The Rise of Home-Based Entrepreneurs during the Strict 3-month (Covid 19) Quarantine Period

If there is anything good that came out from the Pandemic, it is the increase of home-based businesses. The limited supplies, suspension of public transport and the strict quarantine policies made it hard for families to acquire/buy their needs in supermarkets. Housewives, teens, and families filled this gap (specially for food items) by preparing and selling home-made meals, snacks, fruits, vegetables and others. They started marketing their products using social media (mostly thru Facebook). They started selling in their subdivisions and communities.

On March 16, 2020, the President of the Philippines declared the whole Island of Luzon including Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to prevent the spread of COVID 19 infection. The ECQ is the highest form of quarantine. It was extended several times and up to May 30, 2020. The ECQ lasted for almost two and a half months. It was downgraded to general community quarantine (GCQ) and later last year to modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ). Quarantine Policies were implemented strictly in all communities.

People stuck in their homes are desperately looking for news specially about what is happening within their communities. Most people relied to Social Media for local news and activities. There is an increase in the formation of Facebook group chats wherein people in the community can interact with each other without the risk of being infected (physical face to face). These group chats served as a venue for marketing and selling home made products. Because people during the quarantine have the time and are active in social media, it became an effective medium, a great marketplace.

There are so many different products being sold in the group chats. Home-made local specialties like what your grandmother used to cook (local Philippine dishes and delicacies), barbeques, rice meals, pizzas, milkteas, snacks and nuts and even raw meats and vegetables are being delivered in your doorstep. The delivery decreases the risk of people getting infected by the virus specially if they go to crowded places like markets and grocery stores. It also gave motorcycle owners (riders) short-term livelihood by delivering different products (orders) in the community.

I will share a good and personal example of my observation. My wife and I are both working as city government employees. We are both full time employees and do not own a business. When the government declared the quarantine we were forced to work from home. Because of the scarcity of loaf breads that time, my wife thought of baking different type of breads for the family. She loves to bake but doesn’t have time before the quarantine. With the help of Youtube videos and the small oven I gave to her as a Christmas gift in 2013, she started baking different kind of pastries. Most of her baked goods turned out great and some are good (I cannot say “bad” because I might get into trouble when she reads this!). Sometimes we have excess baked pastries which we share with our friends. Our friends convinced her to sell the product and market it in the different group chats in our village.

Hence, Derek’s Delight Cakes and Pastries was born (named after our youngest son). People started ordering her products, specially her baked Soft and Fluffy Ensaymada. She also started getting cake orders. In a way, the side income modestly helped in our finances.

I saw many stories similar to her story. The Pandemic provided a short-term opportunity to small businesses to level the field with big corporations and capture their community market. Social media became a Free tool to market local home-based products. The local (community) economy adapted and developed in its unique way.

The economy and activities are now beginning to normalize. I observed a decrease in activities (marketing/selling) in the groupchats. Probably because the micro entrepreneurs are now back in their full-time jobs (employment) and don’t have the anymore time to prepare/sell their products. Probably the people grew tired of the group chats (instead of community news, the group chats are now full of product advertisements). After being forced to stay at home, people are also excited to go out of their houses to eat at restaurants or visit supermarkets. Another possible reason is that the big corporations are taking back their clients after a very long quarantine period.

As for Derek’s Delight, we got a lot of orders last Christmas and New Year. My wife that time didn’t sleep for 24-36 hours – baking! We do not know how the small business will perform this 2021. Nevertheless, we thank 2020 for the opportunity. I just hope and pray that we can sustain the gains we got from 2020.

I hope that more small businesses survive and apply their experience and learnings from 2020. I hope that many become big businesses with a good story to tell.

As an urban planner, I see this as a good thing. A thriving local (community) economy promotes social interaction, cohesion, and cooperation; job availability; and diverse and expanded product choices (quality and affordable) for the consumers; among others. As for big corporations, I hope they partner with the small businesses so they can sell their products in their establishments. Both of them will earn this way. Partnering instead of competition.

