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

Standard

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 #2

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For this particular post, I’m going to be real with you.

While being a digital nomad in the metro sounds like a pretty neat gig, it’s not that easy.

Intermittent connection

I guess this is no surprise already? What I usually do when I visit cafes is to check out the area’s signal on my phone and if it at least says “4G,” then probably the signal in that place would be fast enough for me to perform some online tasks. It pays to be observant if the signal in a particular area is decent enough.

Sometimes even 4G+ can be deceiving because it doesn’t actually provide upload or download speeds equivalent to the signal indicated.

Moreover, it also depends on your job if it would require a really fast internet connection.

I think in places like Metro Manila, the best place to go digital nomad-ing is through a work-from-home setup. This way, you somehow have an assurance that your internet connection would be stable. The reason why I go to cafes and explore from time to time is because I don’t like getting glued just to one particular place all the time.

Traffic, traffic

Digital nomads aren’t spared from the typical daily traffic that we all experience. It can be just as frustrating.

I guess the only thing I can say about this particular issue is — let’s try to keep our sanity in check with all the stressors caused by traffic problems.

A leeway to explore

Okay — something a little more positive.

When you’re a digital nomad, you have more time to explore places. For the past weeks, I’ve been working during the morning in cafes at Intramuros, and in the afternoon, I explore the old sites and museums. I haven’t thoroughly seen all the sides and corners of Intramuros, and this is absolutely something I want to continue doing along the way.

By exploring, I also mean going beyond your usual tasks. I’m also able to do volunteer work thanks to the flexibility of my regular work. Last May 2019, I was able to go to Mindanao for a volunteer engagement in peacebuilding. During down times, I was still able to perform some tasks in my regular work.

I have another volunteer engagement every Saturday in a non-profit where we execute programs in a community. These are all possible through a flexible working schedule.

I think the infrastructure and systems are still far-off for Metro Manila to become digital nomad-friendly. Internet connection is terrible, transportation system is like chopsuey, and the general work environment hasn’t really come into terms with the word ‘digital’.

Nonetheless, we’re building that up. I won’t be surprised that someday we’re also going to be a “smart” city. But we have to dig deep for our inner voices and potential.

The value of ‘baby steps’

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I’ve had this personal motto of doing things one a time. I don’t like doing several things at one moment because it ruins the quality of my work. So I do one ordinary task one at a time, with the hopes that it builds up to something relevant and impactful.

Taking your steps

Baby steps is a term that we probably hear quite often. In my own definition, it’s the habit of doing things one at a time and not overstretching yourself. It’s also a term that reminds us of our younger days when we were still trying to walk. Like a baby taking their steps, it’s akin to how we want to build up our own lives.

Our peers advice or tell us to rush and get that master’s degree, promotion, salary increase, special someone, family — what have you. But why the rush? Is it the ever-existent rat race? I think these are rubbish advice. I don’t understand the underlying motivation in those words.

So I looked onto taking baby steps. No more rushing and unhealthily pressuring ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, life is not something linear where you go a straight path. It’s an interconnected web of existence and personal discovery, loss, and rediscovery.

Taking your time

Like they say, time is our most valuable asset. When you refer to an asset, it’s something that you own and that it gives value to your life. And when you say something gives value, you hold on to that dearly. Which means — time is really the only thing we ever have.

I’ve been trying my best to manage my time wisely. I’m not an expert (is anyone really, ever an expert on time management?). I seek help whenever I have tasks that seem difficult to accomplish.

And the most important thing — it’s never really too late. Society gives us the illusion that you need to accomplish this or that at a particular age. But again, what are the underlying motivations for these words? We see so many people fulfilling their dreams at a very old age. It’s never really too late.

Taking your sanity

And of course — our sanity. We can accomplish so much in life and excel in virtually anything we put our minds into. But we also have to take care of our mental health. I think our mental health should be one of our biggest investments in life. We should nurture and make it grow in a positive light. We should ask for help whenever we can.

Whoever said life is easy? The fact that it’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous makes it exciting. But we have to find our safe space, search for our personal mission, and sustain our mental health along the way.

Can work from home help solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem?

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That’s a rather simplistic question, but let’s think about this for a moment.

For one, work from home is obviously not for every type of job. It works well for certain jobs on digital marketing, social media, project management, and many others that require just your hands, head, laptop, and internet connection. But it won’t work well with jobs that require labor-intensive or human-to-human interactions like therapy or behavioral counseling.

Working from home, on the other hand, would eliminate the need to ride everyday a vehicle or public transportation to go to work. It would help reduce traffic, air pollution, and transportation expenses, among others. By working from home, people can also decide to just use mobile apps for their groceries, food, and delivery concerns, among others.

There could be many factors that determine whether working from home would actually help lessen traffic in Metro Manila. But from experience, here’s why I think working from home would remove a ton of headaches for us.

