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.

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.

Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #1

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It’s interesting when people ask me what I do for a living. Since I’m what you could call a ‘digital nomad‘, I work remotely and my office can be everywhere. But essentially, what I do includes research, writing, projects, social media, non-profit work, and volunteer engagements. Typically, I introduce myself as a researcher and writer, among other things.

Working, exploring

For the past weeks, I’ve been going back and forth the walled city of Intramuros, working in coffee shops during the morning, then exploring different sites during the afternoon. It has been a fun, educational, and ‘old soul’ type of experience so far. According to recent news, around 2.12 million tourists visited Intramuros during the first semester of 2019.

Last May 2019, I was able to go to a one-month volunteer engagement in Mindanao, where I was a class documenter for their annual peacebuilding training. This kind of engagement wouldn’t be possible without the flexible work schedule that I have.

Afterwards, I had many other volunteer engagements. So far, I was able to explore places in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao just this year. It truly is something to be thankful for. I’m learning more about our diversity and culture as a nation.

What you need

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you essentially just need the following things in your work life: a laptop, your hands, head, internet connection, power outlet, and a place to work in. Of course, this would vary on the nature of the job, but you get what I mean.

Whenever I look for places to work in Manila, I want to make sure that either (1) the place has good WiFi or (2) my mobile data connection is strong in that particular area. Because obviously, an internet connection is essential for a digital nomad.

Independence

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you handle your own time. You impose your own work hours. You create your own workflow. You sometimes even list down your own job description. It’s a good training for independence and developing your personal work philosophy.

The digital nomad life is not for everyone though. It also depends on the career you want. Regardless, it’s something to take note of if you prefer flexible working hours that give you a considerate time to explore and do other things you’re passionate about.

The humble steps for package-less groceries

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Last January, personal care conglomerates Procter & Gamble and Unilever announced plans on collaborating with zero-waste startups to close the loop on their single-use packaging, from Rexona deodorant to Crest mouthwash. News like this implies that the zero-waste movement that garnered popularity last 2018 doesn’t seem to be a passing fad that critics have made it out to be.

Originally published at: https://www.offcrowd.com/

Written by: Anna Cayco


Even in the Philippines, the movement has started getting traction among the people. An example would be how package-less groceries have found their footing in Metro Manila. The concept of a package-less grocery seemed only to be read about from one’s social media feed.

With an increase in awareness and demand for sustainable products in Manila, several package-less groceries are able thrive and provide people with an alternative to shopping in plastic-ridden supermarkets or groceries.

THE MAKINGS OF A PACKAGE-LESS GROCERY

One of the pioneer package-less groceries in the city is Humble Market. Tucked inside YDG Coffee in Mandala Park is a wide variety of kitchen essentials, such as sea salt and vegetable oil, and locally-sourced organic ingredients, from grains to dried fruits, found in dispensers and bins. Customers replace the ubiquitous plastic bag with their own reusable containers to weigh and transport the ingredients.

Kurt Lee, a patron of package-less groceries, believes that they are even easier than shopping at regular ones. Although it may be difficult at times to find and bright his own containers, “Package-less groceries make it easier to manage space at home,” he said. Less time would be spent on taking products out of their single-use packaging and throwing them in the garbage.

Humble Market also tackles the amount of landfill created by personal care items with Humble Essentials – their own personal care line that include bamboo toothbrushes, metal safety razors, and silicone menstrual cups.

This bold move was the product of owner Roanna Medina’s own battle with autoimmune disease. Her condition had pushed her to seek clean and whole foods, which eventually led to putting up a grocery that promotes sustainable living and holistic wellness.

“We see people within our circles getting sick because of the environmental toxins… It’s no longer our fault, it’s the environment that we live in and that’s what’s really pushing us to make those changes,” Roanna stated.

Now operating for seven months, Humble Market also acts as a collaborative space with local brands and suppliers. Roanna and her team initiate partnerships with brands based on the alignment of their values. “[We] just treat it like dating,” she quipped.

Their criteria boils down to three things: all-natural ingredients, plastic-free packaging, and reusability or biodegradability.

“And once we really see that there’s alignment and we have a future together, and we really could commit to each other, that’s where we really connect to talk about the terms, about our partnership,” she explained.

A few partners to name are Akkula PH, who makes organic lip balm packaged in compostable paper, Messy Bessy, who creates all-natural and non-toxic liquid detergent, and Hineleban Farms, who grows organic adlai in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon.

THE ALTERNATIVE NORM

As the zero-waste movement and the interest in sustainability grows, the question of how far should habits surrounding convenience arises.

In the case of grocery shopping, it isn’t as black and white as skipping plastic straws for beverages. For Roanna, the solution is not exactly to forgo and replace all regular supermarkets and groceries with package-less ones.

Instead, Humble Market prioritizes making sustainability not only accessible but approachable for all. “We don’t take an aggressive approach because we understand or acknowledge that it requires change to happen. And not everyone’s immediately ready to make those little changes in their lives,” she clarified.

Some of these non-sustainable habits are even ingrained in culture. An example she gave was Filipinas’ hesitancy to try out a menstrual cup due to their preference over sanitary napkins over tampons.

“The thing is we should always have options. What might work for you might not work for someone else. One person’s food could be another person’s poison… It goes back to our bio-individuality, how different we all are and so having options – that’s just what’s natural. We just can’t have one absolute thing because it’s only going to cater to a small segment of society,” Roanna had eloquently put.

Just having the choice to go package-less or not is still a big leap from the past wherein the non-sustainable choice was the only choice. There is still a lot of room for research and innovation to improve sustainable consumerism.

