The Top 5 Highlights Of Our Social Enterprise Voyage in Philippines

The Top 5 Highlights Of Our Social Enterprise Voyage in Philippines

Many people have been asking about our recent trip to Philippines and what our highlights were. We were gone for two months so we have A LOT (but we’ve narrowed it down to five, don’t worry).

Before you read any further, I should mention that Jérôme and I are more cultural travelers than partygoers or backpackers (plus our main goal on this trip was to expand our knowledge of social entrepreneurship). So if you’re expecting something like “swimming with dolphins!” you’re really not going to see that in this blog post (or anywhere on our site, for that matter). 

So here goes. The top highlights of our recent trip to Philippines:

1. Getting Inspired at the Social Business Summit

We really struck gold in Philippines. While we were there, the renowned non-profit organization Gawad Kalinga was also hosting an international conference about social entrepreneurship on the Enchanted Farm. If you’re not familiar with Gawad Kalinga or the Enchanted Farm, you must (we insist!) read this post where we explain why they’re the Silicon Valley of social enterprises.

During the summit, we met aspiring and established social entrepreneurs from around the world. The event was such a big deal that the president of Philippines (Noynoy Aquino) actually came and spoke (now we can say we saw someone arriving in a helicopter).

My favourite part of the summit was hearing Dylan Wilk, CEO of Human Nature, a 100% natural cosmetics company in Philippines. Dylan was previously one of the richest men under 30 years-old in England because of his video game business (Counterstrike). Following some soul searching, he eventually gave most of his money away and moved to Philippines where he now manages Human Nature. He articulately laid out the role of a social enterprise: “If you are rich as a business owner but your workers are poor, then you have failed humanity.” You can't call yourself a social entrepreneur if you're paying minimum wage and not living wage. Social entrepreneurship must bridge the gap between rich and poor.

 Dylan Wilk speaking at Social Business Summit 2016
Dylan Wilk speaking at the Social Business Summit 2016

2. Having Lunch With Tony Meloto, Social Entrepreneur of the World

Tony Meloto with Cambio Market

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be? For the last two years, my answer has been Tony Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga and Social Entrepreneur of the World at the World Entrepreneurship Forum in 2012. Somehow, Jérôme and I found ourselves doing just that. We signed up for a day tour of the Enchanted Farm (before the Social Business Summit) and were sitting down for the lunch when Mr. Meloto asked if he could join us (my jaw probably dropped three feet). We spoke about his vision for Gawad Kalinga and the Philippines, where they have come and what needs to be done further, how he deals with potential corruption or threats, and his experience dealing with other world leaders. We ended up chatting with him for 1.5 hours!

He’s basically a celebrity in the development and social enterprise world. He’s met with Obama and even shared a story about meeting the former Prime Minister of Canada. However, what really struck me is how approachable he is. Throughout our conversation, we frequently forgot who he really was - it felt like we were just chatting with a really cool and passionate person. This reinforced in me the importance to stay humble and approachable, no matter who you are and where you end up.

3. Seeing Impact Firsthand with Social Entrepreneurs

During our trip, we met many social entrepreneurs who were so welcoming and kind. We met with Benj Aritao of The Paper Project, the ones responsible for our bestselling handcrafted greeting cards. He told us his story of how he transitioned from being a lawyer to now running a greeting card company. He also brought us to their office in Manila where Jérôme and I had the chance to come behind the scenes and see for ourselves how our cards were being made. Learn more about our visit to The Paper Project at our blog post here.

"If you are rich as a business owner but your workers are poor, then you have failed humanity.” Dylan Wilk, CEO of Human Nature

We met Anya from ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, who explained the importance of preserving indigenous weaving cultures in the Philippines. Yana, founder of our Olivia & Diego upcycled jewelry pieces, also took us out during the day to visit their partner communities and witness how their jewelry is made. Jérôme and I discovered several new suppliers, such as AKABA (now available online!). Overall, meeting with these social entrepreneurs in person was uplifting because we could actually see their impact and learn more about their challenges, their triumphs, and their hopes.

4. Discovering Davao City with Mel’s Davao Food Tours

I loooooove food, and I look for any opportunity to eat lots of it. So when we ended up in Davao City in Mindanao, we jumped at the chance to do a food tour with Mel. It was just Jérôme and I on the tour (that always happens to us), so we were able to speak intimately with Mel and pick her brain about Davao, Philippines, their famous and controversial mayor Duterte and her other travels.

We learned about the history of Davao and how diverse of a city it is. It was a popular site for American farmers during colonialism for their abundance of fruits and rubber. It was also previously known as Little Tokyo because of the large Japanese population that was built up during the era of Japanese expansionism through Asia before World War II. Alarmed by the concentrated Japanese population, the Philippine government encouraged people from all over Philippines to migrate to Davao City, which has made the city a unique, multicultural haven with diverse food choices today. It’s the only area in the Mindanao region where Tagalog is widely spoken, as opposed to Visayas (the main language of the Visayas and Mindanao). We really had a great time with Mel (not just because of the food or the history), but because she is a lovely person with positive energy. She’s the perfect example of Filipino hospitality and positivity, and it excites me that people like her are showcasing the Philippines and our culture.
Gelaine and Jérôme eating Durian
Us eating the famous durian fruit

Mel's Davao Food Tour
Mel’s Davao Food Tours is rated one of the top activities in Davao City. Do it! She’s lovely.

5. Living A Sustainable Lifestyle With ECHOStore

While we were in Manila, we paid a visit to the ECHOStore. They brand themselves as a “sustainable lifestyle store” and boy, is it ever. Jérôme and I have spent the past two years researching social enterprises in Philippines, and we recognized several familiar names within the shop (and discovered even more that we had never heard of). There were shelves of organic and sustainably grown food, and a small café within the shop itself where you could order organic and fair trade coffee, pancakes, sandwiches – you name it. Upstairs, they had shelves of all-natural cosmetics, beauty care, and cleaning products including baby care. There was also a small shelf for ethical jewelry and purses/bags. We were so impressed with our visit that we even wrote a blog post about it.

The ECHOStore isn’t huge, but it was really the concept itself that struck us. It was the first time we were seeing in person what a sustainable lifestyle store could look like, with social enterprises and ethical products being at the front and center. We would love to see something like this in Toronto (heck, we’d love to shop at a place like this!). Since our visit there several weeks ago, the ECHOStore regularly comes up again in our conversations and has influenced how we see the future of Cambio Market. 

We didn’t really do very luxurious or touristy things during our trip (more the opposite, actually) but we wouldn’t trade our experience for the world. Instead, it was a trip that pushed us out of our comfort zones and challenged us personally and professionally (as the best travels usually do). In the end, the Philippines has reinforced our conviction that social enterprise and ethical business are the answer to poverty and social inequality. Yes, we can drastically change things in our lifetimes and for the better. We can’t wait to apply everything we’ve learned to Cambio Market and our personal lives.

What’s a place you’ve travelled that has drastically changed your perspective or opened your eyes to something? Share it with us in the comments.

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine is a social entrepreneur, an online storyteller, and a passionate advocate for diversity and ethics in business. She’s the co-founder of Cambio & Co., an e-commerce fashion company working with Filipino artisans to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship, culture, and heritage. Gelaine is also one of the founders of Sinta & Co., the world’s first conscious Filipino wedding boutique. She was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. Find her on Instagram @gelainesantiago and

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published