AVA, Entrepreneurship, Philippines, Startups

How Filipino Women Shop Online: An Inside Look into Consumer Adoption

The e-commerce market in the Philippines is worth $1.1 billion. Yet, nobody really knows how Filipinos shop online. Sure, there are a number of surveys on online habits, but these tend to be flawed because they are based on claimed usage vs actual behavior.

Any serious e-commerce entrepreneur needs to know this stuff.  In my previous life at Procter & Gamble, where I worked on Safeguard, Olay & Whisper (yes, feminine care products. That’s a different story for a different post), this level of in-depth consumer knowledge was par for the course.

We had tons of data sources. AC Nielsen retail panels. TNS household panels. Trade data. Proprietary surveys. Internal databases of concept test results vs in-market results. Media buying data. Market mix models that use multivariate regression. Big corporate machinery stuff.

But when I started AVA, an online retail platform for fashion & design brands, our team didn’t have this luxury.

Now, you do.

For the past few years, we’ve gathered tons of data on the online habits of Filipino consumers. This is based on actual buying behavior. It can’t get any more empirical than this.

So whether you’re a young entrepreneur creating an online brand, or an established retailer getting into e-commerce for the first time, you won’t have to start blind like we did.

Tweetie de Leon and AVA partnered to launch a Kickstarter campaign to save the dying inabel fabric.

Tweetie de Leon and AVA partnered to launch a Kickstarter campaign to save the dying inabel fabric.

Our Methodology

This post primarily uses two sources. First, we analyzed our actual transaction data. Second, we conduct user surveys from time to time.

There are instances where we use multiple sources, of course. For instance, we combined our transaction data with our digital advertising spend to come up with our customer acquisition costs.

No data set will be completely representative, of course. So before you use our data to draw a few conclusions, a few caveats are in order:

  • Positioning. AVA is positioned as a premium brand. Not necessarily luxury, but not mass market either.For instance, AVA will never carry brands like Bench or Penshoppe. Some people in the industry call this segment ‘masstige’ or ‘aspirational’. Our price points reflect this positioning, and therefore this is not representative of all Filipino consumers.
  • Merchandising. We focus on brands that target women. In fact, 95% of our customers are female. Therefore we can’t make the same conclusions for male shoppers.
  • Geography. We have admittedly focused our marketing efforts on Metro Manila. Therefore these observations won’t necessarily hold true for the entire Philippines.

So what are the top things we’ve learned?

40% of purchases happen outside the mall hours of 10am to 9pm. 

I like starting with this data point because it rebuts the general perception that Filipinos love their malls. This is one of those things that people say again and again that everyone has accepted it as conventional truth. Yet, I’ve never seen a cohesive body of data to support it. That close to half of purchases happen outside mall hours means that consumers see the value of shopping online.

Slide03

Paypal and credit cards account for almost 80% of orders. 14% of orders are COD. This is of course a result of our target market. I’ve heard that in some sites, COD is up to 70% of orders. Credit cards are preferable in the long run because despite the bank charge, a site no longer has to worry about the logistical challenges of handling, collecting and reconciling cash orders.

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Almost 80% of orders come from in Metro Manila. That’s not the interesting point for obvious reasons. What’s interesting is the long tail: though Cebu and Davao account for 4% of orders, there are other provinces that each have a share, such as Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, and Iloilo. This is happening even though we haven’t deliberately advertised to the provinces.

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The implication here is that brands might consider targeted campaigns to tap the long tail of consumers in secondary cities.

Bags (16% of orders), accessories (15%) and apparel (9%) are the top selling categories, accounting for 40% of orders. Eco-friendly is an internal, catchall term we use for products that have a sustainability or health angle, and consist mostly of accessories as well (like environmentally friendly yoga mats and home accessories).

Slide06

On average, customers buy 1.96 items per order. To measure this, we simply divided the total # of individual items sold by the total # of customers for that month. Here, we took the past 6 months to have a broad view of buying behavior.

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This is a pretty interesting point because it means that customers aren’t buying just one-off items. Online shopping is starting to mirror offline shopping habits in the sense that people are shopping multiple items in one basket. And this is just a discretionary product – fashion. I can imagine this will be higher for sites that sell groceries.