As for Humble Market, their next step would be to expand their products to at least 200 units by the end of the year. “We are growing but just at the right pace,” Roanna said.

Normally, a mindset like that is discouraged for business. But a moderate pace of growth entails deliberateness and mindfulness that the zero-waste movement promotes. It is exactly this encouragement for people to take more careful steps that shows sustainability is beyond a blindly-followed fad.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/

Mobilizing PWDs with the first PWD-friendly tricycle

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Commuting is not just hard in Metro Manila – it’s nearly impossible. Everyday commuters are in constant fear of ridiculously long lines, dilapidated train cars that could halt to a stop any minute, and highways that turn into parking lots for hours.

Originally published at: https://www.offcrowd.com/stories/industry/mobilizing-pwds-with-the-first-pwd-friendly-tricycle/

Written By Anna Cayco

Photos by Project SMILE and Joshua Gantuangco


Commuting in the city as a PWD often is not even an option, especially for wheelchair users, wherein it’s difficult for them to even get into a public transportation vehicle.

“Kung sasakay kami sa jeep o sa taxi, ang tagal po namin kasi marami pong driver na ayaw kami isakay (If we were to ride a jeep or a taxi, it would take so long because many drivers don’t want to give us a ride),” Judy Alferez, a watch repairman and wheelchair user, admitted. This is in fact illegal according to R.A. 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons. Judy has had the need to find a traffic enforcer to help them hail a jeepney or cab so that the drivers can’t refuse him.

“Kapag wala akong alalay, mahirap kasi yung wheelchair isasakay pa [sa jeep]. Yung mga iba kasing jeep [drivers], walang pakialam… Magdidisturbo ka pa ng mga ibang pasahero para makasakay pa,(When I don’t have someone with me, it’s hard to bring my wheelchair inside [a jeep]. Other jeep drivers don’t care… I’ll be getting in other passenger’s way just to get in.)” Judy explains.

Unlike in developed countries around the world, public transportation in the Philippines is not built to accommodate wheelchair users. Buses and jeeps have steep footboards to get inside their cramped seating areas. Only a handful of train stations in the city have actual working elevators. Even tricycles, the smallest mode of public transportation, requires one to crouch in a confined sidecar that is wide-open to possible accidents.

Instead of commuting, Judy has resorted to other methods to move around the city. As a member of the ALKASAMOPI (Alyansa ng may Kapansanan na Nagmamaneho ng Sasakyan at Motor sa Pilipinas) , he and many other wheelchair users have modified motorcycles and sidecars to become wheelchair motorists. They even have a group chat wherein they operate as a service to pick up fellow wheelchair users from one place to another.

INNOVATION IN THE WORKS

But the lack in PWD-friendly public facilities and the widespread stigma that PWDs face are what has fueled ALKASAMOPI and founder Joseph Delgado to create the very first PWD-friendly tricycle. With similar blueprints from the modified motorcycles and sidecars that they already have, the organization has engineered their first prototype tricycle that can easily and efficiently transport wheelchair users from one area to another.

Not only can wheelchair users ride this tricycle, but they can also drive it too. This invention is Joseph and ALKASAMOPI’s answer to the lack of financial opportunities for PWDs. “Ang ibang company ay nagdidiscriminate na kaagad sa mga PWD na aplikante (Some companies discriminate immediately towards PWD applicants),” he shared. Instead of applying for jobs in such companies, wheelchair users now have the option of earning a living as a tricycle driver with their own vehicle.

The prototype PWD-friendly tricycle entails a more spacious sidecar that has a lowerable rear side that doubles as a ramp for wheelchair users. The sidecar also comes with an attachable seat to accommodate non-PWDs as well. As for the motorcycle, Joseph and his team had added a lever on the side as a break if the PWD cannot use the foot pedals for breaking.

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL

To further the completion of the PWD-friendly tricycle, Project SMILE (Simple but Meaningful Acts Intended to Leave a Lasting Effect), a non-profit initiative for neglected and underprivileged Filipinos, has partnered with ALKASAMOPI.

Last January, they had launched Join the Ride under their #PeopleWith campaign, which is primarily for the PWD community, to raise awareness and funds for the PWD-friendly tricycle.

“Given that the focus of the campaign is PWDs, we knew that we had to hear their perspectives straight from PWDs themselves,” founder Sam Tamayo explained. They had reached out to different members of the community as well as different advocates, including Joseph Delgado.

“Through his help, we conducted a focus group discussion that featured representatives of different PWDs such as the blind, amputee, and wheelchair users among others. We have gained a better understanding of their situation by listening to their personal stories and struggles as PWDs,” Sam continued.

With the information they had gathered, Project SMILE believes their first step for the Join the Ride campaign is raising awareness on the stigma against PWDs.

“I think a major hurdle is trying to make their struggles relatable,” Sam said. “This is why we try to portray PWDs as individuals who are just like us – that they are not limited by their conditions, therefore we need to recognize them beyond their disabilities.”

Ultimately, the goal for both ALKASAMOPI and Project SMILE is to have at least one PWD-friendly tricycle in each municipality.

“Ang hadlang po ay yung susuporta po sa aking budget para maipush ko ito at maiprovide [sa municipio]. Dahil wala po kami ang mga pyesa at mga mga gagamitin na mga machine (My budget is an obstacle in order to push for this and to provide [for other municipalities]. This is because we don’t have the necessary pieces and machines),” Joseph admitted.

In order to reach such a massive scale, Project SMILE has reached out to the public for a minimum donation of PHP100.

Click the logo below to sign up and donate, participate, and join the ride towards PWD inclusion.