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.

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?

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