Customers spend on average P3,900 per order. As an average, this masks the range of purchases. For instance, the highest single order on the site was worth P129,000.00 (a luxury bag) and the highest spending customer has spent P306,000.00 over a one year period.

Slide08

Yup, you saw that right. P300k on a website. From one customer. Awesomeness.

The averages also mask the importance of segments. For instance, the top quartile of our customers in terms of transaction value spend  P7,300 per order (almost 2x the average) and account for 70% of sales value.

We also did a survey of customers (n=321 respondents).

With that, we found out that the among the most important shopping habits are: looking online to find brands consumers can’t find in the malls and to search for the best prices.

Slide10

Among the other stuff people buy online include discount vouchers (60% bought in the past 6 months), airline tickets (58%), bags and accessories (53%), clothes (48%), and shoes (42%).

Slide09

We also asked people who haven’t purchased why they haven’t. The top two barriers were price (60% of non-buyers. Probably not our market because we are not a mass market site), and sizing (40%).

Slide11

The fascinating point here is that only 1 out of 4 actually want to see and feel the items before they buy it. When most people express their skepticism for online shopping, this is one of the biggest concerns. But in reality, the vast majority don’t have this problem. And the 25% who want to see and feel are probably not our target market anyway. The biggest challenge of marketers is to find which customers to covet and which ones to ignore.

Ok, enough with surveys. Ok let’s go back to actual buying behavior.

Weekends don’t really count. The number of orders are above average during Thursdays and Fridays and below average during Saturdays and Sundays. This echoes what others have noticed about web traffic going down on weekends. Which kinda makes sense: people go out to the malls, meet friends, exercise, etc. In our case, the average age of the AVA shopper is 34, so she is likely a young mom and would thus have a busy weekend with the family.

Slide12

This chart is expressed as an index. How it works: we took the % of actual daily orders that occur on Mondays, Tuesdays, and so on, and divided this by the expected daily orders (in this case, 1/7 or 14%), and rebased that to 100. Therefore an index of 140 means that the actual orders on that day is 40% higher than the expected average.

The implication for e-commerce sites here is that it is probably not a good idea to spend on advertising during weekends when consumer predisposition to shop is low.

The interesting part which requires further investigation is why orders over-index on Thursdays and Fridays. One explanation is that online shopping fulfills a different need – it could be more of a stress reliever after a busy week.

Paydays do not significantly impact sales. One common belief is that consumers tend to shop more during paydays because they feel like they have a little bit more in their wallets.

To test whether this applies to online retail as well, we took 5 distinct payday periods from May to July. Each payday period is three days long because we assume that any ‘payday effect’ could be felt for three days. Then, we hypothesized that any payday effect would result in a 200 over-index vs the daily average # of orders (or twice vs the average).

Slide13

We found no such over-index. In fact, with the exception of June 15-17, our data set showed no significant surge in payday shopping to warrant a conclusion that paydays affect sales.

There could be several reasons for this. One, people could be spending their money first on restaurants or bars with their friends/family. Or they could be shopping offline first before going online.

This of course has real business implications. Some sites run payday promotions when in fact, it could be an unnecessary cost (in terms of margin erosion) as consumers are not predisposed to spend significantly more during paydays.

The average cost to acquire each customer is around P550. This is a pretty straightforward calculation: divide total marketing spend by the number of NEW customers per month (not total customers as this will skew CAC and make it look artificially lower). I believe we can get this lower (to the P200-P300 levels), but because we target a very specific, premium audience, the costs would be higher. Theoretically, that should be okay as long as we attract customers whose gross profitability exceeds P550.

Slide16

Based on our average transaction size (close to P4k) and margins, the average payback is 0.58x. That means each customer we’ve acquired online is already profitable on the 1st purchase. Anything after that is gravy. Which means this model is dependent on the # of repeat buyers.

This has a huge implication for brands. For the first time ever, Filipino fashion brands can target a well-defined segment online (via social or search ads), experiment with the right merchandising mix, and profitably acquire online shoppers that can make e-commerce a sustainable channel that is ROI-positive (vs print ads which you can’t track). No need to spend excessively on branches in the malls to compete with H&M; just be fast and smart in reaching customers online. This is one reason why Globe COO Peter Bithos announced that he will start exiting print and outdoor advertising and focus on digital ads.