I always make it a point to order regularly from different sellers in the group chat. In my small way I support/encourage them to continue their businesses and in return I get access to their tasty and delicious local products (watch the diet!).

Everybody wins.

My New Year (2021) Reflections and Goals

January 1, 2020. This is a personal blog entry.

2020 has been difficult for everybody. As the year changes, it is just right to reflect on all the important things that happened this year. I am writing not only for personal understanding but also for personal documentation of our life’s milestones. Who knows, after 5-10 years, I may realize that 2020 was the pivotal year of our family’s journey.

A lot happened in our country (Philippines). We started 2020 with the threat of the African Swine Flu infecting our meat supply and possible infection to humans. Taal volcano erupted. Ashes filled the sky and were deposited in our roads, roofs, and almost every exposed surfaces. The risk of acquiring respiratory diseases from ash inhalation was very high. We wear facemasks when we go out because of the ash particles. Come to think of it, wearing facemasks that time prepared us to wear facemasks for the rest of the year. COVID 19 pandemic came after the Taal eruption. First time in my lifetime that I experienced families forced to stay at home due to the lockdown (quarantine). At first we thought it was only for fifteen days, then it was extended to a month and was further extended up to three months. Everything we knew as normal (work, schooling, transportation, etc) were suspended. During the first month, I had sleepness nights monitoring the news and thinking about what will happen to my family. Storms frequented the country in the last quarter of the year. We can only watch and pray for the families stucked on the top their roofs waiting to be rescued from 3-meter high flashflood. 2020 is generally not a good year.

Unlike other families, I believe that we are fortunate enough to shield our children from the mental stress that the lockdown brought to households. Our salaries continued even if we don’t report to work physically. Work-from-home arrangements were implemented to protect workers (except frontliners) from possible virus infection. We continued to eat at regular intervals and enjoyed the company of each other. The kids quarrel among themselves sometimes but their time together at home made them closer. If there is anything good we got from the quarantine, it is that our family got closer.

I do not want to sound political but I need to express and in a way document what I felt from the Covid 19 management of our national government. In fairness, all governments in different countries were not ready for this pandemic. Some of the covid-19 management positive points for me are the following: I think the quarantine was handled well (people generally cooperated and followed the government), communities worked together, selfless service dedication of frontliners, and cities stepped-up in taking care of their citizens, etc. The negative points for me are the following: the country did not close the borders early specially to the source of the virus because of international relationships, government failure to accept accountability (scapegoating, blaming the people for poor policies like rationalizing that Filipinos are hard-headed), above-the-law entitlement of high-ranking government officials (high ranking policeman birthday partying “mananita” when it was not allowed for everybody, a senator who knows he is/may be positive for Covid visiting a hospital and supermarket exposing other people to the virus, intense corruption in the government health insurance institution, etc.) and super sensitiveness of the national government to suggestions, comments, and criticisms (focusing on proving they are right and not on doing what is right). Anyway, these are just my observations and opinions, others for sure will have a different perspective on this matter. I don’t have time to argue to prove my point nor defend my opinion. It’s all up to you.

Though, 2020 has been challenging, our family is grateful to many things that happened this year.

First is we started Derek’s Delight Cakes and Pastries.

My wife found time to bake again during the quarantine. At first, she just baked for the us/family. She baked breads, cookies, cakes, and local Filipino pastries. There are times when she bakes beyond our consumption and we share them to our friends. Our friends pushed us to sell her baked pastries. Thus, with the help of friends and social media, we founded Derek’s Delight. It is now known in our community for its Soft and Fluffy Artisan Ensaymada (bread). I hope that this business will thrive and last for our lifetime. My wife found time to rekindle her passion in baking.

Second is my wife finished her second Masters Degree this year.

Her first Masters Degree is Master in Business Administration (MBA). This year she finished her Masters in Development Policy (MDP).  The quarantine period helped her focused and finish her thesis.

Third is I finished my two international training courses.

