Non-profit insights: The art of financial frugality

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In Alexa Mira Society (AMSI), we started to become more conscious in our spending this year. Ever since starting the planning stages in April 2019, we have been spending only around P100k. It baffles me how other organizations spend P100k on a single day.

I think it’s a matter of trying to understand that funneling in hundreds and thousands of money in a program does not necessarily mean you are creating genuine, social impact. Sometimes, frugality with spending can have its positive impacts as well–at times even greater impact.

It’s also about transparency and spending money wisely. As much as possible, we only spend for the things that are really needed on every program day, such as food and honorarium for speakers, among others.

Here, I will share some small practices that our organization does, that thankfully led to positive financial results so far.

Spreading out the program outline

For one, our programs are not a one-time, big-time thing. It’s spread out across the year. This is also one way to keep the programs sustainable and attuned to the practical needs of the community.

For this year, we focused on two main programs. I think this helped us narrow down our focus, so that the funds that get funneled are centered around these two main programs. I think it also helped that we have a small community of five families.

As much as possible, we were also frugal with the expenses on every program day. We don’t really need too much money to move forward and progress–we just need the appropriate amount of money to keep the program going. I think this is a very important lesson for many non-profits. While we are not experts on this aspect, we try our best with what we have.

Funding and grants are also not easy to come by all the time, so we really have to be wise in spending money.

Having a minimalist approach

Having only what you really need is the basic premise of minimalism. In non-profits, I think the same perspective applies.

Being a small organization, we really have to make do with what we have and unleash our creativity around that. In another blog post, I shared how creativity helped us in AMSI.

More than just lessening expenses, minimalism in non-profits means that you only spend on what is essential for the community. You don’t need too much to begin with. You just need a few, well-selected things that could help in the long-term sustainability of the organization and community.

While we are small, I hope other non-profits learn a thing or two from our experiences at AMSI.

Non-profit insights: The art of financial frugality

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In Alexa Mira Society (AMSI), we started to become more conscious in our spending this year. Ever since starting the planning stages in April 2019, we have been spending only around P100k. It baffles me how other organizations spend P100k on a single day.

I think it’s a matter of trying to understand that funneling in hundreds and thousands of money in a program does not necessarily mean you are creating genuine, social impact. Sometimes, frugality with spending can have its positive impacts as well–at times even greater impact.

It’s also about transparency and spending money wisely. As much as possible, we only spend for the things that are really needed on every program day, such as food and honorarium for speakers, among others.

Here, I will share some small practices that our organization does, that thankfully led to positive financial results so far.

Spreading out the program outline

For one, our programs are not a one-time, big-time thing. It’s spread out across the year. This is also one way to keep the programs sustainable and attuned to the practical needs of the community.

For this year, we focused on two main programs. I think this helped us narrow down our focus, so that the funds that get funneled are centered around these two main programs. I think it also helped that we have a small community of five families.

As much as possible, we were also frugal with the expenses on every program day. We don’t really need too much money to move forward and progress–we just need the appropriate amount of money to keep the program going. I think this is a very important lesson for many non-profits. While we are not experts on this aspect, we try our best with what we have.

Funding and grants are also not easy to come by all the time, so we really have to be wise in spending money.

Having a minimalist approach

Having only what you really need is the basic premise of minimalism. In non-profits, I think the same perspective applies.

Being a small organization, we really have to make do with what we have and unleash our creativity around that. In another blog post, I shared how creativity helped us in AMSI.

More than just lessening expenses, minimalism in non-profits means that you only spend on what is essential for the community. You don’t need too much to begin with. You just need a few, well-selected things that could help in the long-term sustainability of the organization and community.

While we are small, I hope other non-profits learn a thing or two from our experiences at AMSI.

How (and why) minimalism can save the world

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Disclaimer: The opinions here are solely mine and I am by no means an expert in minimalism. Mainly just a passionate enthusiast.


The basic premise of minimalism is having only what you really need and understanding the purpose behind owning them.