Anyway, back to the data. So what’s repeat like?

60% are repeat buyers. We think one reason for this is our focused approach on a particular segment. Another is our rewards program. 85% of our transactions result in consumers getting rewards points.

Slide15

What about loyalty over time? For this analysis, we worked with Ben Rollert, former data scientist at Kickstart Ventures to identify the most profitable channels and devices.

What we did here is to map out the profitability of consumers who were acquired via our email newsletter vs Facebook vs Google, with their device usage (desktops vs tablets vs mobiles). What we found is that Google search on tablets produced the most profitable customers.

Slide17

The implication here is that brands may opt to be more aggressive with their online advertising spend depending on how these numbers look like for their specific online stores. Recall that our customer acquisition cost is P550. And if Google search ads deliver us customers who are worth P1400 in gross profit, that means we can opt to spend (at least in the 1st 15 weeks) an additional P850 in that channel (P1400 minus P550) and still have profitable customers in a year’s time. Again, these numbers will look very different for your brand.

So there you have it! I hope the data above can help you formulate your own e-commerce strategy. This was just a super short overview fit for public consumption. If you’d like more data and help on building your online retail strategy and crafting digital marketing campaigns, feel free to drop me a note.

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AVA, New Products, Philippines, Startups

How to Export Philippine Design

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on how we can grow Philippine design exports. 

Philippine design has a compelling story. How do we share it?

Philippine design has a compelling story. How do we share it?

For the past three years, our company, AVA Online Group, has traversed two worlds: design and technology. I say ‘worlds’ because the people living in them rarely interact with those on the other side.

Put a software developer and a fashion designer in a room together – and I’ve ran several meetings like this – and you’ll see confused looks from the designer when words like APIs, MVPs and javascript are thrown around. The same is true for the developer, courtesy of terms like spec sheets, wovens, knits, or artisanship.

This is, of course, perfectly normal. People default to their comfort zones. But unfortunately, we can no longer be perfectly normal nor confine ourselves to the familiar.

What if merging both worlds holds the key to bringing Philippine design to the world? And what if commerce can bring a revenue model for local tech startups?

What if design and technology spoke to each other? 

We’ll get to this later. By now, you probably have a clue where I’m going: the humble thesis that technology holds the key to exporting Philippine design.

Let’s look at the size of the problem. Any well-informed entrepreneur will observe three things when it comes to our exports.

The first is how small our exports are. This is a crucial point to make because although our domestic economy is growing, no Asian economy has industrialized without a strong export base.

The second is how small our design exports are. This includes categories like apparel, accessories, jewelry, home decor, and furniture. For instance, Philippine exports of apparel and fabric-related are a fraction of those of Vietnam and Indonesia.

The third is that garments are a major export next to electrical components and semi-conductors. Yet, Philippine garment exports have declined by 25%: from $2 billion in 2006 down to $1.5 billion in 2011, driven by smaller orders from big brands and retailers reeling from the global financial crisis (which by the way also fueled the flash sales boom heralded by Gilt and Fab.com).

The good news is that design exports are growing, with furniture (35% vs year ago), fashion accessories (29% VYA) and garments (9% VYA) all making impressive gains in 2013.

So in short, this is a big problem, one that represents an enormous economic opportunity of national importance, and we some momentum on our side.

Kenneth Cobonpue's website is one of the most well-designed sites among local exporters

Kenneth Cobonpue’s website is one of the most well-designed sites among local exporters

The Two Towers

So what’s currently being done? To answer this question, one needs to understand two things that drive the business of local exporters: the trade show and contract manufacturing.

When it comes to trade shows, the first thing that comes to mind is Manila FAME. Twice a year, Philippine design converges at the SMX Convention center for a week-long event to showcase local talent.

The organizers led by CITEM executive director Rosvi Gaetos have done a fantastic job in bringing together designers and manufacturers from all over the country. But admittedly, we’re still a long way from reclaiming the glory years. “Spot sales used to reach as much as $150 million per show until China entered the scene as a major player in the world market,” said an Inquirer report based on remarks from the CITEM director. Last October’s FAME only generated $20m in spot sales.