I finished this year’s BLOXHUB Summer School on Urban Resilience by the University of Southern Denmark. I am the only Filipino from the batch. I am thankful for the knowledge and skills I learned from the course. I am also thankful for the global network I gained from attending (Global Resilience Ambassadors) the 4-week course.

I also finished the “Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) for Better Resilience in Cities” Online Training on December 7-11, 2020. The Training was organized and sponsored by UN-Habitat in partnership with the International Urban Training Centre (IUTC) and Gangwon Province, Republic of Korea.

I enjoy attending  trainings. I learn new things, validate what I know, and expand my professional. However, sometimes I get frustrated because some of the high-impact projects I learn are so easy to implement in our country but they are not in the priority list of our leaders. Anyway, change doesn’t happen overnight. I just trust the process.

Fourth is my son who is just 12 years old is now taller than me.

My height is around five feet and nine and a half inches (5’9″). I hope he’ll be taller than 6’2″ and learns to play basketball.

Fifth is our children is adapting to their online mode of education.

Due to Covid 19, schooling are now conducted on-line. However, I feel that the amount of schoolwork and the stress of detainment of the kids to their homes put enormous pressure to their mental health. I do not force my kids to really excel in their studies. I believe (by experience) that they will eventually excel when they become mature enough and decides to do good in school. What I ask them is just to get an average grade and comply with the school requirements. I noticed that the use of gadgets for the online schooling is also the cause of their sometimes stubborness (due to online games). I just wish that Covid 19 pandemic ends so that they can physically go back to school and socialize with other kids before they get addicted to gadgets. Anyway, we have a gadget daily use time-limit implemented to our children. However, more than ever, we need to closely and regularly check the mental health status of our kids because of the pressure of online schoolwork and the mental effects of the pandemic scare and its quarantine.

Sixth is no one got infected from Covid 19 in our family.

I have friends and family members of friends that succumbed and died of Covid 19. I also have friends and colleagues who got infected and got well. Their families suffered the burden of them getting infected (physically, financially, and emotionally). I am always grateful that no one in my family members caught the virus.

Despite the pandemic, there are still so many things to be grateful for in 2020 (relatives, friends, work, health).

Now for this year’s goals. Some people call it resolutions, I call them goals. I need to write them here because I believe that written goals are more likely to get achieved than unwritten goals. One of my favorite quotes is about change. Though, I can’t remember the exact quote. It is like old ways (status quo) will not give you new results. If you want something new to happen in your life you need to do something new. However, this entails sacrifices, time, hardwork and dedication. The question is are you ready to pay the price of your desired change?

My 2021 Goals (to be achieved by end of Dec 31, 2021) are the following:

1. Attain my Target weight of 176 lbs/ 80kgs by December 31, 2021. (this is the hardest for me)

At present (January 1, 2021), my weight is 206lbs/93.5kgs. It means I need to lose a total of 30lbs/13.5kgs!! However, if you look at it, I only need to lose around 2.5lbs/1.125kgs per month (looks manageable?). The hardest part for me is to exercise (frail body and time) and to minimize sweets (which I need when I study or finish a mental task). It seems that I am coming out with excuses this early but that is not the case. I am just defining the challenges that I need to overcome. Anyway, I have 12 months to attain this goal (goodluck to me!).

2. Start schooling again (start law school or continue PhD).

I stopped my Doctorate study late 2019 because of my trip to the United States to attend my sister’s wedding. I didn’t continue my study in 2020. Probably because I worry about my family during the quarantine/pandemic and I cannot focus on studying. Though I took several online short courses, I used them not only to gain knowledge but also to provide a sense of normalcy in my life. Everyone’s mental health was affected by the threat of the virus and the quarantine. If someone says he/she was not affected or did not worry is lying.

I decided to again pursue my studies this year. However, I am in a crossroad wherein I need to chose between continuing my PhD or pursuing a new course (law). I remember I wanted to be a lawyer when I was first elected as a barangay councilman when I was only 18 years old (way back 1994). Now, I am seriously considering pursuing my old dream. I am weighing the pros and cons of entering law school. Let’s see what will happen.

