Social Entrepreneurship Towards a Better Normal: Catching Up with Erwin Lizarondo

By: Samyuktha Sethuraman

The pandemic has brought its fair share of pros and cons in all spheres of our lives. Though the coronavirus has brought downfall for most establishments, so is not the case with Social Enterprises. Wondering how Social Enterprises (SEs) have been thriving during such a hard-hitting time of change?

In this article I share with you all what Erwin Lizarondo had to say about Social Enterprises, the importance of innovative thinking during one of the most challenging times we have ever faced and most importantly how each of us have a social entrepreneur in us

What follows is perhaps one of the edifying conversations I have ever had with a change-maker himself.

Sam: Hello Erwin. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?


Erwin: I like to call myself as a generalist because I have been actively engaging myself on several Social Enterprises related projects. But to put a title in this conversation, I would call myself as a “Mover in the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem.”


Sam: What have you been up to these days? And how has life changed for you since the pandemic?


Erwin: Firstly, a lot has changed considering the fact that we are conversing virtually. Secondly, it has changed the way I conduct my lectures. Like I said earlier I have been working on multiple projects. I teach Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise project for Thames International and I am the Program Lead for TIP-Nitro.


I also mentor for Wedu, MaGIC – Malaysia Global Innovation and Creative Center. I continue to do what I do where I facilitate seminars and workshops on human centered design, business ideation, etcetera for several organizations. As you know, I do all of this online and the organizations are more than happy to do so.


When doing it virtually, I predominantly looked for tools and resources that have helped me and my attendees to be engrossed while conducting these events. Personally, the learning curve has been high and Google Jamboard is my current favorite.


Sam: From your experiences, what is Social Impact and Social Entrepreneurship according to you?


Erwin: Social impact has both a positive and a negative. You can create impact as an individual and as a business.


Social Impact through the lens of SEs is about making sure that the business creates a positive impact in terms of dealing with the multiple stakeholders such as the consumers, producers, community partners and the society at large.


For example, if you are engaging with coffee farmers from a place, it means that you must receive their coffee beans at fair trade prices. Impact Coffee is one such business model which was founded by a group of South American students in Taiwan. They proudly call themselves as “Starbucks with a twist.” A part of their proceeds goes into building learning centers simply because access to education is not easy for these coffee farmers.


To redefine SEs in the current context would simply mean enterprises whose aim is not only profit generation but are also driven to creating a lasting positive social and environmental impact.


Situation wise, I personally think that all enterprises must be impact driven. We need to cut down on our greenhouse gases, treat people better in the supply chain by providing them with equal wages and opportunities. Hence, this is what I believe must be the driving philosophy for all enterprises and us individuals too.


Sam: How do SEs contribute to a country’s growth and why are SEs crucial for the growth of a country? I would love to hear some stories from the Philippines.


Erwin: SEs in the Philippines have been directly addressing SDG 1 – No poverty. This is because a lot of the SEs employ from places where the poor reside. The reason they do so is to teach them life skills like financial independence to get out of poverty. This creates a ripple effect of employing more and more individuals.


Majority of the SEs are focused on agriculture. Tons of farmers are engaged in terms of getting better livelihoods. They are given the opportunity to directly sell their produce to the buyers which also removes the mediator (which is a huge problem in any agricultural country) as there is no middle person to determine the prices that the farmers need to sell their products at.


SEs here also focused on education by giving them access to it. So, more literacy means more opportunities that directly lifts these people out of poverty and they have the means to a better standard of living in general.


These are primarily how SEs fill the gaps that the government cannot always address.


Sam: How can SEs approach the pandemic as an opportunity?


Erwin: These are the situations in which SEs thrive in. If you look at the Traditional entrepreneurs they are taught to produce continuously and generate profits. They rarely analyze the impact that they are creating, especially the harm they bring to the environment.


SEs thrive in such situations because they are trained to be innovative and think outside the box. Manila, the capital of the country, is not sustainable when it comes to food sources. It usually comes from the provinces. Towards the second quarter of 2020, people started panic buying due to the uncertainty. This enabled the SEs to engage with the farmers because nobody bought anything from them. An SE named Mad Travel by Raf Dionisio did so with the farmers and later another business idea was born and now it is known as the MAD Market which helped the partner communities and farmers sell their produce to the consumers during the pandemic.


Similarly another entrepreneur Robi Del Rosario, founder of Uproot Urban Farms, who is an advocate for food sustainability in the city, encourages people to have their own vertical farms and home farms. He too engaged with the farmers from outside Manila which eventually led to the growth of the supply bit by bit. Ultimately this benefitted both the producers and the consumers.

They find a way to come up with novel and ground-breaking solutions when the current one is not working anymore. They relentlessly look at testing and implementing various solutions until a successful one happens. This motivates their contemporary NGOs and other non-profits to also contribute to solving the problem at hand through the lens of innovation. In my opinion, this is what makes SEs unique from the others. In other words, necessity is the mother of invention where innovation takes place.


Sam: How can each individual create positive social impact and how can we address the issues we collectively face?


Erwin: I think it is purely awareness. I agree with you when you say that each of us have a role to play. Awareness in the sense that we need to understand the kind of footprint we are leaving, the kind of lifestyle we are leading because all of this culminates into what happens to the planet.


I lived in Korea for 2 years and moved back to the Philippines in late 2016. After selling my house, I bought an apartment here where I currently live. I got rid of my car which made me utilize the available public transport system. I don’t have an AC though the summers are crazy here.


Most importantly what I believe is that all these changes are gradual. My diet is not completely plant-based. I don’t eat red meat. Chicken and tofu are my only proteins I have along with the other foods I consume. I do have my cheat days though. I mean who doesn’t?


It also occurred to me that decluttering is necessary because of the simple goal that if I were to ever move elsewhere, I would want all of my things to fit in only 5 boxes. Keeping that in mind, I donated a lot of my clothes and books. Minimalism is what I am aiming for in order to simplify my lifestyle.


Ultimately, it is the awareness of your lifestyle. We need to look at what brings pollution, what activities we do generate greenhouse gases, cutting plastics out of our life. It is as simple as bringing your own grocery bags when shopping. I do this because I genuinely am scared for the future generation.


It is important to learn from this pandemic. It is these lingering thoughts that have made me make these gradual changes. I am also realistic and optimistic that things will be better and it’s the very reason why I am part of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem in the first place.


Sam: Do have you have any tips for aspiring SEs and entrepreneurs who want to make a positive social impact?


Erwin: What SEs are doing is FREAKIN HARD!!!


I will start by saying that it is super hard but, it is necessary. Make sure your community partners are growing along with you. It is a novel business model that you will be dealing with.


My next advice is simple – just keep doing it. It will be initially hard and you may even be clueless but you need to keep doing it.

This brings me to my last point. Once you keep doing it, you will eventually get it right.


So don’t worry about getting it right at the first go. There are people who are willing to guide you along the way because gone are the “corporate dominant” days. This is the age for collaborations and partnerships.


So, these are my simple 3 key tips:

  • It is difficult but necessary.
  • Just keep doing it
  • You will get it right. 

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