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!)

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.

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.

Partnering for marine conservation

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Nowadays it’s difficult to paint a bright picture of the planet in the face of climate change, but we can at least try.

That’s what we did during the second part of our Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series in MakeSense Philippines, this time tackling beaches!

I’ve been a volunteer in MakeSense for over a year now. The first event that our team organized was Sustainable Tourism: Tribes, and we can proudly claim that event as a success as well. We were able to gather over 30+ people and exchange ideas during that event.

This time, we invited different people with initiatives related to sustainable tourism and the beach. Our panel members come from different sectors, from the academe down to the industry. One of our main goals for the event was to find synergies among these different people coming from different backgrounds. Despite their differences, they’re each working for the same thing, which is the conservation of our beaches and waters. 

I know this sounds like a very academic and ideal thing to do. But it’s something that we can strive towards. 

Personally, my career right now revolves around the academe. In the academe, you’re taught and trained to think of the ideal and what the world should strive towards. At the same time, I can honestly admit that what we lack is an accurate grasp of the realities on the ground. Several of my colleagues can attest to this. However, despite being a weakness, these are the exact leverage points that the academe can work with together with the industry. If the academe has insights or models for a better future, industries are at the pedestal to execute these. This is where the synergies among different sectors come in. 

But how exactly will these synergies work?

In Sustainable Tourism: Beaches, we gained insights as to how this can be possible. One of our speakers, a coral reel scientist, talks about how there are only less than 100 marine scientists in the Philippines working to protect our coral reefs. With more than 7,000 islands in the country, clearly this number is not enough to monitor the coral reefs. According to him, only 2% of organizations working on corals employ marine scientists. 

This is a possible entry point for cross-sector partnerships. This is where collaboration comes in, because not one sector alone can save our coral reefs. 

And this just so happens to be another one of the main goals of the Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series. If we can identify synergies and collaborations among different sectors, we will have better chances of saving Mother Earth. In this case — protecting and conserving our marine biodiversity. 

Being a minimalist in the Philippines

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Recently, I’m slowly learning that the way I think consists of the typical traits of a minimalist.

I don’t like fancy clothes and prefer to keep my wardrobe as ‘minimal’ as possible. I’ve always been the guy in our family who keeps saying to donate our things, so that our house can ‘breathe’ a little easier with more space. I prefer spending on things that I really need (but of course, I have some occassional guilty pleasures also like food — no one is perfect!). I also find the concept of ‘essentialism’ very pleasing; I find solitude just by hearing the word.

Ultimately, what minimalism means is that you only get what you need given your current resources. What that ‘need’ is would depend on your individual preferences. It’s not the same case for everyone.

Coming from a developing country like the Philippines, minimalism sounds like a very foreign concept. People from developing countries tend to be hoarders of material possessions — take for example our families. This is why being a minimalist in the Philippines can be challenging.

But if you’re like me who identifies as a minimalist, there are many ways we can achieve a minimalist lifestyle despite our social circles. Here are some of the ways you can do this.

Understand what things you really need based on your personal context

In Filipino society, we’re constantly driven or encouraged by our peers to own, own, and own things, because they represent a status symbol or your purchasing power. But we also have to remember if these things actually add any value to our lives.

The question to ask is: What value do the things I buy add to my life? Do they merely satisfy my consumerist desires, or do they address something valuable in my life?

Make sure you are buying into sustainable products or services

The world is burning — literally. As a minimalist, it breaks my heart for it to have reached this point. People consume a lot, capitalists keep on developing without thinking of the environment — what you get is a world order working under the notion of ‘infinite growth’ but ‘finite resources’.

Which is why the minimalist movement can help in this battle. As minimalists, you learn to get only what you really need. And what better way to do that but by supporting sustainable products and services.

Now — I am aware that some sustainable products and services are expensive as hell. Avoid those. There are many other ways to become ‘sustainable’ apart from being a ‘green consumer’. Ultimately, it is a lifestyle, not just a “consumer lifestyle”.

Declutter, declutter, declutter

We tend to own too much things. We think that they would fill the emotional voids in us. At one point they actually do, but later we realize that we get too fixated and dependent on material possessions to satiate our emotional well-being.

Try decluttering your things and see if it would have any changes to your mindset. I understand how difficult this can be, but as a minimalist we need to understand what we really need and what works best for us.

The things that would remain may end up to be still a lot of things, but what matters with minimalism is that you only keep the things that really matter to you. And this can be a few things that can be counted by your fingers, or even several things. It is a case-to-case scenario.

Remember — ‘clutter’ is something that doesn’t add value to your life.

There’s nothing cognitively dissonant with being ambitious and a minimalist

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean you should forego of your dreams in life. Again, minimalism is about organizing your life and getting only what’s really important to your context.

The key concept is consuming with intent. Don’t just buy into things simply because it adds status, power, or prestige. In the minimalist world, having what you need and having inner peace are what matters.

… and that’s my list. I am constantly learning about this concept, and would want to know your experiences also! Hit me up through ianbrmia@gmail.com.

Why going for the environment is healthy for the organization

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This post was made in collaboration with Bambuhay’s Green Session titled “Why going for the environment is healthy for the organization”.


Last August 10, 2019, my sustainability friends/advocates and I went to a seminar organized by Bambuhay, a social enterprise in the Philippines known for its bamboo straws and other eco-friendly products. The seminar invited three guest speakers: yours truly, my friend who is a zero waste advocate, and Colin Steley, the APAC Director of Stratcon Singapore. We each presented our advocacy and answered some questions that our audience had during the open forum.

For me, I took the opportunity to talk about Berde Boy, my sustainability blog. I shared what led to the creation of my blog, why blogging about sustainability is important, and how blogging can be used by social enterprises as a leverage for their publicity and social media traction. What was most interesting to me, however, were the insights shared during the open forum.

One is the possibility of me creating vlogs/videos about my experiences in sustainability. It was brought up as a question by one of the audience members. I told her that her suggestion was very timely, because for the past weeks, I have been considering on creating vlogs as additional content for my blog. This is one thing I’ll be working on in the very, very near future, so I’m excited to launch these in my blog.

The questions raised by the audience on sustainability practices also caught our attention. For one, I’m glad that the youth is engaged in so many initiatives related to sustainability. Second, I learned that the youth is also spreading their advocacy through their social media channels. Like what I do in my blog, one of my goals is really to spread awareness and let everyone know that there are plenty of solutions to our sustainability issues today. Third, zero waste is one of the youth’s top concerns when it comes to sustainability. I also gave an insight that — what if, we referred to it as ‘low impact’ instead? Zero waste comes from the notion that waste can be completely eliminated, although I do not think this is humanely possible. Hence, low impact sounds like a more feasible approach. It tells us to minimize our waste as much as possible, but considering that we live in a modern society, waste altogether cannot be easily eliminated.

The highlight of the seminar was Colin’s talk about Stratcon Singapore and the Green Business Bureau — two companies he is currently working with. Colin provided us a high-level discussion on sustainability, specifically on using data and metrics to help businesses become ‘green’.

Following all the talks, we had a networking session with the audience members and our fellow speakers. Indeed, creating networks and collaborations in the local sustainability sector would later create ripples, which would become waves and tides. This is why we do what we do.