Text by June Javelosa
Photos by Hapinoy
In November 2013, one of the biggest storms to hit the Philippines ravaged provinces on the eastern side of the country. It left in its wake, a trail of devastation unlike any other the Filipinos have seen—debris rendered the province of Leyte impassable, flattened homes, lost livelihoods, immeasurable loss of life and survivors who, amid the tragedy, still counted themselves lucky.
In the aftermath of the storm, countries around the world were quick to offer aid, but for survivors to truly recover from the destruction, a more sustainable solution had to be developed and it must give the people a way to rebuild what they have lost. Among those who sought to provide answers was a social enterprise called Hapinoy, who introduced a Sari-Sari Store Programme for the survivors. Sari-sari stores are a common form of microbusiness in the Philippines (with more than one million operating in the country) similar to traditional convenience stores that sold basic goods.
“Our programme involved giving the sari-sari store owners access to goods, which at the time was a priority given the loss of infrastructure that made reaching the province very difficult. We also offer capital access to help them restart their business and education to allow them to run it well,” explains says Mark Ruiz, President and Co-Founder of Hapinoy.
Alicia Dumdum and Bella Sadongdong were among those who joined the programme. Both were local residents of Leyte who had survived the typhoon with nothing but the clothes on their back. Before Haiyan struck, the women were running long-standing sari-sari stores. The programme sought to help them rebuild their livelihoods and to do so quickly. To that end, Hapinoy looked beyond its current offerings for opportunities that could increase the revenue streams of the humble sari-sari store to make up for lost time.
When Old Money Meets New Technology
Remittances account for a big chunk of the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product. The country is also the fourth biggest recipient of remittances worldwide. Yet, 37 per cent of municipalities in the Philippines have no banking office. It is a service that is relied on by Filipinos, but limited to urban centers or the main provincial towns that are less accessible to those who live in rural areas.
Mobile technology changes that.
Qualcomm, a technology company based in San Diego California that designs chipsets inside mobile devices possessed a technology that can equip sari-sari stores with the ability to handle the remittance process. Hapinoy saw this as a potential gamechanger that could give its existing network of micro-entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow their stores into sustainable family businesses. A strategic partnership was forged.
Dubbed The Mobile Money Hub programme, the holistic initiative offered training, access to capital via microfinancing and new business prospects through wireless technology. Besides introducing a new revenue stream to the sari-sari store (sari-sari stores charge for the use of this service), it also brings a whole new level of financial access to the community in these rural areas. This means that people no longer have to go to the city to remit money. Backed by Qualcomm technology, a neighbour who needs to send or receive money simply has to go to the nearest sari-sari store to complete the transaction.
The partnership kickstarted with the launch of a pilot programme in Leyte.
“Choosing participants for the pilot programme required us to look into a few things. The infrastructure had to be in place, meaning participants needed to have an operating sari-sari store and Internet access,” Ruiz says.
While the idea of extra income was promising, the introduction of technology into the sari-sari store was cause for apprehension among some owners. The idea of using wireless mobile technology was intimidating for participants.
“Hindi ako marunong gumamit ng smartphone. Hindi nga ako marunong mag Facebook, paano pa ako magpapadala ng remittance gamit yan? Ayokong matuto ng bagong teknolohiya. Natatakot ako. (I didn’t know how to use a smartphone. I don’t even know how to use Facebook, how can I be expected to use a smartphone to send and receive money? I didn’t want to learn new technology. It was scary.)” Dumdum shared.
To address this, Hapinoy and Qualcomm Wireless Reach provided mobile financial literacy training to guide participants through the process of transaction, demonstrating that a mobile phone can be much more than a communication tool.
The pilot programme, which began last August 2014, was considered a success as the participants reported an additional income of around P2000 to P5000 pesos to the monthly revenue of their sari-sari stores, thanks to the new offering.
“Malaki naitulong nito sa sari-sari store ko. Nakakadagdag siya ng kita, ng tao na namimili sa tindahan, (The remittance service helps a lot. It adds to my income and brings more traffic into my store)” says Sadongdong.
“Masaya ako sa money remittance ko dahil nakikita kong nakakatulong ako sa kapwa ko (I’m happy with the addition of money remittance because of how I am able to help my community,)” Dumdum adds on a more magnanimous note.
With the success of the programme, Hapinoy and Qualcomm Wireless Reach are optimistic about its potential for expansion. To date, the Mobile Money Hub Programme has expanded beyond Leyte to include Laguna, another provincial, albeit a more urban town in the Philippines and now operates about a hundred Mobile Money Hub networks.
“We’re also looking into how we can take this programme and apply it to other underserved areas in different parts of the world,” says Kyle Moss, Senior Analyst, Government Affairs for Qualcomm Wireless Reach.s
This initiative stands as an example of how digital technology can lend itself to empowerment in the wake of tragedy—a thought that Dumdum perfectly captures with a single statement: “Kahit na ngyari sa amin ito…hindi ako biktima dito… survivor ako. (Despite everything that has happened, I am not a victim of Haiyan…I am a survivor.)”
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