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Cautious Optimism and Perseverance in 2021  

Sixto Donato C. Macasaet

We’re now two months into 2021; how are you with your resolutions and intentions for the year?  

2020 was fraught with challenges, including the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and destructive typhoons that hit parts of the country. Yet, optimism remains. A Pulse Asia survey released in December last year revealed that 9 out of 10 Filipinos are optimistic about 2021, a sentiment shared across populations in geographic areas and socio-economic grouping. 

With significant progress in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the economy expected to regain its momentum, and programs in the pipeline to assist in the recovery, there is cautious optimism that 2021 is the year that we start to rebuild. We are hopeful – with a sense of readiness for difficulties that lie ahead. Hence, we persevere.  
 

At FSSI, we are looking forward to be part of the solutions, even as we deal with challenges that COVID-19 has brought upon us.  

We have recently joined the Impact Pioneers Network, a first-of-its-kind angel investing network in the Philippines to catalyze local capital to exclusively support impact-first enterprises with potential to grow and create social impact at scale. In its first year, the network will focus on building resilience during the pandemic economy by providing a variety of investments and tailored support for social enterprises to adapt to the recession year.  
 

We have also launched a partnership with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) to collaborate in capacity building, advocacy, and research efforts to support inclusive agricultural and rural development.   
 

As an organization built upon the collaboration of various civil society organizations and government, we believe in the importance of partnerships and working together as we navigate the road to recovery and resilience.   
 

I would also like to take this opportunity to enjoin you all to support the PRESENT Coalition’s campaign to pass the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Bill. On Friday, February 26, the coalition will be launching the PRESENT Bill Petition Campaign to raise 1 million signatures to support the bill’s enactment into law. You can support the campaign by signing the petition here: https://www.change.org/passthepresentbillnow  
 

I look forward to seeing many of you in future events. May you and your loved ones always be healthy and hopeful.

Dodo

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Foundation for a Sustainable Society, Inc. (FSSI) Chaiperson Norman Joseph Jiao and Board Member and Corporate Secretary Christie Rowena “Tetay” Plantilla join the partnership launch of Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian Government, and the Macquarie Group Foundation for the Responsive Interventions Supporting (women) Entrepreneurs (RISE) Fund on November 17.

The RISE Fund is the Investing in Women’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to inject catalytic capital for women-led small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the South East Asian region. With women disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the Fund aims to offset COVID-19’s impacts on women SMEs and provide much needed liquidity in a capital-constrained market.

FSSI, along with InBestCap Ventures (InBest), takes part in the project as one of its two local impact investor partners. “We are grateful for this partnership with Investing in Women and the Macquarie Group Foundation, and the opportunity to directly create impact where it is most needed. The RISE Fund will provide more avenues to assist women SMEs. Macquarie Group Foundation’s support highlights the important role of the private sector in helping local economies build back better,” said Ms. Plantilla during the launch.

The ceremonial signing was attended by His Excellency Steven J. Robinson AO, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Mr. Eric Yaptangco, Division Director, Manila Technology and Office Head of the Macquarie Group, with the representatives of FSSI and InBestCap Ventures.

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted to an unexpected slump in the Philippine economy. The latest report from the National Economic and Development Authority estimates that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth will likely be at 4.3 at best and negative 0.6 percent at worst, assuming the impact of the crisis is felt until the middle of the year.1 This is a staggering decline from the target growth rate set for 2020 which is at 6.5 to 7.5 percent.2 Midway last month, Metro Manila was put under a community quarantine, which was eventually expanded to the entire Luzon, in an effort to contain the spread of the disease. Other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao have also announced lockdowns.

The “enhanced community quarantine” in Luzon, now extended to April 30, has included the suspension of public transportation, classes, and work for non-essential businesses. Big and small businesses alike have continued to bear the brunt of the crisis as the general population is encouraged to stay at home. Social enterprises are not spared. Among FSSI partners, 31 out of 35 surveyed said that reduced mobility has affected their enterprise.

LiveGreen International is one of the few social enterprises that are able to operate, despite limited personnel. LiveGreen is engaged in the production, processing, and distribution of 100% fresh organic vegetables. Paris Uy, President and CEO, shared that their ongoing production is due to farmers continuing to work despite the crisis. Crops were planted in January and there is still a steady supply of farm produce. LiveGreen has around 30 to 40 partner farmers in Benguet, and some 10 to 15 in Batangas, Cavite, and Tanay.

Helping farmers who feed us

For Uy, the crisis is a wake-up call for society to support the farmers who are relentlessly producing our food. This calls for stronger links between the national and local governments and a better logistical support in transporting produce from farmers especially in the north to where the demand is across the country. Uy shares that they had difficulty transporting vegetables in the first few days of the lockdown, “Tuloy-tuloy ang production. Ang problema lang ay confusion and intervention of the LGU shutting down while the national government said food-related [cargo] can pass through.”

