Top 5 Survival Tips for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs

7 12 2008

Sure, social entrepreneurship is the air I breathe and I say/write/dream of the term more than I think about food. But I still have a lot to learn. However, since social entrepreneurship, unlike calculus, does not have fixed, definite, absolute formulas, the road map remains scribbled on, erased and scribbled on again. So it is highly possible that in my freshman year as a social entrepreneur, my experience may already be a few years and tears worth your time and effort.

If you want to help change the world in a full time basis, here are the top 5 survival tips for you.

1.) When starting a social enterprise, a healthy mix of idealism and pragmatism is ideal. This simply means that you have to balance your bottomlines. As you enter the social entrepreneurship word, you will hear this term a LOT. You may not necessarily understand it but don’t worry, you are not alone. It is hard enough to understand and achieve “profit” as a bottomline. Thinking about two, three, or four, is a bit more challenging. It is useful to always remember that there are several things that should keep your enterprise alive… among these are your cause (your reason for being), your stakeholders (your impact on their lives), the environment (without which you will just perish), and YOU (you need to eat and live too to do all these).

2.) Celebrate the small things but THROW A BALL for big things. Some of us fall into the trap of settling for the small things and celebrating them too much and for too long. When you enter this world, it is easy to fall into the trap of the “at least I am doing something in my own little way”. First of all, it is better not to settle for “at least”. Second, “own little way” is good but not enough. Little ways may start things but commitments sustain them.

3.) Being a social entrepreneur is a lot of fun because you may feel like you are earning and at the same time helping or helping and at the same time earning. But it is useful to remember that “Romanticizing” never helps. There will be paradigms that are hard to change and issues may go on for a long time. You are not Messiah and the people you are helping are not there to praise you for your goodness or appreciate you for your sacrifice. You guys are in the same mess together and you are fixing it together. Key word: TOGETHER.

4.) As an aspiring social entrepreneur, you may want to think of already going for it instead of aspiring. Take the risk. You may want to do this as a part-time, weekend thing and that is just fine… but please remember that until somebody actually commits, your social enterprise idea will be just that… a really good idea. I know that the title of this note is “Top 5 Survival Tips for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs”, so why on earth am I suggesting that you take the “risk” and why am I not giving you some more “secure” tips? Aside from the fact that I believe that the social entrepreneurship path could be a secure and promising career path, I have to write an attractive title to get you to read this… which brings me to my last point.

5.) Engage the market. What I did was simply lure you into reading this disturbing note. If you were already interested in Social Entrepreneurship but just did not know how and when to start, then you would be interested to know how to survive in this field. Similarly, as you enter this world, you will find yourself talking about what you do with full passion and overflowing energy. As you encounter people from all walks of life, it would be evident to you that you have a desire to inspire them. Just always remember that marketing is not just about you. It is about engaging the market. Once you understand where they are coming from, you could use the best of your talents and words to reach and touch the right buttons. The principle applies to the messages you send and even the products you sell to your market.


The world cannot survive with just the goodness of our hearts

28 11 2008

The world cannot survive with just the goodness of our hearts

Why do we expect people who do social entrepreneurship and choose to serve to not want and yearn for the same things that people who go corporate aspire for?

Like a good compensation package

Some recognition

Some appreciation

A promising career path

We cannot bleed the life and humanity out of these servant leaders as we bleed the resources and time out of them as well.

The world cannot survive with just the goodness of our hearts. That good feeling that sustains us once in a while will not be enough for us to serve the world full time. The world may be bigger than our future and our families but these are where our worlds started and they are our lives. Our hearts are good and will continue to be good no matter what the motivation will be… but it has to beat first.

We have to live first.

Changing the Face of Charity

23 11 2008

Last night was absolutely amazing.

We had 5 of the country’s most brilliant beacons of fashion and the arts: Renowned Stylist, Ms. Jenny Epperson, Multi-Awarded Photographer, Mr. Raymund Isaac, One of the Country’s Top Fashion Designer, Mr. Rajo Laurel, One of Asia’s most accomplished artists, Ms. Anita Magsaysay-Ho, and the National Artist, Mr. Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera. All of them embellished and enriched our designer bags last night. The beautiful Bahia Function Room was endowed by five creatively designed vignettes that displayed one-of-a-kind creations by these artists and designers. The night ended with a blast. The Auction ended successfully and we raised more than what we had originally projected. More than anything, we have succeeded to engage the upper, influential society, in our social business enterprise.