I identify as a minimalist, but by no means am I perfect. Here, I want to share a thing or two about why I think minimalism can remove a ton of headaches.

Minimalism in relationships

The world is a noisy and highly audible place. It can be taxing for introverts like me. Luckily, we have the power ourselves to manage our relationships healthily.

You might have heard a lot from Marie Kondo’s tips. In relationships, minimalism can also be applied.

I prefer keeping and staying in touch with those who I think are real friends. Gone are the high school days where having tons of friends is the ‘cool thing’. Now, the quality in our friendships is what we should be striving for. As the world gets more and more complex, we need people who will walk the hard path with us.

By now you probably think that minimalism is “quality over quantity”. I don’t think this is necessarily so. Again, minimalism is about having only what you really need and understanding the purpose behind them. If you’re the outgoing and jolly type of person, probably having a lot of friends will work out very well for you.

Minimalism in money

This is where the “quality > quantity” argument becomes even more applicable. Minimalism doesn’t necessarily mean you should settle for less when it comes to personal finances. It actually means the exact opposite.

Minimalism is about spending your money wisely. It’s about spending it on wise purchases and investments. Get that insurance, mutual funds, business — what have you. What matters is that your money is going somewhere that it is going to grow. If you want financial independence, this is the way to go.

This is not to say that you should deprive yourself and not spend your money. By all means, find happiness also through your spendings. Personally, however, I prefer spending them on good experiences.

Minimalism on the environment

There are many subtopics under this. From the clothes we wear, food we eat, our low impact lifestyle — all of these are related with minimalism.

For one, limiting the clothes we wear has a positive and indirect impact to the environment. By having less clothes, we help lessen the production.

Another example is the type of food we eat. As much as possible, we have to understand how our food is made. Only then will we understand the kind of impacts that the global food production system is causing to the environment.

By being minimal in our purchases and choosing wisely which products to buy, we are already helping the environment. After all, the real power lies with the consumers. If we, for example, lessen our usage of plastic, then the producers should have no choice but to shift to another product line that is hopefully more eco-friendly.

At the end of the day, minimalism encompasses different areas of our lives. It’s not just about having less. It’s about understanding why we have a certain thing or person, and assessing ourselves if they are worth having in the first place.

Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #4

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I’m typing this down on my phone while commuting. Currently, the jeepney I’m riding is traversing across Gil Puyat. Later, I’ll be near Heritage Hotel where I’ll ride the jeepney going to Multinational Village where I live. Usually, this commute takes around three to four hours.

Right now I’m thinking of both positive and negative sides on this commute. The positive side is that because of the traffic, I’m able to find time to blog about it through my phone. It serves as a creative outlet rather than boring me to death while the jeepney crawls through the streets of Manila.

On the other hand, the negative side is, well, the traffic. Plus the air pollution — that’s probably the worst.

Another thing that comes to my mind when talking about traffic are private vehicles. Is it worth it to own and drive a car in Metro Manila? I can think of a few pros and cons.

Some pros:

  • Convenience
  • Mobility
  • Personal space
  • Useful for emergencies

And some cons:

  • It’s basically a liability
  • Carbon emissions
  • You’ll get stuck in traffic either way
  • Gas expenses
  • Maintenance

I still prefer using public transportation because in my experience, the cons outweigh the pros when owning a vehicle. And besides, if only we had a good public transportation system, then probably no one will need to buy a private vehicle in the first place. We’d all be taking efficient transportation that’s designed as a public good.

We don’t have that in Metro Manila though. Well, at least, “yet”.

As to when we’ll ever have efficient public transportation, it’s probably decades away.

Traffic isn’t all that bad though, at least for me. In traffic, I’m able to reflect on different kinds of things, regardless of how serious, witty, or obscure they are.

Whatever it is, traffic can be both a killer and a chance for momentary solitude. But it sure as hell not for anyone who’s not mentally prepared for it.

Also, I spent around 0.02gb trying to upload this blog post. Well, better than being bored to death, I guess.

Non-profit insights: Creativity amidst ambiguity

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I’m very proud to be working with our nanays at Alexa Mira Society (AMSI).