LiveGreen hauls five tons of vegetables from Baguio to Manila daily. In Baguio, farmers who come down to deliver goods to their La Trinidad warehouse often encounter delays due to the lockdown. Fortunately, it became easier when the Department of Agriculture (DA) issued food passes to ensure the unhampered movement of agricultural products through the numerous checkpoints across Luzon.

Uy also identifies the importance of coordination between government agencies concerned in the food supply chain and bringing food from producers to consumers. Come harvest time, if farmers are unable to bring their goods to Manila and with the decline in purchase orders from big businesses due to closure as what they have experienced during the lockdown, farmers are forced to dispose their produce — when local governments could have purchased these to be given out to families as part of COVID-19 relief efforts.

The DA has recently moved to consider workers in the agriculture and fisheries sector as front liners in the country’s fight against COVID-19. Various programs are also lined up to empower these front liners and boost local food production and manufacturing.

This crisis is changing the way we understand our health and even our food. For LiveGreen though, it is more than buying and eating local.

“Natural food is still the best food. Eventually the best way to keep ourselves healthy is to boost our immune system,” Uy shares.

Naturally growing products is the way to go. LiveGreen has always put prime in making sure that they provide organic, clean, and healthy food produced without the use of harmful chemicals. He also encourages backyard farming, as growing your own food makes a lot of difference now when most are confined in their homes and are finding limited access to groceries.

Opportunities ahead

As with every enterprise, the crisis is a continuous learning experience on resiliency and business continuity. This year, it has become clear to LiveGreen that their strategy must be scaling up online. Aside from physical distribution to supermarkets, the enterprise saw triple sales through online deliveries. They also saw an increase in the demand for other vegetable besides lettuces. People buy tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots more than usual, most likely to secure healthy food options for their households.

LiveGreen is determined to bring their systems online for the long term. Along with this is their vision to help farmers build among them a consortium that could potentially bring the price down by cutting off the middle man through an online database where consumers could readily access information on where to source fresh produce.

There may be a long way ahead in the fight against COVID-19, but the end of this pandemic is not about returning to normal; it’s about learning and thinking of ways to become better, and ultimately putting investments where our priorities should be. Our front liners such as our partners at LiveGreen and their partner farmers are seeing us through this crisis. It must be our turn to take care of them as well.


1 http://www.neda.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NEDA_Addressing-the-Social-and-Economic-Impact-of-the-COVID-19-Pandemic.pdf

2 https://business.inquirer.net/293506/gdp-growth-projected-to-slide-to-2-6-in-2020

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Beneficiary families bought food and other essential items from their cash aid.

Quezon City, Philippines – Around 130 urban poor families in Valenzuela City affected by the COVID-19 crisis have received relief assistance from the Foundation for a Sustainable Society Inc. (FSSI), through an initiative by the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA) and the Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor (FDUP), in partnership with Aksyon sa Kahandaan sa Kalamidad at Klima (AKKMA) and Valenzuela People’s Organization Network (VALPONET). 

In an effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, the entire Luzon was placed under a month-long enhanced community quarantine starting last March 17, 2020, affecting the income and livelihood of many urban poor families in Metro Manila. The assistance, which came in the form of unconditional cash grants amounting to Php 1,500 for each family, was intended to provide immediate support to affected families, mainly for food and other basic needs. 

The priority recipients were those whose main income earners are workers in the public transport sector, wage earners under a “no work, no pay” arrangement, and other informal sectors such as vendors and other service providers. Further considerations were also given to vulnerable families such as those whose members include persons with disability, elderly couples living alone, and single-headed households. The assistance was distributed in five barangays in the city– Barangay Mapulang Lupa, Barangay Bagbaguin, Barangay Paso de Blas, Barangay Dalandanan, and Barangay Coloong. 

The response was managed by the city federation and its member people’s organizations, particularly VALPONET, with guidance from PHILSSA and FDUP. The initiative aims to be a pilot of a community-managed humanitarian action that can be replicated in other affected areas. Given the unique limitations posed by physical distancing measures in crisis response, community leaders took the lead in community monitoring, selection of beneficiary families, and information dissemination to ensure smooth and proper implementation. Money remittance service Palawan Express was tapped to manage the actual cash grant distribution to the beneficiary families through scheduled pay-out in their nearby branches to minimize social contact.  

Beneficiaries receive their cash grant from Palawan Express. 

“The situation at hand is very different and we cannot go out, conduct needs analysis in the area, and meet for planning and implementation, as what is usually done during crisis response,” said PHILSSA National Coordinator Dick Balderrama. “This time, it was the community leaders who managed the process, demonstrating localization and partnership in a deeper way. We took this opportunity to strengthen a local people’s organization because this can help in developing an appropriate and responsive humanitarian action in light of the community quarantine.”   

FSSI Executive Director Sixto Donato C. Macasaet said the foundation supported the initiative because of the role of the local people’s organization and support NGOs, which ensured good targeting of beneficiaries, and also because it was a quick response – while government was still setting up its cash grants and other support for the affected families.  

*Updated as of 22 April 2020 

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