Humans of Manila

Two months after embarking on our research journey to Manila we have now returned to Sweden with a lot of new insights and knowledge. In total, we conducted 20 interviews with both social entrepreneurs as well as various actors within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition, we immersed ourselves in the environment through field trips, events, informal conversations and observations to gain a deeper understanding of the Philipino context. We have so much praise and admiration for the people we have met thanks to our research topic. Through our interviews and conversations, we had the privilege to hear hugely inspiring stories from people dedicating their careers and lives to start social businesses with the primary aim to help others.

However, we have an equal amount of admiration for some of the “ordinary” people we met throughout our stay in Manila. Some common traits among the locals we met were an incredibly welcoming attitude, uncompromising friendliness, as well as relentless and contagious happiness. In honour of these people, who brightened up our days on a daily basis, we want to take the opportunity to dedicate this post to them: The humans of Manila.

The Doorman at Grass Residences 


As you come to notice very quickly in the Philippines, people are incredibly polite. Wherever you go, “Sir” and “Ma’am” is how you address each other. To us, the doorman where we lived, in an apartment complex called Grass Residences, embodied this politeness like nobody else. He was constantly enthusiastic, happy and beyond everything else, a real family man. Despite working long hours – 12 hours a day, with only one day off every 14 days – he never failed to brighten up the lobby with his big smile. We often heard him from the distance shouting “Mr Luuuundberg” (This seemed to be the collective name for both of us) as we entered. Like many other people we met, the main motivation for his hard work was his family. He often mentioned his kids and that he wanted to provide the best possible opportunities for them. A true legend!

Carlson and August at Agor’s Co-working space

IMG_8740As we arrived in Manila we started looking for a co-working space where we could do some writing for our thesis, and we really hit the jackpot straight away! Two guys with big ambitions, and even bigger hearts, made sure even our less exciting days became memorable. Apart from the free-flowing coffee, we were equally inspired and energized by their endless curiosity and willingness to learn new things – and we learned just as much from them. We also had the privilege to join these lads for some nights out in Quezon City, taking us to some local gems – and Carlson showcased yet another talent as he completely baffled everyone with his outstanding beer pong skills.

Abigale “Apple” – the Bakery girl

IMG_8721The days when we worked at the co-working space we had a special routine where we first went to the local street food stand for lunch, and then proceeded to the local bakery on the corner. In fact, there were a few bakeries in the area, but Abigale made our choice incredibly easy. Her big smile could be spotted from several blocks away and she never failed to brighten up our day with her kindness and humour. Her charm naturally made her a great saleswoman too, as she always managed to add one or two extra pastries than our original plan. Without a doubt, our favourite was the “pan the coco” – a local specialty in which a sweet bread is stuffed with a coconut paste.

Sagi – The Indian Masterchef 

IMG_8651As mentioned previously, our contact organisation in Manila was ISEA (Institute of Social Entrepreneurship in Asia), and they had their office at Ateneo University. Hence, we normally spent 1-2 days a week at their premises. Interestingly, several food outlets on campus were run by students and after a few attempts, we were lucky enough to find Sagi’s booth – a PhD student from Southern India who dished up amazing curries on a daily basis. But what really made us come back was Sagi’s outstanding energy, customer service, and charisma. We have seldom met anyone with such a genuine personality, and it was no surprise his booth was the most popular on campus. To further shed light on his generous character, he ran his business with a social agenda as well. Ateneo is one of the most prestigious Universities in the country and most students come from wealthy backgrounds. However, there are also those students who have received scholarships to get the full tuition paid. What Sagi noticed was that these students often come from poor backgrounds and struggle to have enough money to buy a daily lunch. He therefore implemented a discount for these students as well as a scheme where people can put in money towards a free meal them. Sagi’s karma is looking very promising!

These are only a handful of the countless of fantastic individuals we encountered during our stay in the Philippines. We wish all of them the best of luck in their future endeavors. They will without a doubt remain within our memories for a long time!

Salamat Po!












Agricultural Adventure in Daraitan

We have previously mentioned GoodFood Community, a social enterprise with a two-folded mission. Firstly, they empower farming communities in impoverished rural areas by providing training and market access. Secondly, they want people to become more conscious about where the food on their plates is actually coming from. They offer a subscription service where Manila dwellers can get fresh, organic produce delivered every week from the communities they work with. Also, they organize market days where customers can purchase products but also meet and interact with farmers. To further enhance the understanding of the food chain and trace it back to its origins, a couple of weekends ago a farm trip was organized to the region of Rizal, 2 hours east of Manila. Together with a group of around 10 people, we had the privilege to follow along. Apart from connecting consumers and producers, it was also an opportunity for farmers to take pride in their own farms, culture and environment.


