iTHINK | Why social entrepreneurs need to pivot

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Social entrepreneurs are change-makers, and we need more of them.

But with the rapidly changing business environment and increasing technological advancements, it’s necessary for these social innovators to be more creative in adapting to the times.

While almost all sectors are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the hardest hit segments is undeniably the micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) sector.

Did you know that in the Philippines, 99% of the businesses are MSMEs and that they employ 28.9% of the private sector employees? Around 11% of these MSMEs are social enterprises (SEs), which focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

Let me tell you why we need to support this very special segment now more than ever.

Traditional businesses usually focus only on one bottom line, profits, although they may be subject to certain social and environmental requirements. What makes SEs special is their purpose. SEs strive to attain a good balance in the pursuit of the triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Profit. These translate into social impact, environmental consciousness, and enterprise viability.

Some organizations such as the BPI Foundation, which I have the privilege of serving as executive director, make deliberate efforts to empower Filipino social enterprises and their communities. 

One of our flagship programs — BPI Sinag — was developed after a study revealed that while well-intentioned ideas for social entrepreneurship abound, many don’t thrive because of business management challenges or the lack of funding.

In the last half decade, the BPI Sinag has been able to assist over 150 Social Entrepreneurs, 60 communities and over 50,000 beneficiaries. Now on its sixth year, our program has developed from a business challenge to a supportive community of visionary entrepreneurs, mentors, educators, and other stakeholders sharing the same goal of inclusive growth through social entrepreneurship.

Together with our partner, Bayan Academy, the pioneering social enterprise incubator, we welcomed 44 alumni from different batches — going as far back as our 2014 pilot batch — to our pivot challenge this year. With the theme “Sinag Reignite: Reimagining, Repositioning, and Restrategizing Social Enterprises,” our SEs participated in several design sprint courses intended to help them rebuild and strengthen their enterprises. After two boot camps, the top 20 finalists presented their business plans to us.

The contenders, along with the other alumni who joined this year, have shown grit, creativity, and collaboration needed in these trying times. They are all very passionate in what they do, and I think that’s very inspiring.

After much deliberation, we have chosen our top 10 awardees. Accents and Petals, Down to Earth, Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp, Organic Growth, and Rajah Animal Feeds (Halal Organics Crops Production) were named as winners of the top five spots; while BalaiKamay Handcrafts, CalaBoo Dairyard Inc., Mavil’s House of Mushrooms, Mori Notes, and Virtualahan Inc. took the sixth to 10th spots, respectively.

We gave each of the top five winners P500,000 in cash grants, while the 6th to 10th placers got P200,000 each. These SEs will also undergo a six-month mentorship program with Bayan Academy.

Technology plays and will play a key role in how these SEs plan to pivot their businesses. One of our top five winners, Down To Earth, a social enterprise that harvests fresh and healthy farm produce that are organically and sustainably grown, will make use of digital tools to connect with customers. Seeing the growing demands for technical and plant maintenance, the SE aims to create an avenue where their communities and customers can virtually learn how to grow their own food through various e-learning courses and training materials.

Virtualahan Inc. is another SE that leverages technology to survive. The enterprise has designed a cost-effective and transferable social technology that allows socially excluded populations to access work in the global digital economy. They use instruments/devices and the Internet to connect and advance their mission of getting people out of poverty by building the future of work where no one is left behind.

These are just two of BPI Sinag’s SEs who continue to bank on innovation to sustain and potentially grow their businesses and at the same support their communities even in this time of Covid-19.

I hope that more industry experts, decision-makers, and investors support the SE community, and that more people patronize their products and services. Their value and impact to society is crucial in helping build back a better Philippines.

The author is the vice president and head of corporate affairs & communications of BPI and is concurrently the executive director of BPI Foundation

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