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.

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.

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.

Raising sons and daughters: The story of Alexa Mira Society, Inc.

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Originally published at Manila Bulletin


Somewhere in Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City is an organization of dreamers, sustainability advocates, and youth volunteers who actively implement programs to create social impact in the lives of the community.

Alexa Mira Society Inc. (AMSI), a non-profit organization, gathers individuals to work toward this goal. As a young organization, AMSI targets families in Barangay Palatiw to become their beneficiaries in several programs that aim to enrich the creativity of children, uphold the family as an essential unit of society, and provide skills and knowledge for the beneficiaries to identify and implement livelihood opportunities.

Myla poses for a photo beside the kitchen of one of AMSI’s family beneficiaries, which owns a canteen frequented by locals from Palatiw

More than its programs, however, the advocacy of AMSI is tightly connected with the personal story of Myla Bicol, its founder.

The story of AMSI

Being the youngest of nine siblings, Myla witnessed how her parents struggled to make ends meet in the Philippines. Everything changed when she, together with her family, migrated to Canada. Growing up in a foreign country, she realized how fortunate her family was, that she dreamed of returning home someday to make a difference.

In 2006, Myla and her sister-in-law, Aileen de la Torre, started a business called L.I.F.E Works Creations. This gave them a reason to go back to the Philippines and jump-start programs mainly for children. With their efforts, over 1,600 children of Palatiw Elementary School received a complete set of school supplies.

The joy that Myla and Aileen saw in the children’s faces inspired them to do more. That made her more determined to advance her cause. She started making frequent trips to the Philippines. She visited a number of hospitals where she had the chance to speak with parents and their kids who are suffering from serious illnesses like cancer.

Myla also visited an orphanage where she spent time with abandoned children. In one of her visits, she chanced upon children out on the street late at night, sifting through mounds of garbage. From there, she started feeding and gift-giving programs, as well as providing scholarships to children who have the potential and determination to finish
their studies.

After several years of working to improve the lives of children in need, Myla realized her true calling—to become a mother. She and her husband decided to adopt a child. They named her Alexa Mira. Alexa came to their lives at the young age of nine months old.

For children and the family

Alexa became the inspiration for the name of AMSI. Today, one of AMSI’s main goals is to help more kids who are abandoned or neglected due to poverty. The organization continuously implements feeding programs for kids who are malnourished. It also helps children by providing them scholarships. In the future, AMSI aims to give a temporary home for pregnant women in the Philippines who are in crisis situations and are in need comprehensive care.

In 2018, AMSI began its first set of programs that were implemented by youth volunteers. Its flagship program, 4S On the Go, had four main components: The kids, livelihood, urban farming, and feeding programs, which were implemented from August to November 2018. Five family beneficiaries were brought into AMSI’s stead, where they participated in the programs and activities every Saturday of the week.

AMSI brought speakers, facilitators, and other competent individuals to share their experiences and their expertise to the family beneficiaries. From basic finance, nutrition, and wellness, down to introductory urban farming, the beneficiaries were exposed to an array of knowledge and skills, some of which they were able to apply in their daily lives.

Come July 2019, AMSI will begin its second round of programs, now focusing on kids, family, and livelihood development. AMSI will also begin to bring in more youth volunteers this year as it continues to expand its impact and operations.

One with the advocacy

Myla’s personal calling to motherhood and how this relates to the organization have been the driving force of AMSI ever since. Staying true to this advocacy, AMSI’s youth volunteers realized that the impact they bring to their beneficiaries has become encompassing and affects other aspects of their personal lives as well.

“AMSI allowed me to experience working [with] a team that’s devoted to a cause. My personal perceptions of myself, people, and society were given new light when I met Tita Myla, Alexa, and the rest of the team—especially our beneficiaries,” shares Eldrin Lee, AMSI Research and Development manager. “It made me realize that given our circumstances, we can do much more with our resources.”

For Mark Laceste, AMSI Impact Relations manager, he realized that the organization expanded his knowledge. “It shaped my ability to go beyond my understanding of the spectrum of women empowerment. Knowing their stories and struggles made me feel more grateful and appreciative of my life.”

AMSI Internal Operations manager Aki Nodado believes that the opportunity to transform the lives of others would come at the right time, when everyone needs it most. “It taught me to appreciate all that I have and all that I am now,” she adds. “It taught me to be grateful and become an instrument of uplifting the needy.”

During the culminating activity of AMSI’s program last December 2018, Myla shared how she felt that she has gained more sons and daughters, apart from Alexa, through the organization. Myla has always been the motherly type, tending to the needs of children and devoting much of her life in support of their development and education. Her calling toward motherhood led her to something more than what she initially asked for—and it will only get better along the way.