrant workers, and encourage savings mobilization and entrepreneurship among migrant workers and their families. Many migrant workers are in jobs that require knowledge and skills that are lower than what they trained for, e.g. teachers becoming domestic workers, doctors becoming nurses, engineers becoming construction workers or assistants all because salary differentials are wide between sending and host countries. The transformation of migrants from their previous jobs to their new jobs, the transformation of their status, requires significant innovations in education work.

Education has to include not only general awareness of migration issues, health security, human rights but also income generation, and empowerment of women to deal with various new situations migrants face.

After ten years or so, it is apparent that there are more advocates of MSAI throughout Asia; that education courses have multiplied the number of migrant savers; that investments from migrant savings is growing; that incomes have increased among migrant workers and their families; that migrant savings have created new jobs, and stimulated local economies; that among migrant workers and their families poverty has been reduced.

These are what this research paper seeks to substantiate.

The research was concentrated in two countries which have significant numbers of migrant workers – the Philippines and Indonesia. The two countries have been selected on the basis of the length of time that migrant savings and alternative investment courses have been implemented since 1994. Samples of migrant worker communities were chosen on the basis of the presence of migrant worker advocate groups. Data gathering was, however, conducted in the Philippines and Hong Kong among Indonesian migrant workers.

Executive Summary

In order to gather data about the impact of adult education courses on poverty reduction in developing countries given the limited time provided, two countries were chosen – the Philippines and Indonesia. However, because of the difficulty of convening migrant worker families in one concentrated area in Indonesia, the research team, which was based in the Philippines, decided to conduct data gathering on Indonesia in Hong Kong instead where Indonesian savers had started to conduct their own enterprises back home in Indonesia.

The specific communities to be surveyed were determined by the presence of migrant savings groups or members of their families, where education work had been conducted and where investments had been made in enterprises by migrant workers or the members of their families. These communities were in Davao City in the southern Philippines where migrant savings and alternative investment groups had been in existence since 1997 through Unlad Kabayan; and in Cotabato City where a mixed group of market vendors (MUKRISVA) had organized themselves and had started investing in micro enterprises before 2002. This market vendors´ association was also served by Unlad Kabayan from its base in Davao City. The third community was of Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong who belonged to the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU). This group had been in existence since the year 2000. The IMWU was assisted by the Asian Migrant Center (AMC) both in union education as well as in Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments.

The group of investors in Davao City were part of a migrant family association, UDAMIFAMCO, which had availed of credit from migrant savings groups overseas and from Unlad Kabayan. As a prerequisite for their loans, the members participated in a series of education courses on migration and entrepreneurship. The group of investors in Cotabato City was part of a long-standing vendors´ association displaced by armed conflict in the rural areas. The vendors´ association was made up of mainly Muslim refugee families eking out an existence in the public market of Cotabato City. A group of seafarers from the area who were based in the Netherlands (called PASALI) but who were from Cotabato City or who had relatives there, provided the means for the vendors to receive credit for enterprises. The members of the association who were beneficiaries of credit also went through education courses conducted both by the association and through Unlad Kabayan. Most of the members used loans for buying and selling fish, vegetables, fruit and used clothes in the public market.

A uniform questionnaire was prepared for all three areas, which sought to gather basic data about the individual (migrant or migrant family member) who had participated in savings education and in entrepreneurship education. Thirty-five (35) questions were asked. These questions were divided into four sections namely–

a) personal information
b) migration information
c) information on education and training
d) economic and business profile information

The instruments were served by a trained group of enumerators, organized by the migrant workers advocate groups in their particular areas of responsibility – Unlad Kabayan in Davao City; MUKRISVA in Cotabato City; and a team of Unlad Kabayan enumerators and Indonesian union officers in Hong Kong.

A total of seventy-seven (77) respondents returned their questionnaires. The responses were tallied, tabulated and analyzed. Significant information derived from the research was presented to a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) made up of a section of the respondents for validation. Case studies were made of significant enterprise projects in Davao City and Hong Kong. These case studies are presented separately as appendices in order to provide flesh on the bone of the education efforts.

Secondary data was used in order to provide background information on the macro level (Asia and country situation); as well as on the micro community level.

The Education Courses

The education courses used by the migrant workers and their families were varied in form, content, methodologies and objectives. However, they were all common in the sense that the curricula were jointly formulated through the participation of the various groups involved – Unlad Kabayan, MUKRISVA, AMC and the IMWU, which all belonged to the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) network of cooperating agencies or family of migrant advocate groups. The curricula were formulated to respond to specific needs which beneficiaries raised.

There was an MSAI orientation course which provided an overview of international labor migration; a rationale for the MSAI strategy and programme; a rationale for savings mobilization; and a presentation of the services offered by various participating groups.

There was a secondary course on Entrepreneurship and Business Planning which delved into basic theory and practice of entrepreneurship, the characteristics of entrepreneurs, identifying business opportunities, drawing up a business plan of production and marketing, and developing an effective production organization structure.

There was a combined course on Credit Management, Financial Placement and Savings Mobilization which responded to various needs of advocate groups involved in assisting migrant workers and their families manage their savings and credit.