For decades, Philippine design products have relied on trade shows here and abroad to attract international buyers. The formula is simple. Rent a huge space. Attract exhibitors to set up shop. Ask exhibitors to invest a lot in visual merchandising, sampling and marketing collateral. Hope for the best.

For manufacturers lucky enough to have built a following among international buyers over the decades, getting traction is expected. But unfortunately for most mid-sized and newer companies, local trade show traffic still pales in comparison to those in Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris and Last Vegas. The trade show is a 20th century solution in a 21st century world.

Meanwhile, a vast majority of our garments exports are unbranded. An American brand or retailer comes to the Philippines to source for merchandise several months in advance. The buyer and manufacturer agree on FOB pricing, quantity and delivery terms. The manufacturer produces the goods, ships them out and gets paid, less any defects.

Contract manufacturing is a tough business. You need scale. Scale requires fixed costs, yet orders are not guaranteed every year. You’re dependent on fluctuating material costs. And you’re competing against China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, markets that enjoy some level of government subsidy. Worse, the bulk of the margin accrues to the brand or the retailer. Contract manufacturing is clearly not viable as a long term solution.

But if you go to Manila FAME, you’ll see that there is no reason why our design products can’t compete on the global stage. Philippine design is unique, and we’ve obviously had plenty examples of magazines, celebrities, and TV shows picking up local designers. Yes, it’s still a challenge to manufacture at scale, especially if you’re an independent designer or new label, but by-and-large, the product side is okay.

The problem is the demand-side.  Trade shows obviously fail to reach broader American and European audiences. And if they do, contract manufacturers leave out the Philippine story and our products are marketed as a handbag from Kate Spade or Coach, not Aranaz.

Hence the question is, “How do we generate demand for Philippine design?” 

To significantly grow exports, we can’t rely on business-as-usual. And I’m quite sure fashion designers will need to start working closely with computer engineers. And content marketers. And logistics specialists. And channel development managers. In short, design, technology and business must work together.

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Entrepreneurship, Founders, Philippines, Startups, Uncategorized

Top 10 People to Meet in the Philippines Startup Scene in 2014

On a Sunday morning in early January, I got a text from Manila Angels‘ Christian Besler. Nope, it wasn’t a drunk message sent at 3am. It was about grabbing coffee at the Pen with two Bay Area executives vacationing in Manila. Both got a hold of Christian via Twitter.

"Dirty Kitty" is a fixture at the parking lot of the Peninsula Hotel, a centrally-located meeting spot for intros and deals

“Dirty Kitty” is a fixture at the parking lot of the Peninsula Hotel, a centrally-located meeting spot for intros and deals

Despite the booming local scene, there’ still a lot information asymmetry between what’s going on-the-ground, and what entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley know. After all, the Philippines really isn’t a mainstay on Techcrunch or Mashable. When I met a partner from Kleiner Perkins, her first question was “What’s going on out there? I’ve never visited, but all the social networking and digital media startups we’ve looked at always gets a ton of traffic from the Philippines.”

The country’s startup scene has generous servings of good news: 7.2% GDP growth, double digit internet + mobile user growth, investment grade ratings, and growing cohort of tech entrepreneurs.

So how do we bridge the gap? In a lunch forum hosted by the Harvard Business School Club, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the Filipino founder of recently IPOed Care.com (which popped 43% on its first day), mentioned that the key is always through PEOPLE.

The goal is to make Manila a social hub for tech startups in the region – an alternative launchpad into Southeast Asia vs expensive, big brother, and tiny Singapore.

So…. for investors and founders who are likely to first discover the Philippines as a.) tourists, and b.) as relatives (a Filipino spouse or in-law), we’d like you to stay a few days, fall in love with the country, and in the process, also discover the vast potential of its nascent innovation economy.

