As Metro Manila went on its first round of community quarantine, its residents were at a loss on how to function with all the restrictions on movement. Loss of livelihood, especially on those relying on their daily earnings were also being felt by small market vendors who saw their sales shrink and tricycle drivers who were banned from plying their routes.
The Office of the Vice President took note of this and launched the Community Mart app, which bridged several gaps right away. It connects buyers with market vendors who will have their vegetables, fruits, meat, and other products delivered by tricycle drivers with same-day service that helps the community stay at home.
Two weeks after its successful launch at the Kamuning Market in Quezon City, it reached its first one million pesos in sales. In Pasig, it took only one week to reach the million peso mark. ANCX talked to the Vice President herself, and asked her how the project started.
A need to fill
Vice President Robredo came to the video conference (on time, we may add) and shared the story of how they came up with Community Mart. She starts off by talking of their other projects that were happening simultaneously. Even before the start of the ECQ, they were already looking for ways to help, she says. “First it was the PPEs, where we appropriated PHP 5.9 Million but when the demand was so high, we started a donation drive. When PPE supplies were not enough, we moved to sourcing them locally. At the same time, we also started the shuttle for frontliners, and also the dormitories for them because we heard stories from our passengers about how difficult it was to get to and from their place of work. When people started donating food, we started with hospitals and then put up a community kitchen.”
“By the time the community quarantine was supposed to end on April 14, we were already looking at ways on how to help people with a way to earn a living kasi yun ang problema at that time. Tricycle drivers, for example, two months na silang walang kita. Online shopping was already becoming a norm, even we were getting our groceries online,” she adds. “It was the small vendors who don’t have the capacity to have online presence, so we were thinking of ways to help them and the drivers na walang kita.”
It was then that they stumbled on Nueva Caceres Technology Solutions Inc. or Nueca Technologies, she shares. “We found out that they incubated in Naga and they were successful not only in helping the buying public that no longer needed to leave their homes, they were also able to empower the small vendors and tricycle drivers. We contacted the tech owners and they immediately said yes, even if we already gave our caveat that we did not have a budget for it.”
To roll out the project, Nueca Technologies advised that it was crucial to get the buy-in of the LGU, to get permits for the tricycle drivers and other paperwork done faster. They broached the topic with QC Mayor Joy Belmonte, and she said yes right away. Since this is something new, the mayor suggested to try it at one location first, the Kamuning Market. “It fit the bill because there were tricycle drivers and small vendors and it was manageable,” Robredo says.
The first few days of their dry run, they were calling friends in the area to book the service, she says. “We thought we were the ones asking for their help but it turns out that they were the ones who were very thankful for Community Mart, because it was so convenient for them!”
Not long after, the office of Mayor Vico Sotto of Pasig got in touch with them for their roll-out of Community Mart. “He asked, ‘bakit hindi kami kasama?’ We have a natural partnership with their LGU because his staff and mine are both young and dynamic, their buy-in with our project happened really fast and we came at a time when their Mobile Palengke was coming to an end, and they were looking for something to take its place,” she explains.
The Sotto-led LGU offered the Pasig Mega Mart, which is a different experience from the Kamuning model as it is much bigger and the areas that were serviced by the tricycle drivers were farther. “Mayor Vico explained that the buying culture in Pasig is different, as those who lived closer to the market preferred to go there every day for their essentials. It was the barangays that were farther away that needed delivery service.”
In QC, Community Mart services nine barangays, while in Pasig there are 11 barangays that could order deliveries. However different the landscape for both projects were, the effect was the same. It empowered its service providers. In Kamuning, the tricycle drivers who were jobless during the ECQ are earning from PHP 500 to PHP 1,000 a day. In Pasig, where the deliveries are farther, the average is PHP 1,000 a day.
They started on May 11, with 16 QC vendors, she says, and now they are at 44, with about 20 drivers on the delivery route. In Pasig, they have 120 vendors with about 30 riders because the delivery destinations are farther away.
“I have been to Kamuning Market twice,” the Vice President says. “In the beginning, you could see that the vendors were only in it para masabing nakasali sila. Then, later on, they were really able to see the benefits of joining and it has changed the way they run the business because of the new skills they have learned.” She also spoke happily of a tricycle driver who told them that he was able to buy a phone for the first time, and has learned how to play YouTube videos.
The way forward
Their next step, Robredo says, is capacity-building among the stakeholders. “We are looking at technology as a way to level the playing field as we move forward. Now, we are still handholding them, with OVP staff on the ground, but by next Saturday, we will be starting our trainings at the Kamuning Market for them to help them organize and stand on their own. We will also start with Pasig in about two weeks.”
“We believe that as we move forward, we will not go back to certain things that we used to do in our normal situation, we will be needing skills and capacities that we can no longer survive without. Tech will play a big role already in moving forward and bigger companies will be able to adjust to this with the help of government subsidies, ang takot ko ay maiiwan ang mga maliliit kung wala tayong gagawin. That is why we are pushing for capacity building.”
She admits that what they are doing now is a temporary solution. “Pantawid lang ito, moving forward, we have to think of how to make our small vendors more resilient, giving them enough preparations to face what is still coming. If they remain dependent on the old ways, mapag-iiwanan sila.”
Other future plans would be to link the sellers with the producers, particularly with the farming communities that they are also helping. Cutting the process of getting the produce to the market will mean better profits for them because it removes the need for middle men.
Another LGU that wants to replicate the Community Mart model is Zamboanga City, she adds, but they will adapt it to their situation where it has to be a combination of both tech and the traditional way of doing things. “When there are LGUs who come to us about the project, we have to apologize that we cannot attend to them right away because we are busy with all the projects we are doing.”
The Vice President is aware that she cannot do all these things on her own, particularly with the budget that they have. “Ang realization ko through the years is that there are so many people who are willing to help, and they are just looking for the right platform to do so.” For their frontliner fundraisers, for example, they received over PHP 16 Million in donations from Filipinos across different social strata through ticketing platform Ticket2Me, along with direct BPI deposits and corporate donations.
One of the main factors is the transparency in their transactions. “We posted regular updates on how many PPE sets and food and care packages that were given away and where they were donated. Kapag may tiwala ang tao, mas ginaganahan silang tumulong,” she explains. “Parati akong naniniwala sa kabutihan ng tao, lalo na kapag alam niya na hindi mapupunta sa masama ang itutulong niya. Pati ang mga negosyo na tumulong, grabe ang losses nila dahil sa ECQ, despite that nakukuha pa din nilang maging generous.”
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With the Community Mart and its subsequent capacity-building-activities, they are giving hope for the people, “na hindi sila mapag-iiwanan, and when they start to see the success of the program, they start to help others too,” she adds.
The driving force of the OVP (which is ISO certified, by the way), is that she came into office knowing that she will not have a cabinet position, nor a big budget, and instead of being relegated into ceremonial duties, VP Leni says she harnessed her background in NGO work and community building to start the Angat Buhay program with her young and dynamic staff.
These are dedicated staff really work alongside the communities and see them as partners and not beneficiaries. “We are on-the-ground, we are not in our office facing mountains of paperwork. I think that is what is most important,” she says. “Being with the communities you are helping builds empathy and trust, and if you treat them as partners, they feel it, they exert more effort para mas maging mahusay ang ginagawa nila.”