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Establishing a new venture is never plain sailing. But Justin Garrido and Julia Sevilla had not bargained for a typhoon nor the website technicalities they faced when setting up Social Project PH, a crowdfunding platform for start-ups and charities in the Philippines.
It was just three months after Mr Garrido moved to Manila to establish the social enterprise, which won the annual entrepreneurship challenge at Melbourne University in 2012, that Typhoon Pablo hit.
Killing 1,000 people, destroying 200,000 homes and decimating 800 classrooms in Compostela Valley, Mindanao, the typhoon ravaged through the Filipino region in December 2012. In spite of the impending launch of his start-up, Mr Garrido quickly volunteered to help, arriving in Compostela Valley the following month.
“I was blown away by the extent of the damage but I was impressed with the positive attitude of the people as they rebuilt their communities,” he says. “I saw children attending schools in tents who had lost their parents, friends, etc and yet they were still smiling. It just shows how hopeful one can be despite circumstances. That’s something we can all learn from.”
Many of the disaster-relief projects being implemented in this rescue operation would make ideal candidates for Social Project PH, which aims to raise funds and offer marketing and brand-management services to projects in the Philippines that alleviate poverty.
However, the launch of the website, which Mr Garrido, an MBA student from Melbourne Business School, had hoped would be in December 2012 in the Philippines, was delayed while he adapted the business model to be US-based, to eradicate any concerns about money-laundering.
Delays were also caused by lengthy Christmas festivities and there were language difficulties.
“Generally speaking, although English is the main business language, [the local] language is sometimes a factor if you’re working in a rural community. Also, the bureaucracy and additional paperwork in dealing with some government agencies has been an adjustment,” explains Mr Garrido, who is originally from the US.
Mr Garrido will remain in the Philippines as he believes in the importance of vetting the projects personally. “You need to be sure money will be used properly and the projects run properly. You get a real sense of the projects if you go in person to meet people,” he says.
This physical, interactive element is also something he clearly enjoys. “I’m trying to do as much as possible to get the word out – I love it. I’m not making any money right now but I’m passionate about it. I get to meet amazing organisations and visit communities throughout the Philippines; I see a lot of potential,” he says.
For the launch, Mr Garrido and Ms Sevilla are lining up a variety of projects to showcase. These include a financial literacy training programme, a nutrition programme for young mothers, a design laboratory that trains its co-operative partners to develop higher-value products using local materials and a project offering solar energy to off-grid rural communities.
“It is a pretty exciting selection for the launch,” says Mr Garrido. “They are coming up with creative but cost-effective ideas.”
Fundraising on the website for each project will be for a set period of 30-60 days only, to create a sense of excitement and urgency. But there will be a strong element of flexibility so that if targeted amounts are not raised within the set timeframe, whatever is raised can still be used.
Social Project PH will receive 5 per cent of the money raised. Following the fundraising, it will then be the responsibility of project managers to send updates to their donors and nurture the relationship, by sending photos of their progress, for example.
“Being a donor isn’t just about donating money,” says Mr Garrido. “You become a partner supporting the project.”
Each donor will get a profile page, for example, that shows the projects they are part of and contains a category label: “eco warrior”, for example, if they tend to support environmental projects. There will also be the opportunity to link profiles to Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Over the next few months, the website launch will be the priority for the start-up duo. Mr Garrido is also continuing his voluntary work as he has found it to be an ideal form of research as well as a means of developing contacts for business relationships once Social Project PH is up and running.
In February, for instance, he is returning to Compostela Valley with a cameraman to film a documentary about the children and their classrooms for a fundraising project run by The Philippine Business for Social Progress. This consortium, of the 200 largest companies in the Philippines, pledges to give 1 per cent of their net income annually to PBSP for development projects in the country.