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Organizing in Disaster-Vulnerable Environments: Emerging Role of Grassroots, Entrepreneurs, and Corporate Players in Resilience Building

To create resilient communities in disaster-vulnerable environments, the ‘big vision’ for the research community is to tell the multiple narratives of the private actors helping make the Philippines resilient. The goal is to have an organic interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder, and representative network of private actors who can openly exchange knowledge and collaborate on impact-oriented projects on disaster resilience through research, capacity building, mentorship, and/or white papers.

This is the core discussion during a round table discussion in the 6th National Business and Management Conference.

The main objective of the round table discussion was to bring together various stakeholders beyond the academia to discuss the ongoing efforts of private actors in resilience building, and consequently to identify areas of collaboration between the academia and the private actors.

Representatives from the government, the civic community, private sector, and the academia were present, with the following members leading the discussions:

  • Angelo Hernan Melencio, Consortium Manager, Tuklas Innovation Labs PH
  • Carl Vincent Caro, Geo-Hazard and Spatial Information Manager, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation
  • Veronica Gabaldon, Executive Director, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation
  • Trina Aspuria, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation
  • Edwin Pasahol, Senior Trade and Development Specialist, Department of Trade and Industry – Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development
  • Rachel Quiero, Associate Professorial Lecturer, Management and Organization Department – De La Salle University
  • Raymond Paderna, Assistant Professorial Lecturer, Decision Sciences and Innovation Department – De La Salle University

There is an increasing need to highlight the self-organizing capacity of communities during disasters. The ability of communities to address their constraints and come up with innovative solutions during disasters have been highlighted in management and disasters literature. This is further reinforced by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) (2015-2030), which highlights the importance of a systemic approach to DRR with emphasis on the take-up of responsibility of all stakeholders beyond national and local government. The core rationale for the round table discussion is that while the government is responsible, it is not solely responsible for making the country resilient to disasters.

The tangible target is to create a sub-center on resilient organizing under the Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD). The sub-center will be focused on knowledge creation that is grounded on the experience of private actors. To begin the work on creating the sub-center, the round table will serve as the impetus for engaging the stakeholders.

The key questions for the round table discussion thus center on: (a) who the private actors are, (b) what their respective roles are, (c) how their role may be leveraged in making the country resilient to disasters, and (d) what themes the research community should be tackling to help them in their respective roles.

The representatives surfaced the insights below, which are deemed to be actionable items from the side of the research community:

  • It is important to clarify that there is already an existing platform that already allows an exchange among the non-government sector (note that instead of using the term ‘private actors’, ‘non-government sector’ is the current nomenclature used to describe non-government actors that are engaged in DRR. An example of the platform is Connecting Business Initiative (CBI). On that note, there is no need to make multi-sector platforms redundant. Instead, it is highly encouraged to use existing platforms, which the research community can join.
  • Another non-government actor that can be included in the discussions is the media.
  • The non-government sector possesses rich data which may be made accessible to the academia. The private sector specifically hosts data that is largely available to the academia. The research community, however, can leverage its position by subjecting the data into analysis, and consequently contributing to the generalization of findings at both the data and analytical levels. To this end, the non-government sector expressed the need to go beyond descriptions and existing indicators.

The most critical point that was raised includes an identification of research themes that the non-government sector deems most helpful for their existing initiatives. The following are the themes/topics identified by the non-government sector:

  • What new designs can we contemplate for greater magnitude of hazards, i.e. earthquakes?
  • What kind of ‘futures’ should the community anticipate, and how can that knowledge be used to prepare for resilience?
  • What is the media’s role in the post-truth era? How can the role of media be leveraged to safeguard the truth?
  • How can we continue to close the gap between the existing disconnection between practice and theory in disaster management?
  • How can we espouse culture-sensitive interventions in disaster management? An example raised in this regard involves the ‘death of bayanihan’ due to incentivization/monetization of volunteerism in local communities.
  • What is the role of innovation in disaster resilience, and how can the Philippines leverage the transformative capacity of innovation? This relates to the position of the Philippines as continuously being ranked within Top 10 of most vulnerable nations to natural and man-made hazards. Can the Philippines move back on the vulnerability scale if it can harness its innovative capacity?
  • How can we understand better the ‘resilient-seeking behavior’ of policy-makers? What goes into the policy formulation, community-level interventions, and business continuity initiatives? How do we understand them beyond the policy rhetoric?
  • What are the implications of existing regulations, e.g. Safety Law, in resilience building?
  • Considering that the Philippines is a religious country, faith-based organizations have played a role in disaster management. On that note, it would be interesting to explore the role they play in resilience building.

