For a long time, I’ve always looked at traveling as a reward. Lately, I realized, travel can also be a gift. As we see more of the world and connect with our communities, at one point we find ourselves wanting to look beyond the self. We decide to get involved, make a difference, and make our travels a gift to others.
Curious how Filipinos are creating social impact, I rummaged websites to find interesting stories of travelers, organizations, and businesses who advocate causes like outreach programs, volunteering, and reducing carbon footprint.
And then one thing caught my attention: social enterprises. These are businesses whose primary goal is to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in the communities. I was appalled. The social enterprise landscape in the Philippines, surprisingly, is vast and vibrant. There aren’t just hundreds of them, but several thousands. There are also inclusive businesses that maintain their for-profit nature, but integrates low-income communities in their business models. (For more context, download the British Council’s review of social enterprise activity in the Philippines.)
In this feature, I list down some of the interesting ones that you can help when traveling. I included their contact details so you can reach out and learn more about their causes.
Dreams and Weavers
If you’re into trendy OOTDs and fashionable city tours, Habi Batangan is your reliable source of handcrafted scarves and shawls. This social enterprise employs Nanay weavers in Ibaan, Batangas whose talent and passion for traditional hand weaving continue to thrive in the midst of highly modernized textile production. For every scarf and shawl you wear proudly and every purchase of their world-class mats, blankets, and table runners, you become an advocate in reviving the weaving industry in Batangas. Make a difference with Habi Batangan by enabling their communities through training, facility development, and social programs, and by providing them sustainable income.
Adventurous travelers who need stylish backpacks can always grab one from the Gugu online store. Their bags are made of eco-friendly and upcycled materials that are as good as synthetic fabric. Their INTRAMUROS bag is a casual backpack of handwoven jute fabric, has a laptop sleeve, a front pocket, leather accents, and an adjustable drawstring. The ESCOLTA bag, also made of jute, has an elegant barrel design and a quilted top flap. Gugu is based in Naga City and supports weaving communities in Albay and Camarines Sur.
Jewelry from Trash
Lumago Designs in Dumaguete collaborates with a community of mothers in upcycling trash to craft jewelry and accessories. Their products, which include necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, are made of paper beads, plastic, pull tabs, and recycled cothes and leather. They are available in their online store and bazaars both in the Philippines and abroad. Lumago ensures that proceeds of their hard work are reinvested in the program and the community. With your purchase, you can help them reduce solid waste and uplift the quality of life in the dumpsite community that’s home to these women. Oh, they also need your donation of pull tabs!
Alima Community in Iloilo City provides a platform for Ilonggo creatives. It collaborates with rural artists from scratch through eco-design and self-development workshops. Their products called kataw are earings, bracelets, and necklaces made of sea debris and beach trash including slippers, ropes, and bottles. Rofil, a jewelry brand named after its artist Rofil Casipe, is a collection of jewelry made of wild nito vine, endemic seeds, and natural dye. Their products are available online, at Café Panay in Iloilo, and other partner distributors. In every purchase, 50% goes back to the local artists.
Sweets and Seafood
When visiting Bohol, don’t think twice of taking home a bagol of calamay, a sweet treat made from milled glutinous rice, coconut milk, and sugar. One of the famous makers of this delicacy is Calamaderas a cooperative of more than 100 calamay makers in Jagna. Everytime you grab a calamay from the pasalubong stand, you actually support a cottage industry that provides for a number of families in Bohol. And, grab those peanut kisses, too. A peanut farmer would be grateful.
Love seafood? How about taking home several packs of Balangay’s Best, a brand of dried seafood snack sourced from the poor fishing communities in the Philippines? These products are manufactured by Fishers and Changemakers, a social enterprise based in Bantayan, Cebu. Theirs is a big mission: to improve the lives of fishermen by educating them with sustainable fishing practices, enabling them with essential technology, and providing them livelihood. With every purchase of their products, which are sold mostly in bazaars, trade fairs, and through partner retailers, you help the enterprise create a better life for our poor fishermen. As a traveler, you can also be an advocate of sustainable fishing and by practicing responsible travel your small yet consistent efforts to protect our oceans will ensure that our fishermen will always have fish to catch for their living.
River Communities in Bloom
Not to miss in Bohol is the firefly river tour offered by Kayakasia Philippines. This community-based enterprise sits on the banks of Abatan River and engages the locals in booking tours, providing meals, and tour guiding. This romantic river adventure costs P1950 and covers the kayak and gear rentals, guide fee, community taxes, and food. The money goes a long way; part of it funds environmental programs and the scholarship of Kayakasia’s tour guides. “You visiting us gives belief to the communities…that eco-sustainable tourism not only helps better the environment but also their lives. This is one very important step for us in mentoring stewardship and highlighting the value of our remaining fragile ecosystems….,” Rey Doinaire, Kayakasia General Manager shares. Read more
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When visiting Cebu, book a river cruise in the fishing village of Bojo, Aloguinsan. This ecotourism site is managed by the Bojo Aloguinsan Eco Tourism Association (BAETAS) in partnership with the local government. BAETAS has more than 50 local residents who work as paddlers, guides, cooks, entertainers, craftsman, and patrolling environment officer. The tour lasts for about 3-4 hours and highlights history, folklore, and preserving the ecosystem. Of the P650 fee per guest, which covers tours and buffet lunch and snacks, about 75% goes to the locals. In 2015, the UN recognized this project as the best community-based tourism initiative in Asia Pacific.