The day started during the cool hours before dawn when the hot, merciless Manila sun was yet to show its face. However, as we have come to know here in the Philippines, time is a more floating concept compared to home, which meant we eventually set off two hours behind schedule. After leaving the smoggy air and hectic traffic in the distance, we soon started gaining altitude as we approached the mountainous region east of Manila. Upon arrival to one of the communities, we were greeted with some fresh coconuts, mangos and rice cakes.

Throughout the day we visited two different farms in the area of Daraitan, Rizal. The first one was idyllically located right next to a river. To access the farm we had to first cross the river IMG_9392either by swimming, or using the local “ferry” which on the day was managed by some locals who had gone to the river to wash and let the kids play around in the water. The kids, not older than 10, seemed to belong with the natural elements as they ferociously jumped in and out of the water. We later saw them in the shallower parts of the river hunting for fish using a technique of spearfishing. Fearlessly and with the speed of lightning they pierced one fish after the other until they had racked up enough to call it a day. The only thing that momentarily interrupted their stride was a big snake lurking in the tall grass by the water.

As we arrived at the first farm we got to experience rural living at its best. The hospitable and humble farmers showed us the art of cooking sensational food with the local ingredients at hand. Coconuts were split open and the flesh carefully carved out using a special tool. A big jackfruit was harvested from a nearby tree and chopped up in small pieces. A couple of women impressively used just a piece of fabric, tied around their neck, to catch small fish coming downstream in the river. And rice was wrapped in banana leaves, put inside a piece of bamboo and then cooked over the open fire.

IMG_8950The one at the center of attention was a small, content-looking man who despite his crooked back moved from one task to another with apparent ease and a constant smile on his face. We were all surprised when he pulled out his ID from his little bag, which also contained a small stash of tobacco, where it stated he was born in 1920 – a whopping 98 years. What an inspiration!

After much anticipation, lunch was eventually served up straight on the table where a IMG_8892big banana leaf served as both tablecloth and plates. Of course, everything was consumed with our hands and it was without any doubt one of the best meals we’ve had since arriving in the Philippines. After lunch, we had the opportunity to go for a walk through the farm, which was honestly hard to differentiate from the surrounding jungle. Trees of Guyabano, Cacao, Bananas, Papaya grew all over the place.

The second farm we visited was located higher up in the mountains. On the way we passed through some other small-scale farms that were situated in truly idyllic places. One of those farms had received support through the community project which enabled them to build a solid roof on the house where the family was living. A very enthusiastic farmer led the way through the dense forest until we eventually ended up at his estate late in the afternoon. With the mountains in the distance, it provided a perfect backdrop for a beautiful sunset which marked the ending of a great day.

As darkness fell we trekked back and had yet another fantastic meal before heading back towards the urban sprawl of Manila. Although in broken English, we had some great conversations with local men and women who appeared very enthusiastic to share their way of life. This was confirmed by Che, who organized the trip and have ongoing contact with the local communities, as she afterward said that “it was super heart-warming to see the farmers proudly showcasing their farms and dishes too – I haven’t seen them this proud before of what they are and what they do”. Che had an interesting story herself as she left the corporate career behind to instead pursue her passion to work with, and empower, rural agricultural communities. Her passion was very inspiring to witness and we truly hope the farm trips will continue to take place. For us, it was one of the highlights during our stay in the Philippines!



Social Enterprises in the Philippines

After having spent over a month here in Manila, we have not only met inspiring people like Edwin from True Manila or support organizations like Impact Hub. We have also had the chance to meet a bunch of driven social entrepreneurs changing lives on a daily basis here in the Philippines. The social enterprises that we have been fortunate enough to meet come in all shapes and forms. However, the one thing they all have in common is a mindset that it is possible to empower people and make a difference through sustainable business practices. Here are some of the social enterprises that we have had the pleasure to visit during our research.

Human Nature

Human nature is one of the largest social enterprises in the Philippines, and they offer a wide variety of beauty and personal care products that are all organic and made with ingredients sourced locally. The mission of Human Nature is to be “Pro-Philippines, Pro-Poor, and Pro-Environment.” They work to employ low-income individuals from marginalized communities to develop and produce all of their natural products. They are not only employing these people but also aiding the rural villages through training and development to become self-sustaining communities which will be capable of producing their ingredients to the highest standards.



