The Philippines is a beautiful destination made up of 7,107 islands, though marked by poverty. Yet, it is now the setting for a remarkable story of empowerment and change. The social enterprises movement is sweeping through the nation, inspiring its people to rally together for a better future using innovative solutions.
In between your snorkeling, diving, beach combing and relaxation – make time to soak in the Filipino social entrepreneurial spirit and to support their grassroots causes. This guide will help you do just that.
PLAN YOUR AUTHENTIC AND MEANINGFUL TRIP
Flip Trip is an online platform that simplifies travel planning and the direct booking of off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Philippines. Created by three young Filipino travelers, the website connects you to local businesses in out of the way places, and works closely with local government and organizations to promote new sustainable tourist activities.
Side Note: need an alternative phone charger or light for your adventurous trip to the Philippines? Check out these social enterprises which benefit the poor communities in the country:
TOUR WITH MEANING
Although there may be several great internationally-based groups that travel to the Philippines – the country has some exciting things happening internally. And, there is no better way to learn about the country than through a Filipino-based movement. Here are my top choices, if you want to travel in a group:
Gawad Kalinga (GK) is the largest social enterprise movement in the country, vowing to bring 5 million people out of poverty by 2024 through various projects. I love their social mission because it is rooted in faith and patriotism – it is truly Filipinos helping Filipinos. The GK Mabuhay Program welcomes local and foreign visitors to volunteer and to experience Filipino culture by immersing in the GK community. Volunteers of this program will have the opportunity to get to know the GK Residents and build houses with them, tend their farms and participate in other GK programs wherever their interests lie. There is also time for exploring the beauty of the country. You can get in touch with them directly to put together your trip at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Route +63 is a Filipino social enterprise committed to sharing the Philippine experience through travel. The young founders partner with social enterprises, government and other development organizations to promote sustainable tourism and community development. Their trips range from coffee eco-tours in Sagada highlands and Baatan sea turtle conservation expeditions, to surfing and culinary tours.
The Philippines has an incredible landscape – full of high peaks, lakes and moss-covered forests. Trail Adventours was started by a Filipino team of outdoor lovers who wanted travel to make a difference in their country. Their various treks support local projects and conservation, and cover some gorgeous and exhilarating trails throughout the country in a very economical way. It is also very likely that your group will be mainly nationals – which will further enhance your trip.
Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise that hand-makes bamboo bicycles with fair-trade labor and sustainable building practices. Their bamboo bike builders (aka Bambuilders) come from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine based community development organization for the poor, working to bring an end to poverty.
Get to know the city with a hip, but conscious approach on Bambike’s bike tour around the historical core of Manila. During the ride on your bamboo bike, you will pass Plaza San Luis, San Agustin Church, Plaza Roma, Fort Santiago and more.
Culture Shock is a Filipino tour company that is passionate about their home country and all that it has to offer. Their tours are fun, authentic and make a positive impact. Culture Shock can take you to meet and support the T’Boli tribe of Lake Sebu, across the Culinary Capital of Pampanga to try unique cuisine, on beach patrols to help at a turtle conservation project and much more.
Planning a trip to Pawalan? Corong Galeri is a locally-based social enterprise that works with fishing villages to provide eco-tours that support and promote their indigenous cultures. Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours can involve up to 7 local families in different roles: ground handler, boat owner, boat captain, food preparer, tour guide, entrance fee recipients, etc. You can use them for multi-day expeditions around the island or customize a day trip to island hop and meet with the locals.
SUPPORT LOCAL, SOCIAL BUSINESSES IN MANILA
Most likely you will arrive into the Philippines through Manila and plan to spend some time in the thriving capital – the true business and cultural hub of the nation. Below are some of my favorite social enterprises in the city to check-out while you visit.
It’s easy to select well-established hotel chains that offer predictable service when you are choosing accommodations (especially in big cities where large international brands will be present). But you can’t replace the feeling of supporting grassroots causes either. So opt out of the boring, predictable chain hotel and stay in a place like Makabata. This social enterprise and youth training center is run by Bahay Tuluyan, a children’s rights organization. The 14-room hotel serves as a training ground for young people of Bahay Tuluyan, where they gain valuable skills as part of their Independent Living Skills program. Even more importantly, every cent you pay for your room goes back into supporting Bahay Tuluyan’s programs and services for children.
This chain of budget friendly eco-hostels is a place for the artsy and the adventurous. Their quirky beach huts are covered in lively colors, painted from fellow hostel mates. Their unique business model helps strengthen the communities where their hostels reside by providing food, rentals, surfing classes and more to their customers. Currently they have three locations.