For the past weeks, we’ve organized several workshops in our livelihood program where we taught them positive self-image, business planning, and personal finance, among others. Looking into their eyes when I was observing the workshops — I can see a glimmer of hope. Our nanays want change, and they want it fast.

Recently, our nanays have finalized their livelihood project with that of making handmade products from crochet. They already found a supplier for their cloth. Since then, they have been experimenting on different designs and talking about their next steps forward.

What I appreciate the most is the amount of creativity and resourcefulness they’re investing into this project and the entire program of AMSI. I’m happy to know that the lessons we’re sharing with them bore fruit along the way.

This is where creativity becomes a big asset and tool in local communities.

On creativity and community building

People underestimate creativity and intuition. As human beings, I think one of our most important assets is to — at proper times — act based on our gut feel or what we sense to be right. Sometimes, our intuition tells us more about our analytical and overthinking mind.

Imagine if we build that into the community.

I believe communities are powerful. In our own community, the nanays have a voice. They use this to power through every day. They use this to fuel their creativity and resourcefulness. We ideate with them, and they execute. They move when they’re provided the proper autonomy and direction.

Everyone is creative. They just have to be given the proper chance.

Teaching ‘how to fish’

It’s common knowledge and practice that non-profit organizations spoonfeed or simply give donations to their beneficiaries. But this is not what we aim to be in AMSI.

By teaching the nanays personal and business skills, we want them to move forward on their own once we ourselves in the team are gone later down the road.

Because in life, it’s like a grand game of autonomy and just striving to be good people.

Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #3

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For the past weeks, I’ve been working in coffee shops in Intramuros while exploring places in the afternoon with my loyal and trustworthy friend Google Maps. Recently, I’ve expanded my base of operations to Binondo. Before that, however, I want to share a thing or two about the coffee shops and bars I’ve encountered in Intramuros.

Barbara’s Coffee Shop

Barbara’s Coffee Shop, I would say, is like an introduction to me of what Intramuros could offer. When I first came in, I wasn’t that comfortable yet on working with my laptop in a coffee shop. I was used to working in the office and anywhere that’s not, well, a coffee shop — because I had this notion that it’s going to be costly for me to work in such places. Well, I made the right decision, and now I’m practically working in any coffee shop I can find. (Pro tip: All I had to keep doing was buy the cheapest coffee.)

So this is why Barbara’s was a memorable coffee shop to me. I went there during the latter part of August, and since then I’ve been roaring to visit unique and independent cafes like them.

Cafe Janealo

This cafe was a pleasant surprise to me. I didn’t plan on going here. I was supposed to go to another cafe, but realized that they’re closed already. Lo and behold, when I went in Cafe Janealo, it was the fanciest cafe I’ve been to in Intramuros. For starters, I ordered their brewed coffee which comes with suman (perfect combination!). I worked there for the rest of the morning while sipping my coffee and dipping the suman into it, before I went ahead and devour the sticky rice.

Come noon, it was time for lunch. I got myself some chicken skewers. It was rather expensive, but I thought, it’s only seldom that I come to this place. People also slowly started coming in for lunch. Luckily, I was about to finish my own. I managed to fix my things, stand up, and give the table to a group of people waiting for me.

La Cathedral Cafe

This cafe is yet again another pleasant surprise. You have to see it to believe it. Recently, they announced that their balcony will be opened soon. From the balcony, you get a good view of Intramuros, most especially the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion. As usual, I bought brewed coffee and worked for the rest of the morning. During the afternoon, I had some really spicy and delicious Bicol Express. In these types of cafes, the ambiance and aura are what matter to me most.

Cioccolata Churros Cafe

Not gonna lie — this cafe didn’t really impress me that much. Maybe because I prefer dimly lit cafes, haha. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to work in because it’s well-lit and they have a good selection in the menu. Like how I usually do, I bought brewed coffee and stayed there for the rest of the morning. They didn’t serve lunch though, so I looked for nearby food stalls. Luckily, I found one place where they sell bento meals for less than P50. Quite a good deal if you ask me.