Citihub is a social enterprise aiming to reduce the cost of living for low-income workers residing outside Manila by providing safe, clean, and affordable housing for as low as P1,700/month (around 25€)  at key areas in Metro Manila. They are not only providing affordable housing, but they are also very sustainable and eco-friendly since all of their constructions are made of old shipping containers. Today, they have three locations around central Manila, all of which can house up to 250 people.

Good Food Community

Good Food Community aims to create a more sustainable society that nourishes everyone through a system known as Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). This system connects producer and consumers within the value chain of food production more closer to each other through subscription to the harvest of a particular farm or community. Using the CSA model from Good Food Community, you can help marginalized farming villages with the security of a stable demand despite external risks. In return, you will receive a food basket every week stacked with fresh and organic harvest for that period.

Messy Bessy

Messy Bessy is manufacturing and selling natural, chemical-free household cleaning products, as well as personal care products made by made by at-risk youth coming from disadvantaged communities. Apart from selling products Messy Bessy is also running the project H.O.U.S.E (Helping Ourselves through Sustainable Enterprises). This project is dedicated to providing these at-risk youth (formerly abused, trafficked or impoverished children) with work-training, mentorship, value formation classes, personal development and self-sustained education through high school or college diplomas. So, the young adults involved in the manufacturing of their products are also students of the H.O.U.S.E project.

Their branding is simple: “We clean. We green. We educate.”

Tsaa Laya

Tsaa laya

Tsaa Laya is a social enterprise tapping into the indigenous tea culture of the Philippines by combining different aromatic herbs with tea leaves, spices, and fruits into unique mixtures. In the process of making the tea, they are benefitting Filipino communities where livelihood is minimal by employing them to produce the tea. However, the aim is not only to employ these people but instead teach and transform them into business partners. By allowing them to create and set up their own businesses and work together with us, we will not only provide income to the communities but also give them a measure of dignity.

These are for us perfect examples of how businesses can produce, manufacture and sell products or services just like any regular business but still have a purpose that goes beyond making a profit. If you are interested to find out more about different social enterprises here you can visit Choose Social Ph, a platform to discover and explore more about the social enterprise scene in the Philippines.


The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

We often hear stories about the one entrepreneur who embarks on a journey built on big dreams, hopes and hard work. We hear about the challenges and struggles that needed to be overcome along the way, and eventually about the successful birth of a company. It is often described as a lonely road, and while that is sometimes true, in almost all cases entrepreneurs and young companies do need support to develop and grow their ventures. This support can take many different shapes and forms. It might be access to funding, business expertise, mentorship or simply opportunities to expand their networks.

This support-environment is often called the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The ecosystem is made up of governmental, educational and financial institutions, but also actors such as accelerators, incubators, private investors, forums and other support organizations. It also involves elements such as human capital, knowledge, resources and the entrepreneurs themselves. Furthermore, the ecosystem is defined by its stories and culture. An effective ecosystem should be rich in social capital and encourage collaboration, cooperation, trust and reciprocity among the different players.

In our research, we are looking at how the ecosystem can better support the growth of social enterprises in the Philippines. In many cases, these social enterprises operate in an environment that is more scarce in resources compared to conventional, profit-driven, companies. For example, it is often harder to attract funding as well as talent since profit maximization is not the main goal. One can therefore argue that the supportive ecosystem play an even more important role in the context of social entrepreneurship. The ecosystem can enable and facilitate the scaling of social enterprises, and assist them to achieve both financial sustainability and their social mission.

Last week we met with ImpactHub Manila, one of the actors in the ecosystem. They offer co-working space, incubator programs and frequently organize events and network opportunities. To describe them in the most simple way; they connect people. They make sure entrepreneurs get opportunities to get in touch with investors, representatives from different organizations and other key players. But perhaps most importantly, they provide a space where people can interact in informal ways over a cup of freshly brewed coffee (which of course is free in whatever quantities you prefer). That is how relationships are built and ideas develop.