As I mentioned earlier, Gawad Kalinga is a powerhouse social enterprise that is rocking the Philippines from within right now! The most exciting thing about GK for international visitors is their Center for Social Innovation at GK Enchanted Farms. This pilot site in Bulacan, about 90 minutes outside of Manila, is a village university, social tourism destination, and incubator of social enterprises. They are transforming a once-abandoned, barren wasteland into fields of abundance.The farm has an astonishing 9 Pioneer Centers! One of the newest ones is the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) which has led to 19 social enterprises at the farm, all aimed at using local resources in order to grow the economy and lift Filipinos out of poverty.
You can visit GK Enchanted Farm easily from Manila – they host social enterprise demos, farm tours, farming activities and a buffet lunch using ingredients sourced from their fields. You can even book directly with them to say overnight at the farm. Check-out their webpage for visiting, which will give you all of the details before you show up.
Coconut House – Restaurant
The Coconut House is working to transform the country’s large coconut industry to benefit over 3.5 million coconut farmers who work in some of the most impoverished places in the country. The owner of the restaurant works to create new Filipino coconut products that utilize the entire coconut for new worldwide trends like coconut oil and water. The industry right now uses only a portion for its main export Copra, and sadly throw the rest of the coconut away, leaving the farmer with little profits.
In support of his mission, the Coconut House’s cuisine features dishes that all use coconut. You can also buy his coconut ice cream at their small outlet “Ice Cream House” at various locations around Manila.
Uniquease – Restaurant
This Filipino-Japanese fusion casual restaurant aims to bring healthier and fresher choices to the large fast food industry in Manila. Uniquease also serves as a training and support center for at-risk and under-privileged youth in the city. Japanese founder, Yachiyo Nakamura quit her traditional NGO job and has for several years been inspiring youth to take control of their futures, and to further support the social enterprise movement when they are grown.
The Enchanted Farm Café – Restaurant
This GK Enchanted Farm outpost in Quezon City, Manila sources raw materials from the farm and from other social enterprises throughout the country. I suggest checking out the restaurant for dinner on Wednesday nights- when the restaurant becomes a watering hole for social entrepreneurs who come for the weekly Center for Social Innovation (CSI) event. It’s a great way to connect with the local movement!
Local Edition – Coffee Shop and Café
If you find yourself in Makati City, Manila and you love coffee as much as I do – stop in at the trendy coffee shop and café Local Edition. This neighborhood joint was started by two college friends who wanted to design a space where people could gather for inspiration and creativity. The coffee shop serves 100% Philippine coffee, and their menu supports local markets and farmers. The design of the space also constantly changes with local artist’s work that motivates and challenges. Why not make a positive impact on the local economy and get inspiration while you get your morning or afternoon caffeine fix? It sure beats Starbucks or McCafé!
Bayani Brew – Tea
Bayani Brew was started at the GK Enchanted Farm. Bayani Brew traces its origins from the native formulations introduced by the nanays (mothers) of the Gawad Kalinga community in the GK Enchanted Farm. It advocates the use of indigenous ingredients such as lemongrass, pandan, and sweet potato tops which are the main ingredients of “Bayani Brew Classic” and “Bayani Brew Purple Leaf.” As they put it, Bayani Brew wants to
“…be remembered not only for its refreshing beverages, but also as part of a movement brewing a new breed of Filipinos crazy in love with our country.”
Visit their website to find out where you can purchase and enjoy Bayani Brew while you are in the Philippines.
Theo and Philo – Chocolate
Philo was born in the Philippines, but like many educated nationals, was living overseas for work. While abroad, he began learning to bake. His interest in chocolate sparked, and he soon realized that the European nations that are world-renown for their chocolates, actually import their cocoa beans and sugar cane from places like the Philippines. Philo returned to his country with the mission to keep the capital within his country and to make chocolate “from bean to bar” all in Philippines. The boutique makes small-batch artisan chocolate and supports local farming. While you are exploring around Manila – make sure to stop in one of these retail outlets to pick up one of their sweet treats.
If you are planning to visit the Philippines, the beach is definitely on the agenda. Don’t want to pack a bulky towel? Buy a Lagu. Lagu is the first-ever beach-friendly blanket made to address human-made sand erosion. In fact, the average person carries away 170 grams of unwanted sand every time they leave the beach. Unlike ordinary beach towels, Lagu repels sand, is quick to dry and is allergen-free. Keep sand on the beach where it belongs! Lagu blankets are available in multiple colours and can be purchased online, internationally, and in various stores nationwide as well as several resorts in popular beach destinations in the Philippines.
Plush and Play melds the creative genius of the poor together with the passion of young social entrepreneurs to create world class toys, restoring Filipino’s dignity and promoting their children’s right to play. The company is working with Gawad Kalinga to provide a secure source of income for 500 families by 2017 and to raise a new young generation of heroes and local social entrepreneurs, all while continuously raising the bar on the safety, social and environmental standards within the toy industry. Their plush veggie toys make great souvenirs or gifts for your young family members, and are currently available to buy at GK Enchanted Farm, Toy Kingdom Megamall and online. My nieces and nephews would LOVE their green pea with glasses named Antonio Repolyo.
