An Innovation Worth Taking

"I realized that innovation is failing fast and learning fast, though it is easier said than done."

Type: Story

As the first rays of morning burst over the rice paddies and the warm scent of the seas hit her face, Alessandra Alberto, BDU’s Corporate Partnerships Coordinator, awakened to Villareal’s first glimpse of the day.

Villareal is a two-century-old coastal town located in the southwestern part of Samar Island. It sprawled across 38 barangays and often captivated visitors with its idyllic tempo, rugged islands, and friendly locals. Underneath the charm is the awful truth of being the 8th municipality with the highest hunger prevalence on the island. And Liz, the girl on a mission, has brought a bright idea to help locals see the possibilities of Konek Kontra Gutom (KKG).

Liz was on the island doing her first fieldwork with Save the Children for the Innovation Accelerator Workshop. The weeks prior were herculean. The initial phase of creating and pinpointing the cutting-edge concept, along with a fascinating mix of colleagues with sizable experience and expertise, was daunting. She was glad that the evaluators of Save the Children International’s Center for Excellence in Innovation saw the potential behind the bright idea! Ergo, her presence in Samar will test the viability of KKG with what’s happening on the ground.

The KKG is a mobile solution for the poorest and most isolated barangays that connects the sellers of products with buyers whose needs are pooled and bought in volumes to lower the cost. The ease of commerce is made possible through a text messaging app that contains the produce, the measurements used in the market, the price, and the list of sellers. Viamo was the design and implementation partner for the mobile solutions.

For Liz, working with the Visayas Team made her fieldwork pleasant and manageable. The assistance was generous! She went to five barangays and conducted interviews with Villahanons who primarily make their livings as rice farmers, poultry farmers, or fishermen. There, the poverty rate is 32.64%, which translates to 9,250 people who are unable to make ends meet.

The health crisis in the Philippines is reflected in the hunger and malnutrition among children, particularly those who are already marginalized and unreached. Hunger and malnutrition hinder children’s ability to grow and develop healthily and often manifest as stunting, wasting, and being underweight. Food security is a key solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines. Its four pillars, namely availability, access, utilization, and stability, must be addressed. Food security is possible when people have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences. 

For instance, Liz's interactions with Emalyn were depressing. She is a young mother who wants to feed her child healthy meals but has a tight budget. She typically purchases the goods at the market or from roving barangay sellers. If Emalyn had her way, she would prefer to purchase the items the family requires in their barangay in order to save money on transportation costs.

Liz also met Tatay Arturo, a middle-aged farmer of root crops from Barangay Pangpang. He complains about low crop yields due to the unfavorable weather conditions. Finding customers willing to buy his crops at a fair and decent price proved challenging for Tatay Arturo. His network of buyers is limited. He is frequently low-balled and compelled to sell to middlemen for a pitiful sum. This would leave him and his family with little or no profit.

Liz returned to Manila for the Innovation Accelerator Workshop. Using new information from her fieldwork, she changed the plan after consolidating what she had learned. Applying the notions of innovation and design thinking to actual circumstances was tough. The team agreed that the plan needed to be tweaked and polished to ensure that the challenges were real and the offered solutions were appropriate and sensible. Working with the team, however, allowed for the proposal to become more cogent and rational. Andrew Brough, their mentor from Save the Children Australia, provided input to the final proposal as well. Thus, Liz was able to submit the presentation deck to the Innovation Incubators’ panel of judges.

Soon after, Liz learned that the proposal had not been accepted. She had cried a little bit and felt sorry about telling the team, whom she has grown to love and respect, the news. She nevertheless discovered more reasons to honor the group's collective success. Liz was fortunate to be around colleagues who left an enduring impression on her. She is grateful for the opportunities she has had to work and learn alongside Ms. Naida Pasion, Dr. Mads Parawan, Demos Militante, Hector Tuburan, Donald Borja, Riel Andaluz, Rick Villegas, Junalie Katalbas, and Jonas Tetangco from Viamo.

“I realized that innovation is failing fast and learning fast, though it is easier said than done. There’s an unavoidable emotional investment in the idea you propose. Despite knowing that not all of your innovation projects would be successful, receiving rejection would still take a toll on you. However, that’s how I learned and matured," Liz explained.

After completing her innovation project two years ago, Liz is now more assured and positive about both success and failure. Although the conclusion to her innovation tale wasn't all that fantastic, she still thought the road was worthwhile. As she grew and developed, she came to understand that she was capable of coming up with countless creative ideas. To make innovation more sustainable, all she needs to do is figure out what works, have faith in the innovation process, and consider the broader picture. After all, Thomas Alva Edison tried 2,774 brilliant ideas before he succeeded in perfecting the concept that was the brightest—the light bulb!

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Save the Children Philippines has been working hard every day to give Filipino children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn, and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for and with children to positively transform their lives and the future we share.

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