And there were specific education courses for book-keeping and the like specifically addressed to individual rather than group needs.

The education courses were carefully designed according to the expressed needs of clients. They deliberately focused not on those who had business experience, but rather on members of the family of migrant workers, who were poor and marginalized in respect of credit access. They sought to develop savings consciousness, introduce practical approaches to savings, strengthen the means to sustain livelihoods, create jobs and increase incomes.

The Target Groups

The education courses were addressed to migrant workers, most of whom were women as can be seen by the predominant gender composition of respondents which was 80 to 92% women. They were addressed particularly to women in vulnerable jobs such as domestic workers in Hong Kong and returned migrants in Davao who had mostly been working as entertainers in Japan. The beneficiaries of credit and Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments were poor people, vendors, and Moro (Muslim) relatives of migrant workers. It was addressed to primarily those with low salaries of US$ 100-300 per month. The target groups among men also belonged to high-risk groups, men in hazardous jobs such as seafarers.

The Enterprises

The enterprises that were engaged in by migrant workers and members of their families varied from marginal trading (buying and selling in the public market), which was true for all respondents in Cotabato; but also medium food manufacturing enterprises such as noodle manufacturing and contract poultry growing in Davao City. The enterprise in Indonesia engaged in by an association of migrant worker investors was livestock (cattle) raising.

The Impact on Poverty

The survey established that poverty or lack of sustainable incomes at home pushed many migrants to work overseas. 63.3% of respondents in Cotabato said inadequate incomes pushed them or their relatives to work overseas. 51.9% of Indonesian respondents confirmed that in Hong Kong and 85% of respondents in Davao confirmed that the reason for them and their relatives working overseas was ‘to earn a bigger income’. The survey established the growing popularity of savings among Indonesians in Hong Kong and growing use of migrant savings funds in Davao and Cotabato. More significantly, among the Indonesian respondents and in Davao, monthly and annual remittances and savings were substantial. Incomes earned overseas were definitely bigger than what respondents or their migrant relatives received before they went overseas. Respondents in Cotabato who were able to access credit funds from migrant savings sources for their micro businesses certainly were thankful that they could simply start a business where there was no previous income otherwise. The period of the accessing of loans, which is two years in the Cotabato case, cannot show a significant long term trend on reduction of poverty as yet. But being able to earn an income where none existed previously is evidence per se that there is an improvement in livelihood and in life in general. To the question, ‘to what extent can social improvement be attributed to adult education in general and Migrant Savings for Alternative Investments in particular?’, the survey establishes that there is a correlation between access to credit funds and adult education, in the sense that attendance at education meetings is a prerequisite for receiving credit funds from migrant savings in the cases of Davao and Cotabato. Finally, enterprise development has enabled migrants and members of their families to create between one and five jobs at home. This was confirmed by 40% of respondents in Cotabato, 35% in Davao and 55.6% in Hong Kong.

Problems and Recommendations

The results of the survey indicate that adult education in MSAI reduces the poverty of the respondent migrant or member of his/her family but that the impact of adult education on poverty reduction is uneven. The factors that contribute to the impact of adult education on poverty alleviation are – the willingness of the respondent to learn entrepreneurship, the competence of the educators, the means to monitor the development of enterprises and to make corrections and intervention, the maturity of the trainee and the amount of available capital and support services made available to entrepreneurs. 70% of respondents in Davao considered the MSAI education programme ‘good’; 66.7% of respondents in Cotabato who attended Entrepreneurship rated their education ‘good’; and 55% of respondents in Hong Kong rated their education on entrepreneurship ‘good’ while 14.8% rated the course ‘excellent’.

The survey also established through FGD and interviews with teachers- facilitators of education programmes that education work is quite labor-intensive. In the cases of Davao and Cotabato, teacher-facilitators had to continue to monitor and appraise enterprise development as a means of evaluating the effectiveness of MSAI education. A teacher-facilitator in Davao said that the ‘coaching’ or “mentoring” parts of the education programme were much more taxing than the education seminar itself. Beyond the theoretical input in seminars, the supervision and ‘mentoring’ of individual entrepreneurs in their localities in a ‘master-apprentice’ relationship was demanding but much sought after.

In an effort to institutionalize education for entrepreneurship, and based on its regular assessment of the effectiveness of education programmes, Unlad-Kabayan has developed the operational strategy called SEEDS (Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Services). This is designed as a community based education and business incubation center to educate and train migrants and members of their families and the community.

Seeing that the education courses received by respondents are only two to four years old at the maximum, more innovations in the content and methodologies of the education courses are to be expected in the future.

Credits and Acknowledgements

The Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) and the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) wish to thank the follwing:
The Research Team: Noel Villalba, Benilda Flores, Enrico Manuel 
Davao student interns: Deverly Suarez, Erwin Bolastig, Narfe Ramillete. 
MUKRISVA: Mukamad Kosain, Marinel Ty, Zacaria Abdula, Nasser Kosain. 
IMWU: Nurul 
Writer – Noel C. Villalba
 Unlad Kabayan, Asian Migrant Center and all the respondents for their contributions to this study.

Adult Education and Development


DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

To interactive world map

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.