By Ong Ling Na, Scarlet
Sense of Accomplishment
The three weeks of immersion in the Philippines has been a unique experience. Though due to the availability of our business partners we have not been able to fully implement our plans with them (as we have only met our business partners two to three times throughout our entire stay), but we still believe that we have accomplished our own goals as we devised simple action plans which are highly feasible for our business partners.
A Different Business Culture
Before we came to the Philippines, we attended two preparation sessions. Beau’s answer t a student’s question on how can we make useful contributions to the microenterprises left a deep impression on my mind: just the fact that you have lived and seen how businesses operate in Hong Kong will help you grasp the problem. I didn’t really get it by then, but after cooperating with the businesses for three weeks, I am surprised by how true it was.
“The Filipino Time”
In the business culture of the Philippines, there exists something called the “Filipino time”, making people almost always late for scheduled meetings or planning things last minute. Everytime we tried to fix the time for another meeting with committee members of Luy-Aaah Salabat (instant powdered ginger brew) before we leave, we wouldn’t be able to get an immediate answer. The notices for meeting were sent to us one night before the meetings.
These are not good business practices, but when we look deeper into phenomenon, it might just fit the descriptions in Poor Economics: the Filipinos have been accustomed to lowering their standards just to make lives more tolerable. If time is all you have in a rather monotonous and slow-paced life, maybe it doesn’t matter if you don’t manage your time.
Another possible explanation is that our business partners lacked the motivation to induce a change to their organizations. At first, the microenterprise owners were clueless about our purpose here due to language barriers. And even with some explanation, they found the intervention a bit intrusive or felt discouraged by the difficulties in comprehension. It was as if they were just being nice by contributing to a research project carried out by distant foreigners. They answered our questions patiently, but mostly out of courtesy.
But it would be wrong to conclude that they are not hard-working and have no intentions to improve their lives from there, since both microenterprises (which produce salabat and virgin coconut oil respectively) we visit operate on a part-time basis. Their members contribute their weekends to assist in the manufacturing of their products “just to earn little extra income”. But again, they were “completely content with the things we’re running”. The absence of a higher mission in the organizations seemed to be a problem we wouldn’t be able to tackle in the short term.
Over the three weeks, my business partner Anisa and I have been working hard to making ourselves useful to the microenterprises we are responsible for. As you can imagine, we experienced lots of doubts and misery in trying to identify the areas of improvement, as well as to figure out some feasible plans that would be easily implemented without theoretical backgrounds to increase their chance of survival in the institutions. The task was challenging, requesting you to think from the perspective of people whose problems are not in anyways identical to those described in Harvard Business Review or cross-cultural management. You are not only their business consultant, but also their only graphic designer, marketing director and sales manager.
Our Action Plans
In the end, with the lack of access to detailed financial records of LJSA and the low level of computer literacy of KCFPO, Anisa and I decided to focus on three main directions:
- a) to assist in tasks that require computer knowledge, which included the design of packaging, labels as well as advertisement flyers.;
- b) to explore and expand their current market;
- c) to monitor production cost and sales figures better with simple and categorised record keeping.
To work on direction b), our team spent two full days in Tagbilaran to figure out the retail prices in large malls (which the manufacturers themselves were completely blind of). We also observed the promotion campaigns of products in the same category. As we tried to re-position Kinagbaan virgin coconut oil as an external-used product instead of a food product due to the lack of a valid Food and Drug Administration license, we targeted massage parlours, hair salons and spas as our potential clients, bringing along one bottle of sample product and a stack of newly-designed flyers with us. Thanks to the locals’ curiosity and hospitality to foreigners, we weren’t thrown out of any shops and a few of them tried our testers and asked for the prices. We then put together a contact list for our business partner to follow up.
I wouldn’t say that Anisa and I have made the microenterprises “more successful”, as we are uncertain how much our partners are going to comply with our business plans. But when I handed the new business cards to the committee members of KCFPO, I could sense their true contentment. Maybe it’s because someone is finally giving them the recognition they deserve, and is willing to invest their time and resources into their businesses. As I mentioned in blog one, I don’t think we can turn Luy-Aaah! salabat into Nestle or Kinagbaan virgin coconut oil into Dove overnight, but I believe every step of improvement, no matter how marginal, can be useful in initiating a larger virtuous cycle—and that’s exactly why we are here.