3. Business Registration of Derek’s Delight Cakes and Pastries and its tie-up with restaurants and other commercial establishments.

I believe (optimistic) that Derek’s Delight will grow and eventually become a must-bring-home (pasalubong) to tourists visiting the city. We need to register it to become a formal business. We need to come up with a good business plan and milestone targets for it. This is challenging for us because my wife and I both have day jobs. Let’s see where will be Derek’s Delight by the end of this year.

4. At least go on two out of town (within the country) vacation with family if the situation (pandemic) allows them.

We need to get out and enjoy the outside world. If the situation and the government will allow leisure travel this year, we will surely book that much needed vacation. The kids need to see beaches, natural wonders, historical sites, museums, probably zoos, etc. They need to get out and enjoy. We also need it too. I just hope we get vaccinated soon and reduce the risk of getting the virus.

5. Protect the health (physically and mentally) of all our family members.

This year, I’ll do my very best to continue protecting my family from the virus. I will ensure that they take their vitamins everyday, eat well and healthy foods, do exercises (some physical activities) outside, wear face masks/face shields when they go out to public crowded places, and get the vaccine (when available). Health should be one of the highest priority this 2021.

2020 for me is the year of “appreciation”. The virus brought unimaginable disruption and risk to our daily lives. Suddenly, you missed going physically to work, spending time with your friends and loved ones in the other side of the world, enjoying vacations (other places), and even riding the airplane, among others. However, it shed light to what is really important in our lives: Health, Family, and how to spend our borrowed Time.

2020 is not that bad for us but I am happy it is over (good riddance). I hope all families recover and come back stronger this year (2021).

2021 is a year of “hope”. A year for rebuilding. It will be a good year because we are bringing all the lessons we learned from 2020. We are now stronger and more focused. We now know what is really important in our lives.

I wish everybody a happy, healthy, productive and full of opportunities New Year!

3 Things I Learned from Attending the 2020 BLOXHUB Summer School on Urban Resilience at the University of Southern Denmark

I am elated to be part of this year’s BLOXHUB Summer School on Urban Resilience 2020. The Summer School is under the International Urban Resilience Academy (IURA) program which serves as a platform for education, research, networking and capacity building activities on Urban Resilience hosted by the University of Southern Denmark. The BLOXHUB Summer School Urban Resilience brings together global practitioners, policy makers and researchers. This is the second the year that the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen hosted the summer school.

https://www.sdu.dk/en/forskning/sducivilengineering/iura/teaching+and+education+activities/bloxhub+summer+school+on+urban+resilience+2020

The summer school initial set-up was to invite participants to go to Copenhagen to attend the program. However, due the COVID 19 Pandemic, the plan changed and the organizers opted to conduct it on-line. The program itself was challenged by the Pandemic and proved its resiliency amidst the disaster. The conduct of the program served as a simple microcosm of what is happening globally. The program showed its resilience by understanding and analyzing the situation, being resourceful with the use of technology, and engaging the commitment of the participants and the organization as a whole.

But first, what is resiliency to you personally? When can you say that you are resilient? When can you say that your community or city is resilient? There are so many definitions of resilience – from being able to hang on through (survive) tough obstacles, being able to adapt to the current trials, up to being able to anticipate, plan, and not be significantly affected by the disaster when it arrives. My favorite is the UN Habitat definition of resilience which is “the ability of any urban system to maintain continuity through all shocks and stresses while positively adapting and transforming towards sustainability”. Wherever we are in the world, there will always be issues and problems that will come our way, how we deal with these challenges define our state of resiliency.

The lecture part of the program was organized in two ways. First is the General Webinar hosted by IURA wherein anybody can register and attend. The second lecture is the Community Sessions exclusive for participants. The General Webinar and the Community Sessions presents a combination of lectures, reports, tools and methods or presentation of best practices. The Community Sessions served as an in-depth discussion of the general webinar.