The goal of this post is to make it easy for you to get seamlessly plugged-in into the local scene. So, on this Sunday afternoon, I sat down for 20 minutes and scribbled the top 10 people you should meet based on:

  • Execution: A track record of getting things done. No talking heads on this list!
  • Immersed in the local community: Understands local dynamics and gives back through their time and resources
  • Well-connected: Has a quality network across different stacks.
  • Accessible: Responsive, and generous with their time

There are players, of course, like ICCP Ventures, but none of them have demonstrated serious interest in high-risk, early-stage startups and preferred to stick with more mature plays. There are a ton of successful entrepreneurs, of course, more than this list can handle, but 99% of them are either focused on brick-and-mortar or may not be as accessible.

So if you’re new to the scene, these are the top 10 people to meet in the Philippines tech scene, in alphabetical order:

1. Amazon Web Services: The ASEAN team led by Anne Salada-Chauffaille and Franco Eisma has been quite active in evangelizing across the technology spectrum, providing not just cloud computing infrastructure but educational events for local conglomerates and seed-funded startups. Check out the next AWSome Day this February.

2. Ayannah: Mikko Perez and Dicky Alikpala. Ayannah is a digital platform play focusing on the unbanked in emerging markets. Mikko and Dicky are the funniest couple-preneur in the country. They’ll probably kill me for saying that. But I’m sure they secretly enjoy it. Times with these guys are never boring. Lose the serious face and prepare for a one-hour meeting to turn into a four-hour laugh fest.

3. Hatchd: Manny Ayala & Nix Nolledo. Hatchd is a startup studio that builds companies “from ideation to operation.” Its portfolio includes Rappler, the leading social news network in the country, and Purple Click, a digital advertising firm. (Disclosure: Hatchd is an investor in my company). Manny is an experienced media and tech executive, while Nix founded Xurpas, a leading mobile content provider. Both are pretty active in Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

4. Ideaspace: Earl Valencia. The incubator of the Metro-Pacific / PLDT Group is led by former Silicon Valley executive Earl Valencia and has invested in a number of small, mostly pre-revenue ventures. Shucks, you just missed the application for the 2014 cohort so stay tuned for the next one.

5. Kickstart Ventures: Minette Navarrete. Structured as a 100% subsidiary of Globe Telecom, Kickstart is a seed capital fund that “enables startups to achieve a faster launch and a better business trajectory through a combination of funding, infrastructure and facilities, mentoring, and market access.” Though launched less than two years ago, Kickstart now has the biggest portfolio (close to 20?) among local startup investors.  Minette and her team are experienced investors, operators and community builders, and are plugged in to the broader Singtel Regional Seed Network. (Disclosure: Kickstart is the lead investor in my company)

6. Manila Angels: Christian Besler & Paul Rivera. Launched just this January, the country’s first angel network now boasts of close to 50 angels and is currently screening its first cohort of 25 pitches. If you’re popping by Kickstart, make sure to check in with Christian (who is also VP Community at Kickstart) and Paul (Co-founder of Y-Combinator backed Kalibrr), whose company is co-located at Kickstart HQ. .

7. New Leaf Ventures: David Bonifacio. NLV regularly hosts Better Business Brunches in the Bonifacio Global City and is positioning itself as a hub for B2B investments and technologies. David is an energetic entrepreneur and storyteller who handles multiple roles for CBTL Holdings – the local franchise owner of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. And no, BGC wasn’t named after him.

8. PhilDev:  Phildev is a foundation of US-based Filipinos who are passionate about creating linkages between local entrepreneurs and the world. Chaired by Tallwood’s Dado Banatao, some of its trustees include Eric Manlunas of Siemer Ventures (who has invested in a few local companies) and Sheila Lirio Marcelo.

9. SGV: Winston Chan. Winnie runs the advisory group for SGV, the country’s largest professional services firm. Winnie’s been key to helping several multinational clients establish BPO operations in the country. There are valuable synergies between tech startups in the BPO space – from US-based companies setting up outsourced operations (TripAdvisor, Amazon, etc) to well-funded startups staffed with local, talented engineers (Bright.com, Lenddo, etc) to startups focusing on BPO clients (Kalibrr).

10. Sulit.com.ph: RJ & Ariane David. The biggest classifieds player is run by the friendly husband+wife team of RJ and Ariane. RJ’s a wonderful supporter and mentor to younger founders throughout the country, and maintains a regular presence in local entrepreneurship and tech conferences. Make sure you’re updated with your gadgets and gaming news for a fun chat.

