An insiders look into the most recent IISLA forum – Beyond Logistics: Optimising Food Distribution

At the beginning of September, the IISLA team invited a group of industry professionals to come together and discuss the food distribution system in the Philippines. Hosted by Mel Yan, our panellists were: IISLA’s Founder and CEO, Jennifer Viloria; Sonia Lazo (Intas Destinations); Reuben Pangan (Air21 Global); Prince Ang (SACHI Group) and Tamara Mekler (Fortuna Cools)

In a continuation of our food system analysis, the September forum examined how we can better deliver food from farm to market, to ensure fair and stable income for producers whilst maintaining fair and affordable prices for consumers. We also wanted to find ways of optimising the capacity of MSMEs in providing affordable transportation, packaging and storage services for a more efficient food distribution system. 

To give you a glimpse into the conversation, here’s a roundup of what was said:

Kicking off the discussion was IISLA’s Head of Research, Jayces Garello, who began to talk us through her team’s recent findings. She highlighted the ways in which food travels in a globalised system, informing us that the globalised flow of food has allowed multinational companies to dominate the global south. Developing countries, like the Philippines, have become increasingly export-orientated, which has increased their dependence on imported and/or processed foods. So much so that in 2019, the Philippines exported $5.2 billion worth of agricultural products, whilst importing double this amount at $10.6 billion – posing the question, why are we not consuming what we are producing? 

The presentation then took us through the regional transport routes in the Philippines, noting that 30% of total costs over sales went to logistics, proving that more must be done to support farmers and MSMEs in finding more efficient and suitable transport. Presenting IISLA’s findings, Jayces highlighted the issues throughout the distribution system. One being the lack of infrastructure to support farmers in the first mile of distribution, as they are not supported in their journey from farm to market. She illustrated that the sheer lack of suitable packaging and cold storage units, which increases the risk of spoilage, plays a role in the fragility of the chain.

To follow, our Community Development Manager, Imelda Canuel, gave a presentation on the highlights of our UN Food System Summit Dialogue, in which we came to understand the issues throughout the food system from those experiencing it first hand. In this focus group discussion, MSMEs and farmers revealed to us the challenges they face when finding sustainable and affordable transport. (To read more about our work in the UN Food System Summit, click here.)

The panellist discussion began with a presentation from Reuben Pangan of Air21. Agreeing with our research, Reuben declared that the problems lie within the complex structure of the supply chain, in which farmers have no choice but to sell to the middlemen. He informed us that vital infrastructure such as roads are still not capable of supporting a sustainable journey from farm to market. Reuben took us through the work of Air21, who are working towards a more equitable and fair supply chain for farmers.

Our next panelist, Sonia Lazo, then highlighted the lack of vehicles to support the transport of fresh fruits and vegetables across the Philippines. Telling us about her company, Intas Destinations, Sonia started to integrate the distribution of food into the tourism sector during the COVID-19 crisis last year. Intas Destination saw an opportunity to use the vehicles that were once only used to transport tourists to be also used for the delivery of food. This helped to increase the number of transportation links, whilst connecting tourists with the food system.

Prince Ang of the SACHI Group, perceives the issues presented as needing to be systematically addressed. He explained to us that there is a real lack of plastic alternatives, meaning that when consumers do come in contact with biodegradable packaging, they are unsure as to how to compost it. In an effort to change this, his company has partnered with communities, to teach people how to compost. In turn, he sells the compost to farmers, who can use it to grow their crops organically. By seeing issues through a holistic lens, Princes’ initiative has been able to solve multiple problems that run throughout the food value chain. 

Tamara Mekler’s company, Fortuna Cools, is working hard to create a more sustainable food distribution system. She told us about her company, Fortuna Cools, an initiative that turns agricultural waste into food insulation. In a drive to steer away from brittle, styrofoam packaging, their research found that coconut husks could be used as a replacement material. With tons of it wasted on farms, Fortuna Cools buys these raw coconut husks from farmers and transforms them into packaging coolers that are long-lasting and equally better for the environment. 