IMG_8644We had the privilege to spend the whole day there, and as it happened an event labeled “fuck up night” was organized in the evening on their outside terrace, overlooking the skyline of downtown Manila. The concept actually originated in Mexico and is all about demystifying and normalizing failure. Entrepreneurs get on stage and in an informal, and often humoristic, way talk about their biggest failures, or fuck-ups, and how they managed to overcome them. The atmosphere was light-hearted, perhaps further reinforced by the craft beers on offer, since of one of the entrepreneurs on stage ran a microbrewery business. Before the night ended we also had new contacts engaged in businesses ranging from flowers in a box to dating apps to ice candy. What a night to be alive!

The True Manila

The Philippines has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, averaging about 6% annually, outperforming many of its regional neighbours including China. However, the country remains one of the most unequal places in the world with a huge disparity between the rich and the poor. Essentially, the growth is not inclusive and only a small part of the population gets to reap the benefits of the economic upswing. Nowhere in the Philippines are the contrasts as big as in Manila.

To see the other side of this megacity we got in touch with a charity project called True Manila, founded by a man named Edwin. They operate in San Andres, one of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Manila. From the dusty, crowded and chaotic streets you can see the tall, shiny skyscrapers of Makati, the main business district, only a few kilometers away. It might as well have been an entirely different country. We came here to gain a deeper understanding of the social problems in the country, while also hoping to get more insights about the challenges social enterprises are facing when trying to address these issues.

img_8471.jpgWe arrived at 10am outside the big market in San Andres. No specific address was given to us, we had just been told to ask any of the kids on the street about the location of “Edwin’s house”. And fair enough, the first kid we asked enthusiastically pointed towards a three-story house painted in green and yellow about 20 meters away. Within seconds, we were surrounded by kids with a lot of energy, big smiles but few teeth. They ran ahead of us across the street, not minding the incoming traffic of tricycles, jeepneys and cars.

We met the niece of Edwin, one of the volunteers for True Manila, and she explained the project involves around 50 kids who are living on the street, either with or without families. They get fed 3 times a day, get basic access to showers and given the ability to go to school. Technically, public schools are free but in reality there are many costs involved such as uniforms, material, food and transport – which means many parents simply cannot afford sending their kids to school. Thanks to True Manila, some get the opportunity to do so.

img_8498 (1)Despite their young age they knew a little bit of English and curiously asked for our names and where we came from. After playing around with the kids for a while we walked one block away to a local food outlet where we bought rice, soup and vegetables. Amazingly, around 20 kids could be fed for as little as 180 pesos (3 euros). The kids were in high spirits and seemed very happy and grateful. After the meal we got to visit the “home” of one family, which was literally a bench on the side of the street with a parasol above to protect them from the scorching sun. Five people lived there. Another family we visited lived upstairs in one of the buildings, where 11 people shared a space of maximum 10 square meters. Nonetheless, they were joking around as we entered and did not seem to be noticeably bothered by the sauna-like heat inside. Right before midday the kids put on their uniforms and left for school. It really was both amazing and liberating to see them so happy despite having so little.

True MAnila


After leaving San Andres with many new perspectives, thoughts and impressions we spent the afternoon with Edwin, the founder. He instantly came across as a man full of energy, passion and drive. Combined with his long hair and charming smile it was difficult to ignore his presence. He started telling us a story about 2 young boys in Manila who lived on the street with their family. One day two foreigners, a couple from the US, walked across the neighborhood and noticed the poor living standards. They started interacting with some of the kids and upon leaving, the 2 boys actually followed them back to their house. It was evident they were hungry so the couple decided to give them some food. A few days later the couple walked through the same neighborhood at nighttime and saw the two boys sleeping on the street. From that moment they decided to support them every day with food and other necessities.

After 6 months one of the boys disappeared and never showed up again, but the couple kept supporting the other boy until they left Manila after another 6 months to go back to the US. Before leaving they handed over a guitar to the boy. They also wrote down their address so that he could keep in touch with them. Once returning home, they received a letter and they eagerly replied as well as putting in some money for food. Time passed and letters were sent and received. At last, the correspondence stopped and they didn’t hear from the boy for a long time. However, the couple kept sending some small monetary contributions and wrote they were hoping the money would cover the expenses for school. And eventually, the boy replied and enthusiastically informed them he was now enrolled in school.