Batala Bar

This is the bar I’ve been to most recently, and probably one of my favorites. They serve mostly local craft beer, coffee, and ice cream, as well as some products from social enterprises. I gotta say, they have an awesome vibe going on in the bar. The view from the balcony of the Plaza San Luis Complex is priceless. I sat on the table near the balcony. It was one of the most peaceful working environments I’ve been to (well, as long as you’re the only one there — luckily, I was).

That’s it so far for my coffee shop/bar escapades in Intramuros. There’s more to come for sure! (I just found out a new cafe opened up in the Plaza San Luis Complex!)

Non-profit insights: Working one year into Alexa Mira Society

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Since 2018, I’ve been working part-time in a non-profit organization (NPO) called Alexa Mira Society (AMSI). We hold our programs every Saturday of the week, and focus on the kids and nanays (mothers). The tatays (fathers), unfortunately, cannot join us because in Filipino culture, the fathers work even on Saturdays to tend to their families’ needs. There is also the notion that only the nanays and kids should engage with non-profit organizations.

When I first started in AMSI, I was quite reluctant. I had typical questions going on in my mind such as “is there money here?“, “will this be worth my time?“, and “will this be fulfilling?“, among others. Looking back, I realized it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Working in a non-profit

AMSI is relatively new, so my team and I had to construct an organizational structure. It’s not yet as seamless and relatively efficient as other NPOs, but it’s been a good start so far.

I volunteered to be the project manager this year, and initially began setting our respective roles and positions. It’s been months since then, and we’re slowly learning and getting the hang of our respective tasks.

In this working environment, I learned that if you are going to build a structure in an organization, you’re going to have to work together a lot in an unstructured way. Like how you build anything in life, it starts with ambiguity and unstructured processes.

Amid this building-up process, we’ve made really good friends with each other. Today, it’s more like a siblinghood. We remain professional with the tasks, while at the same time maintaining our friendships (and having heart-to-heart conversations here and there). There’s also a strong feeling of family, and that’s something really nice to have.

Working with the community

We work with a community in Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City. One thing I learned and realized with our community is their potential and skills.

For the past weeks, we have been exposing them to a series of seminars and workshops in the livelihood program. We are doing these so that in the latter parts of the program, the nanays would be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to jump-start their own livelihood project.

The good thing is that the nanays already have an entrepreneurial mindset. My team and I were just really there to help them realize this further. Along the way, they have been conceptualizing and thinking of ways to start their next livelihood project.

The kids in our community are another unique story. Apart from being very makulit and rowdy, the kids have a lot of potential in them that we help nurture through the kids’ program. We’ve exposed them to a number of mini workshops such as urban gardening, personal finance, and arts and crafts, to name a few.

Ultimately, our goal is to help the community stand up on their own feet and earn a living for themselves. We continually instill an entrepreneurial mindset in the nanays and a creative mindset for the kids.

Much of our work has been experimental. We think that to better address the needs of our community, we need to apply a lot of creative approaches. We’re able to see the impact that we’re doing for the community, and I think that’s what matters the most.

Lifelong search for social impact

Social impact is, indeed, a complex subject to dwell upon. When we first started forming programs for AMSI, social impact is one of our main concerns.

Will the activities bring actual change in the lives of our communities? How should we measure our social impact? Are our programs tailored to their needs?

These were just some of the questions we asked. Since human development is a complex topic, what we focused on are what we are currently capable of. We started with simple social impact metrics through feedback forms and attendance sheets, among others.

There is an article by the World Economic Forum that provides a unique perspective on this topic. It tries to ask questions on who should be defining poverty and social impact, among other things, in the first place.

At the end of the day, bringing change into other people’s lives can have multiple meanings. It could be the joy you feel when you see the smile in a child, or even the increase in family income of your beneficiaries with the help of the livelihood project that your organization helped them start. Again, what matters is there is something that positively changed, because in this world, the only ever thing that’s constant (or should be constant) is change.