IISLAs CEO, Jennifer Viloria, closed with an answer to the question: How do we fund sustainable and efficient methods of food distribution? Her answer: putting impact before profitable returns. At our core, we see systemic investment as fundamental for progress. We know that the capital is out there, but we must ensure that farmers and MSMEs are able to access and absorb it. To quote Jennifer: “we cannot work in silos, we must all work together”.

Thank you again to those that joined us, it was an incredibly thought-provoking discussion and we were very pleased with the participation of both our panelists and guests. The session has helped to further our own understanding of the food distribution system in the Philippines, and will help us to serve out our mission and vision of a more equitable world as we continue to carry out our work.  

The Plastic Problem: A by-product of deeper issues?

Plastic packaging provides a solution to the challenges faced in the transportation and distribution of food, particularly the reduction of spoilage and, ultimately, of food wastage. However, due to the devastating impact it has had on our environment, many people are calling for the ban of singleuse plastics in packaging. 

Today, plastic is ubiquitous throughout the food distribution network and many rely on these packaged goods to provide nutritious food for themselves and their communities. Without plastic, the number of people with access to fresh goods and produce would fall dramatically. Plastic can extend the shelf life of many goods, allowing for food to be shipped to every comer of the globe. 

It seems that plastic plays a huge part in food security for many. So why are we trying very hard to remove it? Are there other elements that we should consider when looking at the plastic problem? 

Plastic wastage and pollution is a global concem that should be treated with the utmost urgency. Not only is plastic infiltrating natural ecosystems all around the world, its production is also contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions. With plastic particles showing in our water supply and food, it is now costing our health and our planet. 

In addition, plastic pollution adversely affects developing nations. Poor countries often lack the infrastructure to support recycling schemes, not to mention the cases of developed nations sending their loads overseas. In 2020, for example, the UK alone shipped out 7,133 metric tonnes of waste to non-OECD countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia. 

The real problem, however, lies not with the plastic itself, but with the food value chain as a whole. At present, the chain is made up of incredibly long and complex networks, which involve transporting food hundreds, even thousands of miles from their original origin. Fundamentally, this means that the process has become reliant on plastic to safeguard the long journey.

We must refocus our efforts to examine the food system itself, instead of blaming plastic entirely Solving the deep-rooted issues within the value chain is a complex task, but a good start would be to look at shortening it through the localisation of food systems. By reducing food miles and, consequently, the time between farm and fork, the amount of packaging needed to maintain freshness naturally decreases. With lower food miles and fewer actors within the value chain, distribution networks need only to rely on larger and more durable packaging (crates) that can readily be reused. 

A systemic approach is therefore needed if we are to achieve food security, protect livelihoods in the value chain, and avert environmental destruction. Reducing, or even eliminating the use of plastic is possible, but only when enabling conditions are present to guarantee the quality and safety of food whilst ensuring that fresh food remains affordable, especially to low income consumers.

Redefining Philanthropy in an Enterprising Ecosystem

by Mel R. Yan – COO, IISLA Ventures

Our concept of philanthropy may be wrong. The value-driven nature of philanthropic organisations like NGOs1 distinguishes them from the profit orientation of private businesses.  This suggests that NGOs are not supposed to ‘make money’, and that philanthropic funding must be used, as much as possible, entirely for community projects. Regulatory bodies like the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) peg the standard for administrative (overhead) expense in the non-profit sector at 20% maximum of the total organisational operating cost.2 Many NGOs are forced to comply with this restriction, given that the legitimising effect of a PCNC accreditation can significantly aid in getting donations. Fundraiser Dan Pallotta3 argues, however, that fund usage restrictions may be counterproductive as they prevent philanthropic organisations from engaging in relevant ‘non-project’ undertakings like resource mobilisation and human resource development. Fundraising can aid in expanding beneficiary reach whilst sending staff to trainings can improve the quality of project delivery. Despite the obvious benefits, these activities are often dismissed as “making money out of donations” or “using donations for personal gain”.