But this entry is not about the colorful details of the event itself.

This is about the Happiness, Hope, and Hunger that comes with every beginning of a revolution.

Happiness. One year ago, we had good intentions and a few opportunities to create change. But we knew that we wanted to help the Payatas women improve their lives. Last night was the beginning of a vision and we now look forward to so many opportunities. We know now that we are not just helping the Payatas women improve their lives, we are improving our lives, and building our lives with them as well. We wanted to prove, for little over a year, that it is possible, sustainable, and promising to save the world on a full time basis. Last night was a happy night because it was a night that crystallized the transformation and revolution we worked on for one year.

Hope and Hunger.

Last night, we wanted to establish our RIIR designer line as an elegant, ethical, and eco-sexy brand. We envisioned our customers and clients to be engaged partners, not just detached charity-givers. There is perhaps nothing wrong with just charity, but nowadays, I believe that charity alone is not enough. We tried that charity route for decades now and we are in the same rut. And even if Social Entrepreneurship is such a trendy and sexy-word right now, only the name, not the face of charity, is changing. There is something inherently “saintly”, “nice”, and “marketable” about doing things for free. This is not attractive though for those who may have the capacity to change things but who do not have the luxury to spare time, money, and opportunities. Last night, we had one year of proof that changing the world could be a sustainable and promising career for the people who want to dedicate their entire lives to others. We have every right to live comfortable and secure lives just like everyone else. My dream is to walk this world as a young social entrepreneur and be looked at, not as a self-sacrificing martyr but as a passionate expert in the field of social entrepreneurship who has a bright future ahead of her. It is my dream for the young women who also work with me in Rags2Riches. Cheska, Kring, and Jing, have every right to be successful and secure just like everyone else who chose other careers.

The revolution has only just begun. Changing the face of charity does not end with one night. In fact, we still have a long way to go. Throughout the night, I have been hearing the words “charity” and “helping”. And they are not bad words. But I would like to stress that “profit”, “sustainability”, and “business”, are not bad words either. I am hungry for real, sticky, revolutionary change in the paradigm of people when it comes to changing the world and making an impact. We should start changing the way we see “changing the world”. We should try seeing it as a vocation and a career instead of a volunteer thing, once-in-a-lifetime event, or a part time job. Changing the world means encouraging more people to change it with you. One way to encourage that is to create viable and secure career opportunities for aspiring social entrepreneurs.

Everyone deserves a shot at changing the world. World-changing is not just for those who has the money, spare time, or rare opportunities for grants and donations.

The world deserves more than our spare change, spare time, part-time workers. The world deserves more than charity.

That is what’s amazing about last night. It was an exciting beginning to a revolution of changing the way we look at “changing the world”.

Fair Trade?

17 10 2008

Fair Trade is a very new term for me. I mean, I have been hearing about it for years but I wasn’t really sure about its definition. According to the Advocates for Philippine Fair Trade, Fair Trade is…

Fair Trade is a trading partnership which aims at sustainable development for excluded and disadvantaged entrepreneurs, producers, workers and communities.

As equally important, Fair Trade makes sure that products especially food and crafts are safe, of world-class quality, reasonably priced, environment-friendly and consumer-responsive.

Fairly-traded products can be no less!

Fair Trade, therefore, is an alternative approach to conventional international trade. Advocating for Fair Trade is a way to end poverty and put in place just business partnerships, relationships, networks, structures and systems. (

When I dug further into the world of Fair Trade, a saw a glimmer of hope. Finally, something that is sustainable, dependable, scalable for the job and value-creation of the Filipino people. I hoped that Fair Trade would eventually become a norm rather than just an advocacy.

