Telcos: Farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs should not be left out

Mara Cepeda

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Telcos: Farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs should not be left out

Alecs Ongcal

Smart and Globe say that giving all sectors telecommunications access empower them economically and politically

MANILA, Philippines – Bridging the digital divide means bridging the socio-economic divide too.

Darwin Flores, vice president for community of Smart Communications, made this point when he spoke at Rappler’s Innovation + Social Good: Social Good Summit 2015 on Saturday, September 26.

“One of the benefits of being in the digital sphere is that you are able to participate fully in the discussions, whether it’s political or economic,” said Flores. (READ: Social media, negative campaign to define 2016 polls)

However, he said that people from the informal sectors of society, like farmers and fishermen, are left out of the picture because they do not have access to digital resources.

According to Flores, this is why Smart as a company is oriented around the idea of “technology for all,” wherein all aspects of the company – from conception to the marketing of its services and products – are targeted to reach different sectors of society.

This is an idea shared by Globe Telecom.

“It’s more of understanding our customer. It’s more of understanding the sector that we want to help and we know that we can’t do it alone,” said Bong Esguerra, head for corporate social responsibility of Globe who also spoke at the SGS summit at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila.

“That’s why we work with certain partners that would help us reach the base of pyramid that we are talking about.”

‘Technology for all’

Flores shared that when Smart was established about 21 years ago, the founders wanted to do its part in making mobile phones accessible to all.

Luxury item talaga ang cellphone, kasi ang mahal ng device. Pagkatapos nun, ang mahal pa ng subscription,” he said. (Cellphones were luxury items then because they were expensive. Subscriptions were costly, too.)

“Access is very important. When you tell them about access, you take into consideration their daily wage earning, so you have to make it affordable,” said Flores. (READ: SONA 2015: The state of Philippine labor under Aquino)

Two ways that telecommunication companies can make this a reality is by establishing cellular sites all over the country and creating subscription services that any minimum wage earner can easily afford. (READ: Smartphone market still growing as prices fall: study)

In an interview with Rappler after his talk, Flores shared a recent subscription their company launched that allows users to make unlimited calls and text messages below P20 a day.

He also shared that Smart recently partnered with popular kids television show Batibot to make an educational application for young children.

“One of the big problems is basic education: children not being able to read and write by the age of 3 simply because [there aren’t] enough materials for early childhood learning,” he said.

The Batibot app offers games and videos that teach children in their formative years basic concepts like the alphabet, counting, matching, sorting, and grouping items.

Digitizing social enterprises

UPGRADE. Bong Esguerra from Globe Telecom says technology can help social enterprises achieve their maximum potential. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Meanwhile, Esguerra shared two social enterprises Globe partnered with in order to address the digital divide in social entrepreneurship.

“You know how hard it is to actually run a business and to have a social impact at that? Sometimes they do not see how they can actually improve the way they deliver their products and service just by using technology,” said Esguerra.

He shared that in 2013, Globe partnered with Bayani Brew, a social enterprise developed in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm that brews natural leaves like lemon grass and pandan, and then bottles and sells them to various institutions nationwide.

Esguerra said that after consulting with the company, he found out that the owners lack time to properly sell and market their products, which affects the company’s sales volume.

Globe then provided Bayani Brew with closed-circuit television cameras.

“Now, they can monitor their production, they can monitor their warehouse, and focus on their business, which is selling and getting their products into the right distribution channels,” said Esguerra.

This move allowed Bayani Brow to increase its monthly production volume by “almost 230%,” he said.

Globe also partnered with Custom Made Crafts Center, a creative social enterprise that outsources products from indigenous and rural companies and helps them sell these in mainstream and alternative channels, in the production of indigo.

The plant is the raw material for a growing textile industry, which in turn provides jobs to a number of farmers in Aklan province. Esguerra said indigo is also well-suited for reforestation activities.

As Custom Made Craft Center’s partner, Globe provided the social enterprise with access to myShopkeeper, which allows member shops to control their stock levels and monitor their daily sales.  

“We’ve helped social enterprises achieve sustainability to ensure the livelihood of the sectors they were designed to support, and how? Through the technology that we’ve provided them,” he said. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.