Human Nature is a body care company that is fighting poverty by changing the way products are made and sold in the Philippines, so people of all walks of life can experience quality. I love how they state their mission as,
“Being faithful stewards of our God-given talents and natural resources, we will give the best of ourselves to urgently and sustainably build a global company which will showcase the best of the Philippines and uplift all our people, especially the poor through providing affordable, quality, natural products.”
It’s clear to see that they “walk the talk” and are truly as they promote: pro-Philippines, pro-poor, and pro-environment. They are a champion and major mover in the current social enterprise movement happening in the country right now. I particularly love that they treat farmers, suppliers and employees with respect – providing wages and benefits never seen before in this industry of the Philippines and are expanding their reach faster than ever!
While searching through their website, I was astonished at the products and prices. I just started using their clarifying shampoo and coffee body scrub and love it! They have 29 stores in the Philippines (location details here), so you can stop in while you are there to stock up on essentials.
Side Note: Don’t miss my interview with Human Nature where they talk all about their story and future vision!
R2R began in 2007 in Payatas, one of the Philippines’ largest urban poor communities and home to half a million people. An informal cottage industry of rug-weavers here scavenged through dumpsites for scrap pieces of fabric to create and sell handcrafted rugs. Rags2Riches stopped the exploitation of these women, and now works with their original vision to increase their wages and end poverty in other communities as well. In six years, R2R has trained over 900 artisans across communities in Metro Manila and continues to expand its social impact and eco-ethical footprint around the country.
For the ladies out there, I love their Ashely black clutch. They also have a new home accessories line R2RLiving with gorgeous rugs and pillows. Their bags and home items are available at their Manila storefronts:
3rd floor of Glorietta 2 (near National Bookstore and Vanilla Cupcake Bakery), on the 2nd floor, Archeology wing of Rockwell Power Plant, and on the 3rd floor of Podium Mall.
First of all, I love their slogan: Wear your Tribe. Wear with Pride.
Anthill enables Filipino weaving communities to preserve and promote the tapestry of hand-loomed fabric traditions in their young by turning these textiles into contemporary lifestyle products. While I travel around the world, I like to buy authentic pieces that really speak to the place, that support the local economy and that I can actually use and enjoy! Their men, women and baby fashion items are a cool yet practical keepsake that you can wear long after you visit the country.
ECHOstore is a sustainable lifestyle store founded in 2008 by like-minded women who wanted to use their skills and experiences to bring artisanal and health products to a specialty market. They now have three linking store fronts that all work together under one mission – what they call the “Four Ps: People, Planet, Profit and Pneuma” (or spirit that gives us the passion to continue our mission-led business). When you arrive at their shops, you will see EchoStore, EchoMarket and Echo café. It’s a great stop while you are in Manila to pick up fair trade items, local food products and grab a healthy bite to eat. You will leave feeling connected to the Philippines and feeling good about your choices. They have three storefronts in and around Manila – you can find their contact details and street addresses on their contacts page.
Manila Sole makes quirky lace-up shoes for men and women that are made from the billions of old tires that are continuously discarded and lying around in cities. I love their earthy designs. You can purchase them while passing through Quezon City, Manila at the Mad Kahuna Surf Shop or on their website. Even if you aren’t planning to travel through the area – you can’t beat $15-20 for a great pair of casual shoes that supports a positive mission. Check them out online!
Jacinto & Lirio is the flagship brand of social enterprise EcoIngenuity Inc., which aims to raise the competitiveness of Filipino indigenous materials, and supports the communities who produce them by building global Filipino design brands. All items are not only fashionable, but eco-ethically produced and created in collaboration with aspiring and established Filipino designers and innovators.
Jacinto & Lirio means hyacinth and lily. Hyacinth is actually one of the most invasive aquatic species in the country that clogs waterways and causes flooding. By producing hyacinth leather, the harmful plant is removed from lakes and provides new livelihood for rural communities. They offer a wide range of bags, notebooks, planners and more.
Sari-sari stores are small neighborhood retail shops run by women micro-entrepreneurs from their homes. Quite often these micro-entrepreneur mothers, or nanays, engage in shop keeping in order to supplement their family’s income. With more than one million sari-sari’s present in the Philippines – these stores have come to represent Filipino daily life, but also poverty.
Mark Ruiz and Bam Aquino started Hapinoy (literally meaning “Happy Filipino”) to help women set-up and manage their sari-sari shops. Through their training and supply channels, they have empowered and equipped over 3,000 sari-sari owners and several communities. Before your trip, get in contact with Hapinoy and plan to support some of their shops at email@example.com
So I hope you made it all the way through this guide and that you can clearly see how vibrant the social enterprise movement is in the Philippines right now. It is THE time to visit the country!
These are just some of the amazing entrepreneurial start-ups coming out of the Philippines right now. So, let me know if I left out one of your favorites. Let’s help each other travel with meaning and authenticity.