This year’s batch is very diverse both occupationally and geographically. Though diverse, it seems that issues in different parts of the world are similar specially in climate change and its effects, governance, and this current pandemic.

Bloxhub participants

We were assigned to different groups and were given tasks and weekly outputs / deliverables.

My 3 Major Takeaways from attending the 2020 BLOXHUB Summer School

1st Takeaway – Importance of Systems Thinking / Approach

A system for me is a group of interrelated parts wherein if something happens to one part it will affect directly or indirectly all the other parts. A system is a defined group of different parts or components. To appreciate a system, imagine an aching tooth, the aching tooth no matter how small will affect the function of your whole body or the performance of your daily activities. It is up to the researcher / student to provide the context or define the boundaries of your system. It may range from a simple to a complicated system. In my example, we can define the system as limited as the oral cavity or as extensive as its relationship to actual work performance or family relationships.

Our group looked at the Water, Sanitation, and Health (WASH) system in informal settlements in Asia during the Pandemic. We analyzed it geographically looking at different contexts, culture, and norms. We also looked at its temporal situation (before and during COVID 19 and what is ideal post-Covid 19). The problem of WASH is already significant in informal settlements before COVID 19. COVID 19 amplified the problem and further put families in greater danger. We also learned that problems go beyond the WASH system. This include poverty, livelihood and land ownership, among others. However, we defined our system boundary to only include access to WASH given the limited time in preparing our outputs.

Systems Thinking / Approach allows you to understand the problem deeper and better and gives you a comprehensive set of solutions. The Summer School advocated consistently the use of systems thinking.

2nd Takeaway – Use of Tools (Systems Approach and Collaborative Tools)

In the absence of face-to-face communication, the summer course used its resourcefulness and maximize the available internet tools that helped in delivering an effective program. All the tools or online applications presented in the course are all new to me. The three new online applications I learned are Slack, Miro Board, and Kumu.

Slack is very similar to Whatsapp, Viber, or Facebook. It is an online messaging application where team members communicate and work together. Similar to other applications, you can send different files through Slack. It is also nice that I can use different apps for different groups. I used Slack for the course while using other apps for personal mode of communication and expressions. https://slack.com/intl/en-ph/

One powerful tool for collaboration is the Miro Board. It helps group work together effectively. There is a common board where members can work simultaneously. It is the main collaborative tool used in the course. It is very effective in brainstorming wherein members may put digital sticky notes as inputs. https://miro.com/

I enjoyed making system maps in Kumu. It is a visualization platform used for mapping systems and better understanding relationships. The map can also be shared with group members and a good tool for collaboration. It provides great visual to the map of the system and the relationship of its elements. We also used Kumu in mapping our solutions / intervention using the Theory of Change. The map is also great as a communication tool to audience and stakeholders. https://kumu.io/

3rd Takeaway – Heart of Resiliency – Vulnerable Sectors

The first meeting of the group involved a workshop that requires group member to personally assess their knowledge (Head), skills (Hands), and advocacies (Heart). It is similar to stating your strengths and weaknesses, expertise and motivation. I was surprised that all of the groups chose to help or focus on the needs of vulnerable sectors.

Some of the participants are from international agencies but the focus of their advocacies are cities and communities and not at the country level. Some of the participants are also urban planners but instead of proposing “big plans” (like those of Daniel Burnham), they also focused on what the community really need and how to improve the daily lives of these communities. The advocacies are not that complicated but will create big impacts to the community.

As a City/Urban Planner, I advocate the localization of Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement, Vision of the New Urban Agenda, etc. in our City. I realized that these big goals are just goals in paper agreed by higher level organization if not localized at the city or community level. These big goals will only serve as lip service if not alleviate the daily situation or struggles of the vulnerable sectors. All communities must be involved and committed to attain this global goal. Communities should be empowered to promote sustainability and resiliency. Probably, these are the reasons why most groups focused on local settings.