As you might have guessed already, this boy was Edwin. The other boy who disappeared was Edwin’s cousin. Unfortunately, the cousin’s life took a bad turn and he ended up with the wrong people in the wrong places. He got into heavier and heavier drugs until he reached the point of no return. In contrast, Edwin, thanks to the support from the US couple, managed to stay on a positive path and worked himself out of the bad environment. He now supports his cousin on a daily basis and runs True Manila, which he funds through his 7 (!) jobs. Among them is an acting career, which he pursued from an early age and gradually learned by constantly challenging himself and getting out of his comfort zone. Recently, he had a role in a popular TV-show in the Philippines. Despite the relative fame, he has never tried to escape his roots and he has never forgotten how the help he received from two strangers changed his life. He still lives in the San Andres community and is extremely committed to helping as many as he possibly can. He truly believes he can make the biggest difference by positively influencing the kids and make sure they get good opportunities.

True Manila has been running for 11 years. There have been countless of failures and struggles, and equally as many valuable learnings. You can tell there is an underlying frustration within Edwin. Frustration with the government, the system, and that nothing has really changed. He wants to do more, provide more help and reach more people. He is a man with big dreams. One of them already came true when he, unannounced, went to the US to visit the couple who changed his life. To say the least, it was a hugely emotional encounter. Now he is pursuing other, bigger, dreams with the ultimate goal to raise awareness and help more people in his community and beyond. The story is unfolding as you are reading this blog post, and we would not be surprised if you hear more about Edwin and True Manila in a very near future.

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Magandang Gabi!

What is social entrepreneurship & who is a social entrepreneur?

Many of you are probably already aware of the concept of social entrepreneurship, but for the ones who are not, we thought it would be good to clarify this idea outside the borders of academia.

So let us start from the beginning, entrepreneurs are of often people that are driven by passion and awareness of a problem and turn them into an opportunity. For instance, the late owner of IKEA Ingvar Kamprad thought that stylish and modern furniture should be affordable for everyone, at the same time he saw and understood the problem that selling furniture manufactured by others is something only the rich could afford. So what did he do? He started IKEA and began to design and sell his own stylish and affordable furniture in a flat-pack, well known as the basic IKEA concept.

Like Ingvar Kamprad, many social entrepreneurs are also innovators and outside the box thinkers, but the main difference is the problems they are addressing. While many entrepreneurs might solve problems much related to us as consumers, social entrepreneurs solve pressing problems in society such as lack of education, health, homelessness, alcoholism, poverty, and inequality just to name a few. Often these problems have not been sufficiently solved or neglected by the public and private sector. Thus, these social entrepreneurs feel the need to address these issues. So rather than maximixing profits for shareholders, like traditional businesses, social enterprises aim to maximize social wealth.

So now you when you have a better understanding of the problems social entrepreneurs solve you might wonder what the difference between a social enterprise and charities or non-profits are? Generally speaking, social entrepreneurship is about balancing social and financial needs, it involves the creation of solutions that address a social problem whilst generating revenue to sustain itself, any surplus profit is either put back into the social cause or used for further development of the enterprise. Whereas charities and non-profits are dependent on grants and donations given by the general public, international development agencies or businesses that allocate a portion of their profits to social missions.

Now when you know a bit more about the concept and what our research is about we can stop with the boring posts and deliver some more interesting stories here from Manila 🙂

Peace out


Pre-departure briefing

This blog will take you on an thrilling, exotic, but yet informative, journey to the vast archipelago of the Philippines, a country with over 7000 islands tightly scattered in the western part of the Pacific ocean. As last-year master students we will be collecting data for our thesis in Manila (and perhaps other locations), in cooperation with the Institute of Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA).

So how did we end up here? Well, almost all credit should rightly go to SIDA, Sweden’s International Development cooperation Agency. They are a governmental agency responsible for distributing funds to various help organisations and developmental projects in developing countries. They also offer scholarships to students who are to collect their thesis data in a developing country, which we decided to apply for. It was a great honor and privilege  to later receive it which meant our plan to conduct our research in the Philippines could materialize.

One requirement of the scholarship is to write a summarizing story of our experience that will be shared in a public database once we return. However, we figured it would be quite proactive, and also more interesting, to share our journey while it is actually taking place.

Our topic of research is Social Entrepreneurship. Despite solid economic growth over the last decades Philippines still have major problems with extreme poverty and widespread inequality. Around 22% of the population are estimated to live below the poverty line. Social enterprises around the country have shown promising signs to tackle these social issues and we are eager to learn more about them and how they can be better supported. We aim to interview social entrepreneurs as well as key actors in the surrounding eco-system, such as governmental institutions, educational institutions, social incubators, social investors etc.

In addition to this exciting and interesting topic we also hope to have time to explore and get to know the Philippines. So feel free to share any advice or travel tips you might have about either Manila or the Philippines in general!