The stigma surrounding the use of philanthropic funding is driven by the social construct that creates a stringent distinction between development work and business (profit-making). This distinction also informs how philanthropic funding is acquired, eventually leading to grant or donor dependency in some NGOs. This dependency and its attached fund utilisation restrictions, however, may not necessarily pose serious problems when donors are abundant. In the past, funding for NGOs in developing countries became a crucial component of international aid.  This reached its peak in the 1980s when the international community adopted a ‘sustainable development’ agenda4 that promoted a tripartite cooperation among government, business, and the civil society where NGOs became the institutional ‘face’.   Support for NGOs was also evident at the national level, with countries like the Philippines recognising the sector’s role in nation-building as enshrined in its constitution.5

Unfortunately, what appeared to be the ‘golden era’ for philanthropic organisations has been threatened because of corruption issues.  The ‘pork barrel scam’ in the Philippines in 2013, for example, has tainted the image of NGOs due to accusations of public funds being channeled to bogus organisations and fake community projects.6 My personal interactions with impact investors reflect this concern.  Some of them used to be philanthropists who have become more concerned with how their money will be spent, noting historical philanthropic fund mismanagement.  Hence, many have opted for their money to be treated as loans or equity investments rather than donations to retain control.  This means that such funding cannot be readily accessed anymore by philanthropic organisations, who are legally established as non-stock and non-profit.  The apparent ‘shift’ in development finance has also provided an opportunity for social enterprises which, as for-profit entities, are designed to accept, earn from, and potentially return impact investment.

Does this mean then that philanthropy is obsolete in the present social enterprise ‘regime’? I have been engaged in discussions with former colleagues in the NGO community on how they can diversify revenue sources.  The obvious option is to venture into social entrepreneurship.  But the more I explore such possibility, the more I realise that we may be forcing NGOs to become something that they are not.  Aside from the fact that they have not been trained on how to run a business, thinking about profitability may also be too much to ask from community organisers faced with the big challenge of changing people’s mindsets and behaviors. The failure of several NGO-initiated livelihood programs due to poor and/or lack of business and revenue modelling illustrates this point.

On the other end, many social entrepreneurs struggle with community organising. I have observed that most incubation and accelerator programs, whilst teaching relevant business management strategies, substantially lack input on community development.  I have also met social enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy because they cannot sustain the enthusiasm of their community suppliers-cum-beneficiaries or cannot play along local political dynamics.  Effective community organising cannot be readily learned through a module but requires the years of experience that NGOs have. Moreover, the time and resources needed to do development work may be too much to bear by start-up capital or pre-growth revenue. This is where philanthropy, which measures ‘profit’ under social and/or environmental rather than economic terms, becomes a more appropriate funding source.

Our concept of philanthropy must go beyond fund utilisation.  Attention should be given, instead, to the increasing difficulty of accessing philanthropic funding, which threatens the very survival of NGOs.  Philanthropic organisations must continue to exist in an enterprising ecosystem because social entrepreneurs would need to partner with them if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This collaboration will entail social entrepreneurs to focus on building profitable yet inclusive business models whilst development workers anchor the capacity building of beneficiaries-cum-business partners so they can effectively engage in the value chain.  Private funding for development, therefore, should still allocate a fair share to philanthropy.  NGOs must also do their part though, particularly in ensuring that community projects are properly implemented under a sound financial management system to maintain credibility with donors.

End notes

1NGO in this article refers to non-stock, non-profit, non-government, and development-oriented organisation.
4See: Cabo, W. 1997. Theory and Practice of Public Administration. Quezon City: UP Open University
5See: Article II, Section 23:

SRG – IISLA Partnership: A valuable milestone amidst adversity

by Dr. Glenda Antonio

The year 2020 came in as a surprise that no one ever imagined. While surviving the global pandemic became our primary concern, our stories spoke not only of challenges but also of victories. Amidst the negativities that dominated the year, many of us also discovered opportunity in adversity. 

As the mandate to stay at home brought people closer to their families, it also became an avenue to build new relations and learn new skills for individuals and organisations. We at Spring Rain Global (SRG) were able to capitalise on our ventures in 2020, seeing the situation as an opportune time to offer our services despite majority of the global population restricted indoors. We began by reviewing our programs in line with our various advocacies to better address the needs of the time. We also forged key partnerships in the philanthropic ecosystem, giving birth to the collaboration with IISLA Ventures so we can catalyse the realisation of our goals.

