While there are now many social enterprises in the Philippines, there are few, if any, efforts aimed at organizing all of them. ChooseSocial.PH, which was founded by couple Gelaine Santiago and Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer, is one of the first.
The two had been living in Toronto, Canada, but wanted to work on a project that allows them to engage with the Philippines. Their volunteer experiences with the non-profit AIESEC sparked their interest in social entrepreneurship.
“We became curious about social enterprises in the Philippines and that’s how we discovered a vibrant social enterprise space – one that was having a huge impact in their communities, addressing unique social challenges through innovative business models,” Santiago said.
She added that the scene was sometimes labeled as the “Silicon Valley of social enterprises” for the level of its innovation.
No central platform
Their survey of the social enterprise landscape in the Philippines brought them face-to-face with a major problem: Information on these companies was scarce to come by, or worse, outdated, and there was no central platform that attempted to collate these kinds of details.
That’s why they founded ChooseSocial.PH. Santiago said that they wanted to inspire people to choose social entrepreneurship in their everyday lives, thus the name.
The ChooseSocial.PH platform would also teach people about social entrepreneurship in general and share stories of people in the field.
The goal in disseminating this information was to get people to realize the influence they wield on a day-to-day basis.
“We want people to know how their consumer and lifestyle choices can positively impact their communities and how, personally, they can have an impact that will help the Philippines move forward,” Santiago said.
Struggling social enterprises
While Gagnon-Voyer commended the progress that the social entrepreneurship scene has made in the Philippines, he did not shy away from identifying the biggest challenge facing it.
According to him, social enterprises often struggle to scale after launching their products.
“They sometimes lack the capacity and resources when it comes to selling and marketing their work to a larger audience / market, and that’s where we humbly want to help with our website,” he said.
There are already many standout social enterprises in the Philippines. Gagnon-Voyer cited Messy Bessy, Kawil Tours, and many of those operating from Enchanted Farm, such as Bayani Brew, Plush and Play, and First Harvest.
To get more successful social enterprises like these, the average Filipino will need to make a conscious decision to get involved in some way, be it as a founder, investor, supporter, volunteer, or customer.
Their pitch for why Filipinos should consider participation at some level connects to the community.
“Because the social mission of a social enterprise is intertwined with the business itself. The more the business grows, the benefit to communities and the cause grows as well,” Santiago said.
Their thesis is that any effort that goes toward supporting a social enterprise essentially goes back manifold toward the community it is in.
“Better yet, much of these social enterprise products are made by people in the local community, which means growing these enterprises will create new jobs, build skills and knowledge locally, alleviate poverty, and address many of the social issues that impact the Philippines,” Santiago said.
As Santiago and Gagnon-Voyer try to encourage the social entrepreneurial ecosystem to grow, they are also trying to scale ChooseSocial.PH itself.
One challenge is that many social enterprises have minimal web presence, which makes learning about them difficult. This issue is compounded by the fact that the team is still based in Toronto, though they are planning a trip to meet with social enterprises in the Philippines later this year.
“There is nothing like going into local events to tap into a community and get introduced to people, and this is definitely something we have been lacking,” Santiago shared.
The team is motivated to overcome these challenges by their plans for ChooseSocial.PH. They want to improve the social media reach of their brand and add more social enterprises to the platform, so they can help more of them break into the mainstream.
They also want to help these social enterprises reach overseas markets.
“One dream that we have (which may take a while to achieve but which we already have started working on), is to import various products from the social enterprises in the Philippines and sell them in North America, giving them access to an even bigger market and introducing more people to unique Filipino innovations,” Gagnon-Voyer said. – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz