How can serving the poor make business sense?

How do businesses that exist to serve the poor keep growing? At the 2nd Green Business Forum, Filipino social entrepreneurs will be sharing how “businesses with a heart” tackle growth challenges.

Co-presented by Human Nature, the country’s largest and fastest growing social enterprise, this year’s Green Business Forum has been dubbed “Servants & Stewards: the Two Faces of Sustainable Business”. The forum is slated on September 24, 2015 at SMX Convention Center.

The forum highlights that tomorrow’s thriving enterprises will be led by “servants & stewards” – entrepreneurs who serve the poor to the best of their abilities while being stewards of the environment. It is part of the 3-day 5th Green Philippine International Total Green Movement Exhibition and Conference (Green Philippines 2015). Green Philippines 2015 is organized by Global-link MP Events Int’l.

Challenging norms

Human Nature believes merging profit and solving social ills is only possible when businesses challenge the status quo.

In a country with rampant contractualization and underemployment, Human Nature’s parent company Gandang Kalikasan Inc. chose to put its warehouse personnel, merchandizers, cleaners, and factory workers at the top of its agenda. GKI rank and file employees enjoy 72 percent above minimum wage, full benefits, and the company’s strict no firing policy.

The company has since reaped the benefits of its “more for others” policies. Today, Human Nature has grown from 5 employees in 2008 to over 350 employees. It has 30 branches nationwide, an expanded international reach, and has opened its own manufacturing facility in Canlubang, Laguna.

The Green Business Forum gathers organizations and enterprises who are driven by a compassion for the poor and whose growth has been fueled by constant innovation. They will be sharing their brand stories and the steps they have taken to close sustainability gaps on all fronts.

Speakers include Jourdan Sebastian of TACLOB, a company that makes upcycled backpacks in partnership with Typhoon Yolanda survivors; Jamir Ocampo of Tsaa Laya, a tea brand that is a source of livelihood for displaced women in the countryside; Mara Sebastian-Marza of MARSSE Tropical Timber; Jaime Paraiso of Treehugger, and Mark Rivera of bamboo toothbrush-maker MINKA Inc. Patricia Paterno of  PAPEMELROTI will be delivering the event’s keynote message.

Forum tickets are priced at 100 pesos. To get a complimentary pass, please register online before September 18 at


Focus on innovation rather than profitability is key to success

NOTE: An article I wrote for work, published in the Philippine Star’s Business as Usual Section on November 29, 2010.

MANILA, Philippines – “Anticipating trends is an important facet of any industry,” explains JanSport co-founder and Vice President for Global Public Relations Skip Yowell. “One of the best ways to recognize trends is to connect with young people.” During “SkipIN Class”, a series of talks held on Nov. 4 to 10 at different colleges and universities in Manila,Cebu and Davao, Yowell shared the secrets to JanSport’s success:people, passion and innnovation.

“In 1970, our hiking day packs occupied a small space in a Seattle bookstore. Our breakthrough came when students started using the day packs to carry their books,” shares Yowell. “We owe our bestselling day pack to the students who didn’t want to get their books drenched in Seattle’s rains.”

Yowell, author of the business book and memoir “The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains: How JanSport Makes It Happen”, says that focusing on innovation rather than profitability was key for JanSport to become a global brand.

“We wanted to start a business that was also our passion,” explains Yowell. “We created products based on our own needs as outdoor enthusiasts.” Together with co-founders Jan Lewis and Murray Pletz ,JanSport became the first company to manufacture dome tents and put zippers on packs.

“Back then, lots of people would say that we were just three beer drinking hippies who spent too much time above the tree line,” shares Yowell. “And it was true. It was during our time outdoors that we would bond, strategize and get feedback from fellow outdoor adventurers.”

Yowell and the rest of the JanSport team continuously push their boundaries all in the spirit of fun and adventure. From kissing llamas to make quirky advertisements, weathering a blizzard during a 21-mile cross-country hike in Blewett Pass, WA to claiming the summit of Mt. Everest, the JanSport team doesn’t flinch.

“Each JanSport pack is infused with the freedom-loving, trail-blazing lifestyle of frontiersmen,” enthuses Yowell. “Encouraging people to have adventures remains JanSport’s reason for being.” JanSport’s unconventional approach to business is featured in the “The Skip Yowell Story,” a film that traces JanSport’s evolution from a a three-person operation to one of the world’s most-recognized backpack brands.

Now on its 40th year, JanSport continues to change the outdoor gear industry landscape by introducing radical products inspired by current trends. In 2006, before the digital music player trend started, JanSport launched the LiveWire line. The line includes Recourse and Audio Pack, day packs with headphone and playback support as well as Alt Pack, which is equipped with Bluetooth connectivity.

All these innovations have helped JanSport keep the outdoor industry’s top spot. In 2010 alone, JanSport’s sales enjoyed a seventy percent increase in Asia, a fifteen percent increase in Europe and a twenty-two percent increase in South America.

In the United States, JanSport emerged with an eighteen percent increase in sales despite the country’s economic downturn. According to Yowell, surviving the economic downturn in the US entailed being willing to fail. “It’s easy to imitate what’s worked before, it’s safe,” says Yowell. “But if you refuse to fail, you’re also refusing to grow. We’d rather fail than imitate.”