According to SRG Founder, President and CEO, Dr. Glenda Antonio, the journey of SRGwith IISLA Ventures has resulted in strategic directions for the company to better navigate towards long-term sustainability. These include: (1) assessment of strengths and areas for improvement in leadership, governance, and ecosystem; (2) alignment of revenue model to focus on coaching and trainings in line with SRG’s 6 Pillar Capacitation Model; (3) customisation of trainings to better respond to the felt needs of partners; and (4) development of innovations on capital flow to support the funding needs of the company and its ecosystem.  Through this, SRG has realised that the way forward is to ensure that it can readily respond to the needs of its partner organisations, through their respective Philanthropic Development Offices (PDOs), especially in capacity building and capitalisation in line with their sustainability plans.

We extend our deepest gratitude to the IISLA team, especially to its Founder and CEO, Jennifer Viloria, for this noble undertaking, and for opening new opportunities to promote collective impact in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as we journey together with PDOs and other stakeholders in our ecosystem of good.  IISLA has influenced us to be more organised, audacious, and strategic in our approach, facilitating an enabling environment for the entire ecosystem to grow.

As we recognise the urgency of effectively responding to changes and shifts in how society operates, we recalibrate our strategic focus through the support of IISLA to achieve sustained development outcomes that will benefit us, our partners, and the bigger community today and in the years ahead.

2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue Report

On May 25, 2021, IISLA came together to host its very first Independent Dialogue for the UN Food Systems Summit joined by an array of experts, advocates, civil society and policymakers.

IISLA curated an Independent Dialogue in line with Action Track 4 of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, building on the market studies and forums that we have been conducting since 2019. The dialogue tackled the challenges faced by smallholder farmers and MSMEs in advancing equitable livelihood in Philippine food systems, particularly in four key thematic areas: (1) food production; (2) food processing and consumption; (3) food distribution; and (4) rural financing. This report presents the results of the said discussions with local food system actors, which have been submitted to the UN for consideration in the Summit agenda.

Advancing Equitable Livelihood in the Philippine Food System UNFSS Report

Advancing Equitable Livelihood in the Philippines Food System – UN Food System Summit, Independent Dialogue

On May 25th, IISLA came together to host its very first Independent Dialogue for the UN Food Systems Summit joined by an array of experts, advocates, civil society and policymakers. In preparation, we set out to construct a landscape that was both inclusive and diverse. For us, it was important to include people whose voices aren’t typically heard in food system discussions, especially at the international level. Focused on natural and organic agriculture, we invited smallholder farmers and MSMEs into small focus group discussions to hear the challenges and issues they face in the current food system and what systemic interventions they could suggest. We see them being at the epicentre of conscious innovations, working towards revolutionising the food system through sustainable means.

To build on our own knowledge and understanding of the Philippine food system, our team curated this event with the purpose to gain perspectives from all food chain actors. Four pressing topics were thought-out and put into place, these were: food production; food processing and consumption; food distribution; and rural financing. IISLA mindfully attributed each attendee to a focus group session that suited them best. An astonishing amount of planning went into conducting these discussions in an informal, transparent and inviting atmosphere for participants to speak freely. The results of these focus group discussions then formed the basis of the dialogue itself.

To kick off this momentous occasion, we had the Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary Leo Sebastian providing us with a message on behalf of DA Secretary William Dar. In his message, he presented one of the DAs core pillars – inclusive growth. He assured us that the DA is making it their priority to incorporate farmers and fisherfolk in their policies for food system change. Asserting that they are crucial actors to support and that facilitating their livelihoods can spur economic growth within the agricultural sector. In fact, in an effort to stabilise food production systems the DA implemented a ‘Plant, plant, plant’ programme. This programme urged farmers to plant more areas by providing them with seeds, fertilizers and technical assistance. In his final words, Leo Sebastian said that the DA is “striving for a food secure landscape where no one is left behind”. It is, however, unclear as to whether the DA is seeking to improve factors of sustainability and nutrition throughout mainstream food chains.