The good news with these groups? Eight are mainly present in the Makati-Fort Innovation Strip. Ayannah and Sulit.com.ph are pretty close by in the Ortigas district – a quick twenty minute drive from Makati.

Who else should be on this list? Which events should visiting founders look out for? Let me know below.

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Entrepreneurship, Philippines, Startups

Can the Philippines be the Silicon Valley of Social Enterprise?

Browse through Vogue and you might notice these colorful clutches.

Thoughtfully-designed and beautifully-handcrafted, they marry form and function. The brand itself has grown a loyal following the past several years. It’s worked with some of the most established designers. And its story has garnered wide appeal across different segments – adored by celebrities, supported by moms, trusted by twenty-somethings, and studied by policymakers. That’s an incredibly hard thing to do in the finicky world of fashion.

This might sound like a label straight out of the fashion houses of Milan or Paris, but these clutches come from a humble social enterprise based out of San Juan in the Philippines.

Rags2Riches-2-MaineManalansan-Vogue-10Jul13-PR_b

 (Photo credit:  R2R and Maine Manalansan)

Rags2Riches is just one of the many social enterprises scaling up all over the country. It’s a great example of what the Philippines can offer the world. The Maia clutch, designed by Rajo Laurel, has been a consistent bestseller and it’s now making waves abroad, thanks to a partnership with the retail chain Anthropologie. Co-founded by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, R2R works with artisans from poor communities to produce wonderfully designed products and improve their livelihood.

Fashion presents a fascinating opportunity for local social enterprises to reach a global market – we have lots of talented designers, a cluster of manufacturing zones in Manila and Cebu, underserved artisan communities, amazing brand managers, and a growing cohort of e-commerce entrepreneurs. There are thousands of social entrepreneurs like Reese, and now is their time.

Business for the Next Billion

The bigger story is that the Philippines has been incubating social enterprises long before the word became fashionable.

CARD is a pioneer in micro finance. Hapinoy has been creating innovative supply chain solutions to the quintessential feature of Filipino retail – the sari-sari store. Sari has been developing interesting point-of-sale technology for this space too. Gawad Kalinga, a leader in the space, launched the GK Enchanted Farm with an interesting go-to-market model that links producers and consumers of agricultural products. A seminal moment came last year when Jim Ayala became the first social entrepreneur to win the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for his work to deliver solar powered products to marginalized communities.

These are ventures with the dual objective of addressing a social problem and becoming financial sustainable – not tasteless propaganda-in-the-guise-of-charity we’ve come to expect from most big corporations and local politicians. And the space has now reached a tipping point.

If this generation of entrepreneurs sees social enterprise as a rewarding career path, impact investing scales locally, linkages with international institutions increase, and enlightened leaders get into government,  then there’s no reason the Philippines can’t be known as the Silicon Valley of social enterprise.

We have the raw ingredients: hard-to-solve social problems that require the convergence of skills from the private and public sector, a passionate post-Marcos generation of founders tired of institutional corruption and rent-seeking capitalists, and early pioneers who have proven the model in various sectors, and supporters in government.

What defines Silicon Valley is a hard-to-replicate mix of universities, companies, government support, and maybe even good weather. But what ties the eco-system together is the incredible willingness of people to come together and collaborate. I believe we can create that mix for social enterprises in the Philippines today, and in 10-15 years, see a vibrant industry of social enterprises making as large an impact as huge infrastructure projects to the economy. We need more PEOPLE, diving into well-defined PROBLEMS, and sensible POLICIES from universities and the public sector. And this kind of PPP can arguably make a bigger impact than this administration’s long delayed programs of the same acronym.

There’s value in being recognized as a mecca for social enterprises. It allows the country to attract even more talent from around the world, not only because the Philippines has immense social problems, but because this can be a testing ground for solutions that scale across the developing world. It helps attract the much needed capital to scale up these enterprises. It increases overall career satisfaction and fulfillment, something we’re starting to see becoming a real problem in the high-turnover BPO industry. And as people have seen in the growth of innovation clusters, these effects are self-reinforcing and create a virtuous cycle.

