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.

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.

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.

On sustainability and being ‘gracefully lost’

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We have a negative connotation on the word ‘lost’. But I beg to differ.

I’d be lying if I say that I already found what I want to do for the rest of my life. The thing with being ‘lost’ is that it’s a process — it’s not something you can run away from just by a quotable quote in Facebook or an inspiring message by someone.

Being lost is an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to explore possibilities and stretch out ourselves as much as we can (but not to the expense of overfatigue). It is, you may say, a kind of phase in life, but I think it can be something lifelong. Getting lost in helping others, for instance, is something I can buy into.

We hear so much unsolicited advice everyday on ‘fixing our lives’ or being at the state of ‘not being lost.’ I think these are horrible advice.

For one, human beings are extremely complex. When talking about the state of being ‘lost’, it’s not something that you can just discuss through a black-and-white perspective.

Instead of wallowing in despair of being ‘lost,’ I say we look at it constructively. I say we become gracefully lost.

Lost with sustainability

As what you probably know as someone reading this blog post right now, I write mostly on sustainability. But this wasn’t something that just popped into my head.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have over 17 general goals for the planet. Each of these 17 goals has more specific sets of goals, and so on. I happen to find myself amid all these goals. I am, you could say, ‘gracefully lost’ in my advocacy for sustainability. I can honestly admit that I have no direct focus right now, but I make do with what I have by exploring and stretching out the possibilities. Some ways I do that is through this blog, my work, and volunteer engagements.

Another factor is that I’m treading on a path that’s barely scratched, at least locally. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to achieve what I want.

I believe in the intersection of business and environment. Businesses have the potential to overturn the damage it’s done to the world. This will require a new economic order that doesn’t rely on ‘eternal growth with finite natural resources.’

It’s a tall order. I honestly don’t know where to start. But I do certain things anyway. And this is what I mean about being gracefully lost.

Gracefully lost

‘Lost’ is a term that gets thrown around quite leniently. We forget that the term is not all that bad. It also has its good side, and that’s what I want to focus on here.

Being gracefully lost is like finding yourself for the first time in a railway system of a big city. You have no idea how it exactly works. But you do it anyway. You learn along the way. You build your knowledge. You practice it. Then you become used to it.

And this applies to any aspect of life. It’s alright that we don’t know yet what to do or where to go. We just have to do something. We just have to embrace being lost. And we have to do whatever it costs to maintain our sanity and health and still manage to bond with our loved ones.

Being gracefully lost reminds us to take it easy. It removes the pressure and fills us with an unrelenting force of lifelong learning.

What the traditional academe can learn from innovative schools: Taking the case of Foundation University

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The academic world has constantly been criticized for being archaic and slow. But things are roaring for change down at Foundation University (FU) in Dumaguete City, Philippines.

FU was awarded in 2015 by the Department of Energy and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau as the most sustainable school in the Philippines. In the past years, they have been speeding up their sustainability and social innovation initiatives.

A canteen within Foundation University, which was designed by its president. The ceiling was designed with bamboo.
Foundation University maintains a hydroponics farm in one of the rooftops of their buildings. The hydroponics farm is also being used by the school’s agriculture students.

Part of these initiatives is a special event last September 20, 2019 entitled “Entrepreneurship and my Future“, where the university invited MakeSense Philippines to hold a social initiative creation workshop. MakeSense is an international organization that organizes and promotes initiatives on sustainability.

In the long run, FU aims to integrate sustainability into its curriculum. They plan to do this by making the different colleges and disciplines work together in academic outputs like theses and projects, among others.

This was also the first time that a social innovation event of this kind was held in FU. During the workshop, the students had brilliant ideas to solve some issues found in their local communities. Among some of these include plastic waste solutions, solid waste management, and solving unintended teen pregnancy.

The panel members speak during a discussion session of Foundation University’s event, “Entrepreneurship and my Future”.

A unique selling point with FU is that they have already began the path on creating systemic networks not just within their departments and colleges, but also with external innovative organizations like MakeSense. Being that their sustainability initiatives are relatively young, they have many opportunities to tweak and experiment along the way.

There is one buzzword for FU’s innovativeness: systems. By creating social innovation networks, FU is able to leverage on a rich pool of individuals and organizations that are sustainability-oriented. They are also able to integrate sustainability on an internal level, specifically in their curriculum and students.

This is something that many other academic institutions can buy into. With systemic issues plaguing us locally and globally, now is the time to move fast. If it would take the traditional academe to radically shift its focus on sustainability and innovation networks both internally in its curriculum and externally with innovative organizations, then now would be the opportune time.

The social garden in Foundation University.

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.