After our message from the DA, we had Dr. Glenn Gregorio from SEARCA, one of the champions for the UN Food System Summit. Dr Gregorio presented to us his findings from SEARCAs very own UN Independent Dialogue on transforming agricultural education and research. He informs us that everybody has a role to play in conceptualising, designing and implementing food and nutrition system innovations. To transform the system there must be a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns. Issuing that, civil society, the state and the market all play a crucial role in change within the food system. He urges for the promotion of responsible consumption and production through societal education. SEARCAs key strategy in food system change is to promote initiatives that increase production efficiency and income diversification across the value chain.

Before we broke out into small breakout sessions, IISLA’s Founder and CEO, Jennifer Viloria, presented to the participants an analysis of the situation of the food system in the Philippines based on the focus group discussions, backed by the extensive research that our team has been unearthing over the past few years. To read our working papers on the Filipino food system, click here. A whole hour dedicated to break out sessions was followed by a plenary discussion where all participants were invited to comment and interact with one another. Overall, it was a fruitful dialogue with a lot of action points for all stakeholders involved. IISLA now hopes that as we convey the result of this important dialogue to the UN, that they will be considered and finally put the smallholder farmers and MSMEs at the heart of all initiatives.

Rural Development Beyond Microfinance: A Summary

by Jennifer Viloria

Halfway through the preparation for this month’s IISLA Forum, the Philippines was struck with a catastrophic storm, Typhoon Ulysses, internationally known as Typhoon Vamco. The flood caused 46,000 families to be displaced in my home province of Isabela and the adjoining province of Cagayan Valley. Because of this, we thought of delaying the forum altogether to give farmers and cooperatives a chance to participate as soon as they have recovered.

However, we decided to push through because ironically, funding is the most important component when it comes to rehabilitation and full recovery particularly in the agricultural sector which was badly affected. We pushed through with the event because we have to design better sources of funding needed to make farming more sustainable and inclusive than what it currently is. It is now more pressing to produce enough food for our people.

Last November 17, 2020, IISLA was joined by friends and panelists Carlomagno Aguilar of Organic Growth, Ericson Atanacio of Terra Verde Ecofarm and Resort and DTI GoNegosyo, Louie de Paula of Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, Inc., and Christine Violago of Grameen Foundation.

Imelda Canuel, Development Consultant, served as moderator. She starts by showing the results of an online poll which included relevant questions such as whether the audience has engaged in microfinancing before, in what capacity, and what the biggest challenges for funding farmers currently are.

Imelda proceeds to introduce me as the Founder and CEO of IISLA. I share with the panelists and with the audience the key points of the desk research recently conducted by IISLA about microfinancing. 

Here are some of the key insights in my presentation:

  • there is no shortage of capital in the financial system. Capital just doesn’t flow to rural areas, especially to smallholder farmers
  • the framework of the world’s global capital flow is multi-layered, and 
  • the framework of the flow of credit in agriculture in the Philippines is also multi-layered and very complex, barring farmers direct access to it

The panelists all agreed that along with the inaccessibility of capital are many on-the-ground challenges including lack of sufficient information to assess the risk profiles of farmers, their weak credit absorption capacity, and most of all, their limited cash flow to pay the loans given their high level of indebtedness. There was a call for a debt moratorium for farmers from one of the panelists.  Education beyond farming techniques is also needed to help farmers understand these challenges and equip them with financial skills beyond basic financial literacy to include better understanding of other sources of capital . They also need to adapt to new technologies for better yield, and a stronger policy framework with proper implementation has to be designed in order for them to have access to capital which they need to sustainably feed not just their families but all of us.

Carlomagno Aguilar, Founder and CEO of Organic Growth, agrees with this assessment. He says, financing in the Philippines has “a lot of layers, and with all those layers, there’s nothing left for the farmers.” He also cites that some cooperatives and foundations who receive funding for farmers just keep it for themselves. Carlo says even he wasn’t aware that there are global funds for farmers. Education and access to information has to be strengthened for information to reach them.

Ericson Atanacio of Terra Verde Ecofarm and Resort and ambassador of DTI Go-Negosyo’s Kapatid Agri-Mentor Program agrees with Carlo. He jokes that farmers have to be eliminated, and replaced with agripreneurs because “they don’t know what they need and they don’t know what is very accessible to them.” His own efforts include educating farmers in accessing finance. While he thinks that farmer loans should be non-collateralized, he also recognizes that farmers are considered high risk and will pose a problem when it comes to investor interest. He also keys in on one simple problem overlooked: the lack of acceptable government IDs. Loans usually require at least one ID.

Louie de Paula, Head of MSME Community Loans and Micro-Agri Loans for the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, Inc. says that the discussion highlights what is happening in the credit framework right now. He cites, “most of the time, farmers are dedicated to farming activities. They don’t have much time to spend outside labour. That’s why we need to innovate our approach,” he says. On his part, he handles micro entrepreneurs who want to acquire assets for their business. The foundation offers them low interest rates.

Christine Violago, Country Director for Grameen Foundation, takes care of programs particularly in mobile agriculture and financial services, including women-linked initiatives. She is aware of the struggles, particularly of women in farming households. Christine says, “I think one of the things we realised is that our farmers are also ageing…and because these farmers are elderly, they’re not fast learners of the digital trends that are happening.”

All of the panelists answer questions raised by the audience.

The event ended with my call to action to help relief operations in Isabela and the Cagayan Valley.

IISLA Partners with Numbers with Matter PH

In 2016, Gina Lynn Valdez, a certified public accountant, started volunteering at Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm on weekends. With her skillset, she helped out in the bookkeeping of a social enterprise. For the next few months, while treading between her full-time job and volunteer work, Gina began questioning if she wanted to be in a corporate job for the rest of her life. The clear answer is  no. She decided to quit her corporate job and join GK Enchanted Farm full-time.

Working in an incubation hub for start-ups, Gina saw a common pattern among the other enterprises holding their residence in the farm. While social entrepreneurs were natural salesmen and marketers, they seemed to have difficulty with financial management. “What was lacking was an accounting and finance function. There was so much effort and resources being wasted, and many times, they would end up losing money and people,” Gina said.

This is not an uncommon scenario. Managing finances is one of the main reasons startups and social enterprises fail to scale. As a consequence to not being adept in cash handling, entrepreneurs cannot give the necessary reports to grantees and investors despite the social impact or profit generated by the business. “Whenever I produce a report, I get blank stares. Sayang (too bad), because the dream for any entrepreneur is really to scale up their business.”

In 2017, social enterprises started approaching her to outsource their accounting and bookkeeping needs. In 2019, Gina finally admitted she was ready to open an enterprise herself.  With the help of the management team of GK Enchanted Farm, she then officially founded Numbers That Matter PH.

Numbers That Matter PH, she realized, was a finance service intervention for social entrepreneurs. They offer outsourced accounting services, systems integration and improvement, cash flow management, and financial education to entrepreneurs, letting them realize that it is not just about having a good, profitable product.  It is also about having a sound financial position and management system.

Gina and IISLA’s Founder and CEO Jennifer Viloria met at the GK farm as well, volunteering in the same year. The two entrepreneurs connected because of their common finance background and mutual projects. “When Jennifer and I first met, I was quite happy, because I found someone who understands the importance of a good financial model in order to responsibly allocate resources where they should be allocated.”

IISLA and Numbers That Matter PH will be partnering for a new program that puts the spotlight on understanding and, ultimately, evaluating social impact vis-a-vis financial sustainability and conscious investment.  Through the said collaboration, impact investment in the Philippines is expected to take a promising leap.

The collaborative engagement between IISLA and Numbers That Matter PH will be launched in 2021. Check back on the blog for the official announcement.

Agripreneurship Beyond Farming: A Summarry

In keeping with IISLA Ventures’ mission to be a conduit for rural prosperity, it continues to host a monthly session of knowledge-based webinars and on-the-ground events called IISLA Forum. 