More independent time

Working from home means that you control the time when you want to work. It’s either output-based or a job that requires you to log in at certain times of the day.

In my case, I’ve been working on a remote research and project-based job since 2016. Since it is output-based, I’m free to decide how to spend my time for the most part. All I have to do is get the work done. For the past weeks, I’ve been going back and forth the coffee shops and sites in Intramuros, and it’s been amazing.

Since I work independently, I also usually learn the ropes of the work myself. There’s not much supervision, because I’m the one supervising my own work for majority of the time. I basically create my own job description and workflow. My office can be anywhere. This is what I meant by having ‘more independent time‘.

Since I work remotely, I’m also able to find time for passion projects and sidelines. I volunteer for a number of non-profit organizations and I’m able to spare time to write blog posts.

Zero to low workplace politics

I’m not sure if this is an advantage (because workplace politics can strangely give life to people sometimes), but yes, zero to low workplace politics is a reality in remote work. In my work, there’s virtually very, very low or most of the time, no workplace politics.

And when I say zero to low workplace politics, you’re also free from toxic people (most of the time).

The downsides

It can get lonely. To fill some social voids, I result to dating apps to meet up with people and just talk about anything interesting. I think pretty much any kind of work can get lonely at some point, but remote work is different because I practically work independently most of the time.

I also find it difficult to find a common time to meet up with old friends who work on regular nine-to-five-jobs. These are the downsides I can see so far on working with remote jobs. It can get longer (I can probably write a book about it!).

Simply put, working from home is not for everyone. It will depend. But in my opinion, it will, indeed, help lessen traffic when more people would just work from home.

Schools and the youth: Pedestals for environmental protection, restoration

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The clock strikes noon. I’m walking along a pavement sprinkled with lush greenery and carefully placed blocks of stone and tiny lamps. I pass by a building covered with vines from top to bottom—a commune with nature I rarely see in city buildings. Within a hallway, I’m led to a bigger space with shoots of bamboo dangling from the ceiling. Towards the corner, a mural depicting Mother Nature’s beauty and charm captivates my eyes. When finally reaching my destination, I’m greeted by smiles and welcoming hands as we begin the day’s activities. 

I was fortunate to co-facilitate a workshop with MakeSense Philippines in Foundation University, Dumaguete City that teaches college and senior high school students how to create their own social initiatives. After the workshop, the students had brilliant ideas on plastic waste solutions, solid waste management, and solving unintended teen pregnancy, among many others. 

The workshop also came in at the right time for the students as they are beginning to be more aware and proactive with the issues facing their local communities. As Dumaguete City becomes more urbanized, they experience the same issues as other cities, ranging from air pollution to the improper disposal of plastic and other wastes. 

The role of schools

One thing I learned in the workshop was that schools should be among the forefront of providing opportunities to the youth to engage in social initiatives. These are not only limited to community engagement requirements, but also to the core curriculum and basic classroom activities. 

When speaking with the youth of today, I can confidently say that they are more aware and creative than any of the previous generations. Schools just have to give them the chance and the right environment to unleash their creative potential—not just their academic aptitude. 

Gone are the days of pure classroom instruction, paperwork, or recitation—the youth of today need to move, and they need to be taught how to move fast. It is not enough anymore that schools teach the youth how to articulate themselves and engage in intellectual discourse. In the world of forms that we live in, action and engagement reign supreme. 

The youth and tomorrow

The protection and restoration of the environment is the defining issue of today’s generation. Across the world, the youth are getting more and more involved with movements going against inaction and passivity on environmental issues. The likes of Autumn Peltier, Isra Hirsi, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Greta Thunberg—all youth below 20 years of age—have already jump-started global movements of their own. They are inspiring the youth like me to create ripples of positive change, wherever we are and however simple or complex it may be. No one is ever too small to make a difference. 

In FU, the youth have the same sentiments. They hunger for change and they want it fast. They are taking matters into their own hands and are starting to create initiatives in their local communities. One group of students I talked to wanted to create a machine that would recycle plastic bottles as well as incentivize with cash those who donate the plastic bottles. Initiatives like these are something that schools need to support—and it needs to be done fast. The students need to be exposed and engaged with the innovation ecosystem within their local communities and beyond. 

Biosphere consciousness

I recently watched a documentary by social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin where he says that the world is now entering a state of ‘biosphere consciousness’ or simply put, a spike in the increase of environmental awareness across the world. 

If schools—among many other actors in the ecosystem—could provide more opportunities for students to engage with this changing world order, then we can have better chances of supporting and advancing it. 

One way this can be done is by teaching the youth how to create their own social initiatives. It does not have to be only for the environment, because when we refer to the planet’s biosphere, everything under it is involved, from politics, culture, economics, and technology, to name a few. 

While the clock is ticking for the environment, together we will need to move faster than ever. Schools and the youth are among the pedestals for such change. 

This article was originally published in Manila Standard – Green Light.