I made some research and found out that there are some criteria for one to be considered “Fair”. And rightly so. I expected a set of ethical standards and principles that would indeed promote the common good and dignify the marginalized and forgotten. So I stumbled upon the following Fair Trade Principles from the Fair Trade Challenges and Opportunities paper I found in

These principles form the backbone of Fair Trade:     


transparency and accountability – Trading partners commit to transparent management and commercial relations.

capacity-building – In Fair Trade, producers and workers are empowered in the process to ensure sustainability. They are provided with management and marketing skills and access to new markets.

payment of a fair price – A fair price is agreed upon by the producers and traders based on the cost of production, social costs and environmental costs. The amount is determined through dialogue and participation. Fair Trade also guarantees the principle of equal pay for equal work bywomen and men. Traders confer punctual payment to the producers, and whenever possible, provides financial support for pre-production costs.

gender equity – Aside from getting paid for their contributions in the production process, women are empowered as valued members of the organization and community. They are given equal rights on participation, access to information, management and decision-making.. 


working conditions – Safe and healthy working conditions are made available to workers and producers. The participation of children in the workforce is also sanctioned by the UN Convention Rights of the Child as well as international labor laws.  

ecological integrity – Environmentally-sound methods of production are observed, by taking into account factors such as the maximum utilization of raw materials, efficiency in energy consumption, and pollution costs.

These principles really sounded great. That glimmer of hope sparkled even more as I read through the file. But after the high, the bubble popped slowly and painfully. I found out that Fair Trade in the Philippines started during the 1980s. 28 years ago. 28 long years ago. Enough for our adjacent countries to prosper, but apparently not enough for us to even be a speck of glittering dust on map of the world.

It took one visit to a Fair Trade organization in the Philippines and weeks and weeks of disturbance to help me understand why we are still in this rut after 28 years. There may be some other reasons I’m sure. It could be that it would take a LOT of time for any culture to accept a different kind of practice such as Fair Trade. But it could also be that we sell ourselves short at all times that other people buy us for the price tag we put on ourselves. Allow me to explain.

I entered the modest office of this Philippine-based Fair Trade organization. My jaw almost dropped when I saw the marvelous products that were handmade by Filipinos. They were beautiful. As a co-founder and officer of our one year old Social Enterprise, Rags2Riches, I was compelled to ask questions… to learn more about how they manage to put things all together.

That is when the whole thing snapped.

The person refused to answer any of my questions regarding who the producers are, what they do, how their lives were improved. He said that if he tells me, I would go straight to the communities instead of go to him. Makes good business sense perhaps but I was utterly disturbed. He also said that they take out the community-brand and even the Filipino identity of the products just so they would be more attractive to the international market. So we strip away our identity, our people’s identity, our pride, just for some money and we call that development.

I went home with a heavy heart. He is just one person of course, and there should be many who are creating innovations and not settling for status quo. It was still sad though since he spoke like he was trapped in some vacuum. I was having the impression that “this is the way it is.. and as long as we are helping, that should be fine”. Selling ourselves short.

I do not see anything Fair about that at all.

It is sad that “Fairness” right now has ifs and buts and compromises. It is subjected to subjectivity for the sake of survival. But from the point of view of a Social Entrepreneur who saw the impact of having a name, brand, identity, and pride in the global market, identifying and acknowledging identity is Just and Fair.
Two Points.

First, no one could argue with results. I have seen it work. The dignity of the Rags2Riches brand is something that we were very particular of right from the start. All of my co-founders believed that if we are going to create something for the marginalized of the country, we have to do it with pride and a determination to not compromise values for sustainability or the other way around.

Along our one-year journey of not settling for compromises, we realized the importance of acknowledgement and recognition. We proudly carry the Rags2Riches Brand and Story everywhere we go. As a result, each member of our community is empowered. Our community believes that their products are worth it and that they are worth recognizing as the artists that create the products with their own hands. No amount of training could make them actually “own” the business. But a face and name to live up to for themselves could make them move and shake their worlds.   

Second, by virtue of the term itself, “Fair” should be a value that is fairly shared by everyone regardless of social status, race, or religion. It is striking how we go through all pains just to protect our rights and our name and brand on a piece of art, novel, haiku, invention, or product. Our standard for ourselves should be no different from the standards we demand for others. That is giving justice to the “Fair” in “Fair Trade”.















Lifestyle of a Social Entrepreneur

3 10 2008

Whenever I am asked about my profession or what I do for a living, and I answer “social entrepreneurship” or “social entrepreneur”, I can’t help but notice flinches. The next questions that I would have to answer would be about the definition of “social entrepreneurship”, some further explanations on each word of the definition, and finally, the financial viability on my part. Or in other words, “How am I surviving?”

See, the usual misconception is that Social Entrepreneurship is equal to a.) Non-Profit, b.) Foundation, c.) NGO, d.) Charitable institution, e.) Profit-generation that is solely for social cause. Thus, people assume that I am such a noble, self-sacrificing martyr who left worldly possessions for deeper meaning.