Last October 06, 2020, the platform hosted two same-day, back-to-back events called Inclusive Innovations and Agripreneurship Beyond Farming. 

The second event, Agripreneurship Beyond Farming, was streamed live on Facebook where interested spectators could tune in for free. The event was held in Zoom with over 45 participants.

The program was as follows:

Enzo Pinga, Enterprise Solution Manager of MyKuya, opened the program with a soft poll through Participants were encouraged to answer the poll throughout the program. 

Pinga shared the objective of the forum. “The global health crisis brought by Covid-19 has shown us just how vulnerable our food ecosystem really is,” says Pinga. “But even prior to the pandemic, our food value chain no longer supported demand of a growing population and the present issues brought about by resource mismanagement, pollution and a fragmented local value chain. So how then can we secure the future of food?”

Pinga proceeds to share a video by the United Nations, and calls on Founder and CEO of IISLA Ventures Jennifer Viloria. 

Viloria presents her life story and how IISLA was formed. She then discussed the IISLA Sustainable Food System Framework where she raised key points about the Philippine food system. The Philippines, Viloria says, should have healthy, nutritious, and fresh food at affordable prices because it’s  a land blessed with natural resources and rich biodiversity. However, the country’s food system is so beset with socio-economic, political, environmental and structural constraints; and is food insecure. Following the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic to the global food chain and export markets, the focus is now shifting towards sustainable food production for domestic consumption. 

She then passes on the discussion to IISLA Ventures’ COO Mel Yan to answer these pivotal questions: Is the Philippines on the road to food self-sufficiency? And what would it take for the country to be food secure?

Yan anchors his talk on IISLA’s research paper entitled “Food Sovereignty and the Struggle for Rice Self-sufficiency in the Philippines,”.  The research focuses on how the inequalities faced by food producers in the Philippines can finally be addressed to battle food insecurity. (Request for  a copy here.)

Yan passes the discussion back to Viloria to set recommendations for systemic changes in food production and innovation. (Watch the whole event here for Viloria’s recommendations.) 

The floor was then given to three ecosystem reactors: Manuel Onalan, Vincent Roy Mendoza, and JT Solis. 

As a farmtrepreneur and activist, Onalan expresses the hardship in trading produce from Kalinga Province to Manila. It is unprofitable for many farmers who are losing money to global corporations. He cites deep-rooted problems in the Philippines, among which is the “pandesal culture.” He continues on by stating that about 40% of the Filipino population are no longer dependent on rice because of pandesal, bread that uses wheat-based flour that is imported and not locally produced. He hopes IISLA can direct investments to farmers for training and education alongside mobility provisions of other players. 

Farmvocacy’s CEO, Vincent Roy Mendoza, agrees with IISLA’s stance about food waste, especially on vegetables. He sees the provision of drying facilities for rice farmers as a solution to lessening the wastage. He ends with a call to action to regenerate the soil in order to leave it in good condition for the next generation. 

Founder of MAYANI, JT Solis, confirms the lack of inclusion in the Philippine food system. It is pervading not only in technology but also in the ideas that Filipinos want to spur. He reacts to the problem of yield gap and food waste, stating that the public sector should mobilise and facilitate players like MAYANI as de facto trade posts for farmers. Solis also advocates for the shortening of the value chain especially as the pandemic, which led to the undersupply of food in urban areas and the oversupply in rural areas, has shown that short value chains facilitate less wastage. 

The event ended with the moderator guiding the participants for a group photo.

Inclusive Innovations: A Summary

by Johanna Michelle Lim

Inclusive Innovations is one of two same-day, back-to-back events hosted by IISLA Ventures last October 6, 2020. The event relaunched IISLA Ventures to chosen partners, collaborators, and stakeholders in the social impact community. 

It shared IISLA Ventures’ philosophy, theory of change, vision and mission, and its reasoning behind why the social enterprise chooses to focus on rural development. 