So how can we the scale social enterprise sector? I have four suggestions, most of which will be admittedly hard to pull off:

Teach Business History. It’s a shameful tragedy that our business and economic history is not a widely shared narrative among students. I took up business in university, and not a single class tackled in detail how the Coco Levy Fund single-handedly raped a whole industry, how the Binondo Central Bank prospered, or how government-protected concessions given to cronies and relatives suppressed competition in the guise of economic nationalism (allow Walmart and Amazon to compete in the Philippines, and I can guarantee SM will be obliterated). After World War 2, there were generally only two ways to create vast amounts of wealth for one’s self: collude with the government or avoid it. Collude in order to get a government-protected extractive monopoly, or go underground to avoid taxes and state appropriation.

If the story of Philippine business is widely told, what won’t be remembered are stories of entrepreneurship-against-all-odds (though there are many), but how the wealth of a few was generated from monopolistic rent-seeking companies that extracted from the many.  Business history affect us until today – and the numbers show it. The top 40 families control up to 76% of GDP.  When I read the about the story of Philippine capitalism, I can’t help but feel anger and a profound sense of social injustice. And I guarantee that when more people read about these stories, the less attractive that nice-sounding job in Large Company Inc. will sound and the more compelling social entrepreneurship will be.

English: Manuel V. Pangilinan Center at the At...

Wanted: An Ambeth Ocampo for Philippine Business History. Enemies from Local Elite Guaranteed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Include Social Enterprises in the Investment Priorities Plan. The DTI each year lists priority sectors that can qualify for a cocktail of government benefits in order to boost investments. Though traditional industries such as housing and agriculture are included, it’s perhaps time to recognize the social enterprise sector by explicitly extending benefits such as tax breaks and investment grants. Of course, any business can stake a claim to be working for the social good, so a measurement & verification mechanism will be needed in the same way impact investors use various metrics to measure the impact of a social enterprise.

Redo our Social Contract. Has there been a single Filipino tycoon who’s signed the Giving Pledge, the effort led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that encourages the world’s billionaires to commit half their wealth to charity? I honestly can’t think of any. So correct me if I’m wrong. I really wish I’m wrong. Because if I’m not, it would be really sad.

The country’s top richest 50 families have a combined wealth of $66 billion. That’s more than a fourth of GDP. Imagine half of this wealth donated to various charitable trusts, endowments, social venture funds, and the like. That’s $33 billion in resources. If you assume that 3% can be drawn down each year, that’s close to $1 billion that can be reinvested back into the economy. For this happen, we need to celebrate real giving and not the superficial ones. The local press seems to joyfully celebrate the donation of $7 million for a school building, but that really is a drop in the bucket and will barely make a dent in the pocket. It also means making it comfortable for tycoons to spread their wealth without fear of appropriation. Most importantly, it takes believing Warren Buffett’s philosophy of rejecting intergenerational wealth – a truly hard thing to do in this country.

Make it Less Risky to Be a Social Entrepreneur. If we can design programs that help social entrepreneurs forget about the downside so they can focus on the upside, then we’ve come a long way.  For instance, policymakers can offer state-sponsored schemes that provide healthcare and education plans to social entrepreneurs. Companies can create secondment programs for executives who want to try out a social enterprise for a year. Education helps aspiring founders to be prepared. The good news is that there is a wealth of accessible knowledge on social enterprises from all over the world.  And I hate to rant about Ateneo again, but if it can channel as much resources to a large-scale fund similar to the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund, then we won’t be just winning basketball games, but also the war against poverty.

Today on the Stanford Social Innovation Review...

Stanford is a pioneer in social innovation. How much did we spend on the Blue Eagles again? (Photo credit: techsoupglobal)

Our ASEAN neighbors have come a long way in establishing great brand names for themselves. Singapore is the region’s finance and entertainment hub. Thailand is known for its tourism. Vietnam and Indonesia are fast-growing manufacturing countries. If our generation of entrepreneurs can build this country as the Silicon Valley of social enterprise, then we would have made a great leap forward from the sordid past of Philippine business.

What else can we do? I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts.

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