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From Backstreets to Mountains
If you want to learn some cool, new skills like making a ukulele or a smartphone bamboo amplifier, the tour company to book is Backstreet Academy, a Nepal-based social enterprise. It operates in 10 developing countries, including the Philippines where it offers tours hosted by artistic Cebu locals. Backstreet Academy believes their tours promote human connection through intimate hands-on learning experience with skilled hosts. So, take yourself to the backstreets of Cebu and do something you haven’t ever done before. With every tour booked, about 20% goes to the enterprise, and the rest is divided among the local host, translator, and transport operator.
Add a twist to your Cordillera experience by booking an eco-tour and homestay with EDAYA Cordillera. Their bamboo hut can accommodate up to four guests and can be booked through Airbnb. With EDAYA, you experience living with the locals in their mountain home and get to try making bamboo musical instruments. More than that, you help sustain its programs for empowering the youth. In its early years, EDAYA introduced the communities to making high-end bamboo jewelry and helped export them primarily to Japan. Now, it focuses on alternative education to help them “find their calling, shape their future, and address social issues in their communities”. Training workshops cover leadership, innovation, design thinking, creativity, and social entrepreneurship.
Whether you’re en route to Boracay or visiting Kalibo for Ati-Atihan, a quick tour around Aklan’s capital is worth experiencing. Take an orange tricycle with “Vibrant Kalibo” stickers and ask the driver to take you to the Bakhawan Eco-Park. Enjoy a leisure walk under the mangroves and try the exotic tamilok, a mollusk cultured in rotting mangrove wood. Drop by La Herminia and know more about the thriving piña weaving industry in the province. For a dash of history, visit Tigayon Hill, Museo it Akean, and Kalibo Cathedral. The tricycle drivers will take care of you like expert tour guides—because they actually are trained tour guides, too! They belong to the Kalibo Tricycle Drivers and Guides Association (KATRIDGA), whose members were upskilled with tour guiding techniques, tourism trends, communication skills, and customer relations, a livelihood project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. (Check their rates here.)
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The People of the World
If you’re traveling to Coron in Palawan, by all means get the chance to explore Culion through Kawil Tours. For a long time, it was isolated as one of the world’s biggest leper colony until the World Health Organization declared Culion leprosy-free in 2006. It was a painful past for its people, and recovering from the stigma was not easy. In 2011, a group of volunteers and locals, inspired to empower and reintroduce the people of Culion to the world, decided to organize the first tour company in the island. Now their tours offer a unique historical, cultural, and island hopping experience–a “personal journey” to one of the country’s best destinations. When you book this Coron-Culion tour, not only do you contribute to the people’s livelihood, but you also help them take pride in their story and identity.
Stay in the homey hostels of The Circle when you travel to the surfing hotspots of Baler, La Union, and Zambales. Besides meeting fellow travelers with passion for adventure, art, and music, you also get a chance to support their projects like waste segregation and recycling. You also help provide livelihood for the locals who are employed to manage daily operations of the hostel and its tours. In Zambales, The Circle has a community immersion called “Tribes and Treks” to promote understanding of the Aeta culture. In this tour, you trek to the village early in the morning, plan trees as part of a massive reforestation project, hear stories about the tribes, share meals with them and learn their dance and music. The tour happens every Saturday at 7 AM.
Banking on their online platforms and collaboration with key players in the travel industry, MAD Travel hopes to instill social impact among travelers. MAD stands for Making A Difference, a mission it carries out through partners like Gawad Kalinga, The Circle Hostel, and Experience Philippines. Through their tours, they hope to develop empathy and understanding for marginalized communities and help them transform their lives for the better. Among the trips they promote are “Tribes and Treks”, an immersion with the Aeta tribe in San Felipe, Zambales and a tour to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan.
Coffee, Tea, and Social Impact
Visiting Davao? Grab a cup of caramel macchiato or Mindanao Mint Mocha from the Coffee for Peace Bistro. When you buy their coffee, you help sustain a business that uplifts the lives of coffee farmers in Mindanao. Coffee for Peace helps build communities of justly-treated farmers who supply them with quality products at fair traded prices. Besides training farmers for coffee production, it has also enabled peace-building teams in conflicted areas in the region to champion their goal of redeeming broken relationships and bring about healing—and peace—in Mindanao.
It was also coffee that brought together businesses, farmers, and scientists to a project dubbed as the Coffee Heritage Project. Started by Rich Watanabe in 2009, its goal is to revive coffee farming in Sagada, so it can be passed on as heritage for future generation farmers. This project brought back enthusiasm and confidence among coffee growers, mostly small backyard farmers who almost gave up on the low-produce, low-income business. Travelers can help support this cause and uplift the lives of coffee farmers by patronizing Philippine coffee. You can always grab some at the SGD Coffee Bodega in Diliman, Quezon City, and the Coffee Heritage House and Bana’s Café in Sagada. Of course, the more coffee, the more love!
Those in the mood for tea can go their favorite cafe and ask for a Tsaa Laya. This brand is a product of Kapwa Greens whose ultimate dream is to popularize the Filipino tsaa in the global market. If Japan has matcha and China has oolong, the Philippines has tsaa made of local herbs like pandan, tanglad (lemongrass), banaba, ginger, and mint. Kapwa Greens started the project in 2012 to provide livelihood to a number of families displaced by Typhoon Ondoy. From its small beginnings in a resettlement area in Laguna, the project has now grown into a competitive enterprise sourcing its herbs and crops from communities in Ifugao, Sagada, and its farm in Calauan. Next time you visit Baguio, dine at the Café by The Ruins Dua and ask for a Tsaa Laya. Those in Cebu can grab some at Bo’s Coffee. You can also get it in The Kismet Café and Local Edition in Makati and the Earth Kitchen restaurant in Quezon City–or order it online.
Let’s promote social enterprises in our travel circles and consider them in our next trips!