The program was as follows:

As an IISLA Ambassador and CEO of Dual Story Brand Strategy & Communications, I moderated the event and opened the program by sharing the event’s purpose. I shared that IISLA Forum is a series of digital and on-the-ground events that educates and connects changemakers for rural development. A video reveal of the new IISLA Ventures logo was played, followed by IISLA’s institutional video, and introduction of the main speaker.

Jennifer Viloria, Founder and CEO of IISLA Ventures, shared that the reason behind the change in identity was the deepened understanding of the company’s purpose which they reexamined during the pandemic. Whereas IISLA used to stand for “Inclusive Investments in Sustainable Livelihood and Aspirations,” it is now “Inclusive Innovations in Sustainable Livelihoods and Aspirations” because Viloria now believes creating the change that IISLA is striving for is not just a matter of investment.

Viloria goes on to share her life story, which also answers the question why the social enterprise has chosen rural development as the main focus. 

The Founder and CEO grew up in Isabela, a quiet rural town in the Philippines. At 17, she moved to the UK to join her mother who worked as a waitress in London. Viloria shares that opportunities were difficult to come by then. She had to persevere to finish a degree in Financial Economics and became the first Filipina to be hired by a British investment bank as a global equity analyst in London. 

Viloria eventually became an angel investor, part of her self-empowerment process as an entrepreneur. She was one of the first angels in Aduna, a UK social enterprise start-up that transformed rural communities in Africa, and co-founded Inspired Ventures, a travel tech company that connects donors with rural community beneficiaries through a crowdfunding platform. The latter would eventually become certified as a B-Corporation under Viloria’s stewardship as a CEO. 

She would eventually go back to the Philippines and meet like-minded individuals like Bam Aquino, the Lopez Family of ABS-CBN, and Gawad Kalinga. It was during her stint in the Philippines that she co-founded Calaboo,  the enterprise that created premium dairy products from buffalo milk.

Viloria goes on to explain IISLA Ventures’ core values, services, and focuses. (Go to to find out more.), and ends by highlighting the missing gap for SMEs and the solution IISLA has to bridge it.

As moderator, I  introduced Henry James Sison, Co-founder and CEO of AgroDigital PH and Dr. Glenda Antonio, Founder and CEO of Spring Rain Global.

Sison points out that farming is one of the poorest sectors in the economy. He agreed with Viloria that agriculture is a high risk, long-term, and low-return sector when it comes to capital. Capital is hard to come by when you are a farmer. Sison pointed out that investment is needed to mend the broken food system. He ended by saying that the future of agriculture will lie in equipping farmers in the digital age. He hoped IISLA can empower more enterprises. 

Dr. Antonio highlighted the importance of building an ecosystem with aligned values. She says building an “ecosystem for good” is not about letting everyone think the same way but rather putting value in everyone’s role within the system. She also cites that the higher purpose of capital is not depleting assets but growing them. This is where conscious leadership, consciousness within the culture and management are important. As a strategic partner to IISLA, Spring Rain Global aims to form that ecosystem for good funded by philanthropy.

Testimonial givers Jeannie Javelosa, Winston Lim, and Konstantinos Mammasis followed. The three are collaborators of IISLA in various projects. 

Javelosa, Founder of Great Women and Co-Founder of Echo Foundation, remembers her struggle as a social entrepreneur. She was always caught between vision-building and operationalization. Javelosa says IISLA’s CEO Viloria “gave the cold hard facts”, and was instrumental in making her vision for Great Women a viable investment proposition. 

Lim, Founder of Light in Me Foundation, confirmed and agreed with Viloria that, as an investor, he agrees that the short-term, high return environment is perpetuated by many investors. He says IISLA was a way to invest in something long-term with positive impact in marginalized communities. He invites other investors to invest in growing an ecosystem, which is quite different from the normal financial investment environment. 

Mammasis, the Founder and CEO of Of Dreams and Knowledge in Greece, the creator of the Milestone brand of nutraceutical oils, describes how Viloria believed in his vision in 2014 and provided him with seed capital as well as much-needed mentorship and advisory since then.  To date, Milestone has many awards from various institutions around the world.

The program ends with exclusive announcements on potential opportunities to partner with IISLA.