Perhaps because of different definitions, the entire concept of Social Entrepreneurship became lost in translation. Or it is possible that we have yet to dissect and further develop the definition itself.

Whatever the definition is or whatever it will be, the point is, I have discovered that these perceptions are misconceptions. I should know. I am living the life of a Social Entrepreneur. It is not my part time job. It is not a hobby. It is the air I breathe. And although yes, there were some sacrifices made because I chose this path, I must also admit, that it is a viable and potentially lucrative career path.

Here are the reasons why:

Food: I go for home cooked meals. I don’t eat excessively or lavishly. The best tasting meals too are prepared by our Nanays from Rags2Riches, Inc, (or bought from one of Cubao’s carinderias) and shared with friends.

Clothing: The good thing about being a social entrepreneur is that I am compelled to integrate my lifestyle with the causes I advocate for. Thus, vintage shops which have the best brands, best styles, and provides the most exciting shopping experience, are my clothing suppliers.

Rest and Recreation: I love watching movies at home. It saves on gas, reduces my carbon footprint, and gives me the best view too! Nature trips are also very relaxing and affordable too (in fact, one of the things I enjoy most is strolling around my school, Ateneo… I just need my ID of course. No entrance fee.).

What about savings? I would like to refer to this as “investments” instead. For putting in my efforts, love, passion, understanding, patience, and expertise in my social enterprise, I create jobs, dreams, and futures. I consider these priceless. And in terms of these, my current profession/vocation is indeed lucrative.

I know, I know, these may sound up-in-the-clouds. As for going beyond these so-called “lofty” ideals, let me also say that Social Enterprises, if handled the right way, could be potentially big, profitable, and invest-able.

Take Rags2Riches for example. Our company started as a Php100,000 company with no full time employee, no office, no other resources but the minds and hearts of several young professionals. Now, it has almost 2 Million in Sales, 5 full-time employees, a modest office, International recognition, and lots of partners. All these in less than one year.

Social Entrepreneurship may have several definitions right now. And there would be some few more years that I would have to explain my profession in great, excruciating detail. It is really quite simple but it entails a lot of detailed explanations unlike when you say “financial analyst”. Honestly, I don’t even know what that is but it sounds normal enough so I won’t ask either.

The sad part is, people around the world generally still think that in order to “do good”, one must sacrifice a great deal. Profit is mostly considered a bad word. I believe that do-gooders have every right to a bright and promising future just like other businessmen do. I believe that we have to work together and nourish each other in order to make the world a better place. We can’t starve our social workers just because they are working towards social development. In fact, we have to nourish them for the skills, heart, and soul they are pouring on their vocations. We have to reward entrepreneurs who choose to go beyond profit and look into the social impact of every process of their business.

I would like to see the day when social cause would be considered a business-norm… just like a business registration or an official receipt. I would like to see the day when business models would be considered a social-work norm as well. Until that day though… I would tirelessly continue to explain what I am and what I do.

I am a social entrepreneur. Social Entrepreneurship is not about self-deprivation or self-sacrifice… it is about choosing to look beyond profit and see value created and potential value instead.

EDUN: my first ethical fashion exposure

28 09 2008

Rags2Riches: Creating Social Statements in Style

28 09 2008

Rags2Riches is a social business enterprise in the Philippines that is creating social statements in style.

About a year ago, a group of young professionals visited one of the country’s largest dumpsites, Payatas. They found out that the women community of Payatas were rug-weavers who were getting less than .03cents (USD) per rug that they toil over for days. These women create these rugs out of scrap cloth that could be seen in the dumpsite. Indeed, hundreds of tons of recyclable waste are being dumped on Payatas on a daily basis. Rags2Riches was born out of these social problems.
Supported by one of Asia’s top fashion designers, Mr. Rajo Laurel (, Rags2Riches and the empowered women of Payatas were able to create beautiful fashion pieces made of recycled scraps salvaged directly from garments factories. As testimony to its success and relevance, Rags2Riches recently bagged the University of San Francisco’s Social Enterprise Award. The emerging social enterprise is also currently exploring export possibilities with the intention of engaging the world in creative recycling and fair trade. The Rags2Riches online store will soon be in operation in the next few weeks. Watch out for it in For questions and inquiries, you may email