CEBU, Philippines — Twenty-five Filipino returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spontaneously rose to cheer and shout for joy when I read the online newspaper account to them April 1.

The newspaper article outlined the announcement by President Gordon B. Hinckley during the recent General Conference of the church about a new educational loan fund called the Perpetual Education Fund. According to the announcement, the fund will provide educational assistance to returned missionaries in many Third World countries.

The students to whom I read the article are well aware of the need for such a program. They are students at the Academy for Creating Enterprise, which my wife Bette and I started 17 months ago with the help of compassionate donors who saw, with us, the need to do something about the growing unemployment problem among the returned missionaries here.

More than anyone else, these students are excited about the new loan program because they know firsthand the real-world challenges it has been designed to address.

During our time here in the Philippines, we have taught nearly 175 returned missionaries how to create their own jobs. We have learned that it isn't enough to have a college degree here — 62 percent of our students have degrees; they just can't get a job. So we teach the students how to use their degrees to create their own small business.

Our students live at the academy for eight weeks and learn business subjects ranging from negotiating to niche marketing. They also learn how to do simple income statements and keep accurate records so they can make wise business decisions.

There is also instruction on how to use computers, how to write business memos, how to speak business English, how to hire and train others — even how to drive.

Siegfred Mejia, 35, a returned missionary and former bishop in the LDS Church, was laid off from a private school where he taught for eight years. He was unemployed for 11 months prior to attending the academy. After graduation, he received a microcredit loan from a Filipino nonprofit lender to help him start the Bountiful Preschool, and on March 28 he held his own school's first graduation ceremony. "I knew I wanted to run my own school," Mejia said, "but I didn't know how until I was trained at the academy."

Shiela Gusay and Ursula Lucenta both hold pharmacist degrees but had trouble finding jobs. "I wanted to start a pharmacy but was scared because I didn't know anything about business," Gusay said . Putting into practice the business principles they learned at the academy, she and Lucenta have now started very small but profitable pharmacies in their hometowns, where they are making enough money to be self-reliant.

These success stories are not unusual. Eighty-six percent of our graduates, who were not earning any income

when they enrolled, are now earning money either through getting a job or through starting their own businesses. I believe the Perpetual Education Fund will experience similar success by allowing area administrators to direct funds into the educational opportunities most needed by returned missionaries.

Now that the students will be able to borrow from the Perpetual Education Fund, we believe we can educate even more than 125 returned missionaries a year. As it is, most of the costs to attend the academy are paid by donations from LDS entrepreneurs, who, like us, believe the most effective escape from poverty is through creating one's own job and, eventually, a business.

And that truly is something to stand up and cheer about.


Stephen W. Gibson is associated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at Gibsw@aol.com.