Housing the poor through transnational philanthropy: The case of GK Canada and GK Villages in the Philippines

This case study, led by Arnisson Andre Ortega, will examine the transnational connections that GK-Canada has forged both in Canada and in the Philippines, and interrogate how these ventures have enabled the construction of GK villages in the Philippines.

For two decades, Gawad Kalinga (“To Give Care”) or GK has emerged as a major development organization with an aim to fight poverty. Initially, GK was a ministry of Catholic group Couples for Christ (CFC) and was primarily focused on providing housing for the poor. Eventually, GK diversified its operations and has now included livelihood training programs for its communities, among other projects. With its emphasis on philanthropy and volunteerism, GK promotes a distinct developmental philosophy that infuses Filipino values with efforts to alleviate poverty and promote nation-building.  GK’s success in the Philippines relies heavily on its transnational connections, primarily with overseas Filipinos. By cultivating a sense of returning “service” back to the homeland, GK has mounted a global movement that is able to raise millions of dollars to fund relief operations and organize volunteer programs that provide free labor in the construction of thousands of houses.

This study examines GK Canada’s role in the construction and sustenance of GK villages in the Philippines. With the Philippines’ huge housing backlog and a real estate boom that is restructuring urban and rural landscapes of the country, GK villages provide an alternative mode of housing for the poor. Given this context, the study asks the following questions: (1) How has GK shaped the discourse of “nation-building” and poverty alleviation in the Philippines since it started in the 1990s? (2) What kinds of connections and networks were forged by GK and GK-Canada in building and sustaining GK Villages in the Philippines? More specifically, how do transnational connections and activities impact everyday life in GK Villages? (3) How effective are GK villages in ensuring security of tenure among relocated residents and long-term success of livelihood programs?