The roundtable discussion concluded with notes on the plans to establish the sub-center for Organizing in Disaster Environments under the institutional umbrella of CBRD. Exchange of contact details was also encouraged, so that whenever there are events or opportunities to collaborate, every member can reach out. Likewise, if the non-government sector finds the need to commission studies, they can contact CBRD.

From corporate to social entrepreneurship: The ups and downs of Erika Valerie Ng Wong

Erika Valerie Ng Wong is a corporate-woman-turned-social-entrepreneur who partners with farmers in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm (GKEF) and the nearby community to create dairy products from carabao milk. Her past experience in the corporate world left her questioning her personal role in society. She knew she had to do something to help address social problems. That was also when she discovered the Social Business Summit in GKEF, which talked about how a new breed of businesses called social enterprises. These businesses are socially-innovative and tackle core social issues such as poverty and employment.

In our interview with Ms. Wong, we highlight the steps she went through from being a corporate woman to slowly scaling her social enterprise Karabella Dairy.

What happened after you joined the Social Business Summit? What drove you to continue your path as a social entrepreneur?

I was so inspired after the summit. At that time, I just went to GKEF once a month during weekends, because I still had my corporate job. Every time I went there, I sit in during their discussions and meetings. At that time, the management meetings were still very informal. The farm was also not a VAT-registered entity yet; it was more of a foundation, so it wasn’t profit-generating. Then, there was this time when they were looking for social entrepreneurs interested in ice cream because, before, there was this social enterprise called Cream of the Crop, which suddenly disappeared. Their concept was focused on partnering and working with dirty ice cream manufacturers.

Did you have a specific objective that time?

At that time, I really wanted to become a social entrepreneur. So whatever I was assigned to, I was willing to take that on. Eventually, I decided to be a social entrepreneur, and so I joined the countryside fair. They had me buy a tub of ice cream, specifically dirty ice cream from local manufacturers, which was around P900 each. It was very expensive.

At that time, we had different flavors including watermelon, salabat, and coffee. I found myself asking, why dirty ice cream? I decided to visit the community that produces this type of ice cream. There, I found that the facilities and equipment are usually placed in the middle of the squatters’ area, and there were no walls. I asked my friends from engineering how to make the dirty ice cream business into a food-grade level business. They said that it’s important to build walls, tile the floors, and place a sink for sanitation purposes. When we estimated the costs, it turned out that I needed a million pesos in capital investment. That includes only the facility. To create the set-up, I used my savings from my corporate stint.

Initially, however, I thought that the business model was not entirely feasible. There was a time wherein I discovered that, underneath the machine being used to make ice cream, there were hair and even shards of glass. My community partner showed it to me.

At that point, I told myself that I can’t work with them anymore. I revisited the business plan and looked at it on a macroeconomic scale. I was able to use the different templates from my college classes in economics and business. While researching, I found out that 98.8% of the dairy products in the Philippines is imported. Almost all the brands in the market are imported, but packaged locally. That’s also when I discovered Fonterra, the fourth largest dairy industry in the world, which is also a cooperative. Their shareholders were farmers, and they’re based in New Zealand. They also have cooperatives in China. I told myself I wanted to emulate Fonterra’s practice, but I’ll focus on carabao milk, mostly because of the poor farmers commonly associated with it.

I researched about carabao milk, and found that it is richer in terms of nutrients as compared to cow’s milk. I was raised with cow’s milk, so I don’t know much about carabao’s milk. People who came from the province—they’re the ones who know more about carabao’s milk. That’s when I thought to myself that I wanted to champion carabao’s milk. I formed my vision, and that is to be the supplier and processor of carabao milk. From there, I eventually created a full line of dairy products like ice cream that are made of carabao milk.

How do you measure your enterprise’s social impact?

For now, it’s more of how much salary we are able to give to the community partners and how many liters of milk we buy at prices higher than the market value. Usually that’s how we do it, because we haven’t thoroughly studied how we would measure our social impact. Eventually, what we plan to do is that we can buy the milk at even higher prices. It still depends. We will still undergo studies. On top of the P75 cost of milk, we’re planning that to include what would go to the SSS contributions and PhilHealth of farmers, among others.

Do you have any tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

It’s very difficult, because it’s a constant battle. There are days when it can get very depressing, but at the end, you should always ask yourself why you are doing it in the first place. What for? Why did I start this? What gives me inspiration are the people who work with me in the GKEF community. On the other hand, you need to make sure that the farmers are taken care of, and that they will still be there in the next generations to come. If not, there will be much less production of food, and many people would starve. That’s what the GKEF is breeding — a generation of social entrepreneurs and farmers.