Attending the summer course is a great experience for me personally and professionally. Sometimes when you are at the local level, you may feel that what you are doing doesn’t contribute significantly to the betterment of the world. Now I believe that the fight to a sustainable and resilient world starts at the community / city level. I hope that more participants from Developing Countries will participate in the coming years. A very special thanks to the Organizer.

Is your City / Community Resilient?

107001989_330483181693679_593193230287442980_n

My Team – Javed Hussain (Pakistan), Shailendra K. Mandal (India), Ermin Lucino (Philippines) and Gusti Ayu Ketut Surtiari (Indonesia)

 

Local Citizens and Non-Citizens in the Middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic

Everything stood still during the Pandemic Lockdown. Schools, restaurants, businesses and public transportation, among others, stopped or operated in a limited capacity. Most of the people waited for the government to provide support in terms of financial assistance and food packages. The situation revealed two types of inhabitants (Beneficiaries) living in local governments (communities): the local non-citizens and the citizens.

First let us define what are citizens. Citizens are those who are living or resides in the community that are registered voters and/or included in the masterlist (whether as senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc.) of the local government. Non-citizens are those living in the community who are not registered voters and does not directly deal with the local government. Usually these are the transient workers, company workers, stranded people, and those who by choice doesn’t want to engage or be part of the community.

During the pandemic (or any other disasters), the local government procures and prepares supplies for distribution and formulate programs to support its people. The local government uses the masterlist in identifying the number of food packages or the budget to prepare for the relief operation. However, during the pandemic, many inhabitants took to social media their cries of being excluded from the support. Sometimes, they air their complaints even before the actual distribution of support to the point of accusing local leaders of politicking, corruption, and discrimination.

On the government side, they cannot just allocate resources not based on actual data while on the side of the non-citizens, they are also part of the community contributing to its economy and development. Both sides have strong points. I do not want to decide which is the right argument. I only hope that this incident brought learnings on both sides. This way we can prevent this from happening again when disasters occur (and disasters will definitely occur whether we like or not).

If a person is a non-citizen by choice, he/she should be ready if he/she is not included in the masterlist of beneficiaries. However, being a non-citizen does not exempt him/her from government services such as peace and order, health, environmental programs, etc. Other non-citizens can easily be included in the local government masterlist if they just register in the local Commission on Election (COMELEC) Offices available in all local governments. This is a strong document that you are part of the community. However, take note that if a person fails to vote two consecutive times, he/she will be written off from the COMELEC masterlist. Another way is to get identification card from the local government Social Welfare and Development Office if you are a senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc. There are many ways to become a citizen of the community which requires very minimal effort.

Local Government is tasked to promote the general welfare of its inhabitants (whether citizens or non-citizens). Thus, local governments formulate plans, programs, and activities in promoting what is best to the community. Masterlists are outdated the very time it is submitted and adopted. Everyday a person is being born (die) or transfer to and from the community which is not captured real-time in the masterlist. Local government should be adept in developing projections or actually capturing the number of its inhabitants on a regular basis. The Philippines has a lower level of local government below the city/municipal level. This is the Barangay (Village) local government unit. The duties of its barangay secretary are to keep an updated record of all inhabitants of the barangay containing the following items of information: name, address, place and date of birth, sex, civil status, citizenship, occupation, and such other items of information as may be prescribed by law or ordinance; and to submit a report on the actual number of barangay residents as often as may be required by the sangguniang barangay. Hence, it is the duty of the local government to have an updated record or masterlist. They should also promote the COMELEC registration of the inhabitants by making it accessible and convenient to the (qualified) people.

The Pandemic revealed this simple issue that created a big impact during the incident. I feel that it is both the duty of the inhabitants and the government to reach out to each other. The inhabitants to fulfill its moral duty of registering and voting and the local government to carry out its mandate, improve planning tools, and reach out/encourage its inhabitants to participate in local activities and governance.

I hope we learned from this experience and I hope that as a community, we are all prepared and focused on our next/future challenges.