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Overcoming Dependency Mindset : The ABCD's Part I

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

New Orleans Coffee Import Co. is born through Episcopal church partnerships to empower smallholder coffee farmers through asset-based community development (ABCD) and to promote ABCD as an effective, life-affirming development path.

This series, The ABCD's, shares the story of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines' journey: from overcoming a dependency mindset, to pioneering a new development model, and sharing its lessons with marginalized communities.

When The Episcopal Church established itself in the Northern Philippines in 1901, it provided impoverished, indigenous communities with free food and education that instilled a sense of dependency and the idea that the Church is “a rich institution from which material benefits could be derived.” While education helped individuals enhance their skillset to improve their economic livelihood, community development remained minimal. Those educated moved to cities or abroad for higher compensation for their work, instead of reinvesting themselves in their communities; thus, the “brain drain.”

What resulted from the introduction of the Church into these once self-sustaining communities was a sense of dependency. The American Church model, along with its “costs of the structures and operates that sustained mission work or, further, the ‘cravings, desires and necessities of western civilization,’” was applied without much regard to the Philippine context. These communities couldn’t financially sustain such operations, so an annual grant subsidy from The Episcopal Church (in the USA, a.k.a - TEC) began, which remained the main source of support for the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) for 100+ years.

Crowd outside St. Mary's Episcopal Church in the Philippines

Amidst the political and economic turmoil during the 1970s and 80s, Philippines faced rising unemployment and widespread hunger; however, the ECP remained financially well-off through this annual grant. Realizing that it must act to address the country’s socio-economic challenges, ECP began to build its capacity to financially self-support and created a Development Program that housed income-generating projects, such as poultry and rice farms, a hotel, a cinema and transport lines. Most projects failed “due to technical problems, lack of management skills, poor feasibility planning, and, most significantly, the lukewarm support for these ventures from general membership.”

Water jar vendors in Sagada

For one, the Church’s image as a wealthy institution led to the projects’ demise. While most people were living in poverty, they didn’t see the need to devote time and energy to support an already-rich institution. Secondly, the development projects were seen as ends in themselves, not as a means of social transformation in overcoming dependency mindset.

From these failures (and one success - the organization of cooperatives which acted as credit unions), it learned the following lessons for grassroots economic development:

  1. Social projects need the full support of the people to succeed

  2. Full support is given only if the people have ownership of the project

  3. People’s sense of ownership over the project arises only if they are directly impacted by the project’s gains and losses

In applying these lessons, the church shifted to community-based projects that catered to needs of the people, especially in areas with “massive economic marginalization.”

The program grew to work with 200+ communities across the country on potable water and sanitation systems, agricultural support projects, irrigation systems, a cargo tram line, micro-hydro power projects and more.


  1. Quotes from The E-CARE Foundation Operations Manual

  2. Photos from


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