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The Future of Tourism

With most of the world on lockdown, tourism and all of its related industries have experienced a massive slowdown in operations that is seen to continue while there is no COVID-19 vaccine. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) already predicted that over 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector will be lost around the world, leading to a total global GDP loss of about US$2.7 trillion (Php135.8 trillion).

With this context in mind, UNAWA felt it fitting to close its free “Navigating the New Normal” webinar series with a discussion focused specifically on the tourism, travel, and hospitality industries. Its eighth and final webinar, “Travel & Leisure 2.0: Reimagining the Travel and Hospitality Sectors,” featured a star-studded panel of industry leaders who shared their tips and insights on how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in these industries can rise above the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Here are the highlights:

1. Strengthen safety protocols.

In a pre-recorded message, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat shared what the government plans to do to revitalize the industry. She revealed that the DOT was planning to explore the concepts of “travel bubbles” and “travel corridors,” which will link tourist spots in the Philippines with no COVID cases with other tourist spots around the region in the same situation.

“These are the things that we are discussing with our other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) partners, that we can have this travel corridor and travel bubble wherein the tourists will feel safe because they are going to a place in our country which has no COVID,” said Romulo-Puyat.

This highlights that while the DOT is pushing for the reopening of the country’s tourism sector, it is only doing so by taking every measure to keep both tourists and service providers as safe as possible. Internally, it will only be allowing hotels, restaurants, and other similar establishments to operate if these accommodations are strictly enforcing health protocols within their locations.

“All these accredited DOT-accommodations have to follow health and safety protocols, and the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) recently approved that no accommodation can operate unless it is accredited by the DOT,” added Romulo-Puyat. “And again, the DOT will not accredit if we cannot ensure the safety and health of our guests.”

2. Accept the realities—then plan accordingly.

While it is good to look at the bright side of things, it is important to be aware of the entire picture. Jaison Yang, President and Co-owner of travel agency Travel Warehouse Inc., says that it is important for his fellow SME owners in the travel and hospitality sectors to know where the industry is going so that they can plan their strategy for both the short-term and long-term.

“I’m not saying let’s not be optimistic, but I think this is the time to be realistic, because the only way to recover is acceptance,” said Yang. “If you don’t accept that these things are happening, you cannot plan and you cannot recover.”

That reality is how travel agencies such as Yang’s are in a “wait-and-see” scenario, wherein they will not only have to wait for the government to reopen the country, they will also have to wait for other related industries to be confident enough to continue operations as well. While Yang knows that the situation is grim, he nevertheless finds it important for entrepreneurs to take all of these realities into account when planning for the future.

“If I may quote a colleague, some people are sugar coating that the tourism industry is just on vacation. But he said that the industry is not on vacation, but it’s on forced leave,” he added. “For us, it’s a wait-and-see. No matter how many times we plan ahead, it will always depend on the situation within the hotel industry, airline industry, and other partners.”

3. Communicate and build trust with your clients.

Bel Castro, Assistant Dean of the College of Hospitality Management at Enderun Colleges, shared many well-researched insights for SME owners in the hospitality sector, or those who run hotels and other similar accommodations. Among her tips was in response to a question about how budget hotels can compete with 2-star or 3-star hotels who were slashing prices, where she shared the importance of being communicative with prospective customers.

“If you are managing your safety issues, you must communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Castro. “If you go into hiding and you disappear from people’s view… when [people] start planning to travel again, you’re not on their shortlist. Nakalimutan ka na (You’ve been forgotten).” 

She cited research from travel market intelligence agency Skift, which has been publishing various studies on the state of the travel and tourism industry during and after the pandemic. One research she highlighted was how the most effective businesses in the sector were using the pandemic as an opportunity to rebuild trust with their clients by actively communicating with them, which will prove helpful in the long run.

“It’s a great quote from Mr. Ali who runs Skift, [who] said, ‘Wear your pain on your sleeve.’ Let your customer know that you are suffering just like them, [that] you are taking care of your staff, because by extension they will believe that you will take care of them. These will pay dividends later on because no one is going to buy your products if they don’t trust you, and that trust has to be built,” advised Castro.

4. Find opportunities to collaborate.

Airlines were among the most impacted by the pandemic, as the global lockdowns meant that they were among the first to be restricted to operate because of the health risks involved. But Atty. Jomar Castillo, Chairman of AirAsia Philippines, revealed that despite all these setbacks, the airlines were still operating in some capacity with the help of the government. 

“It’s wrong that airlines stopped operations completely. All of us were part of the repatriation flights of the DOT,” shared Castillo. “Airlines were operating during the pandemic, so we’re pretty much ready to fly people safely after the lockdowns.”

What Castillo found surprising, though, was how all of the major airlines were helping each other out throughout the lockdown, despite being each other’s competitors. He highlighted that this culture of collaboration should extend to all kinds of businesses, whether they’re competitors, related industries, or even other faraway sectors.

“In this time when we’re all in a crisis, everybody needs to work together. During the pandemic, the airlines were all working together, [even if] we’re direct competitors,” said Castillo.

Itinerary for Recovery

The recovery process for businesses in the tourism, travel, and hospitality sectors will be a slow and challenging one, but we hope that these tips, along with the other great dscussions and insights from the webinar itself, will help SMEs get started. The itinerary for this recovery journey may be long and complicated, but businesses must be laser-focused so that they can successfully reach their destinations.

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.

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Leap to Entrepreneurship

Because of the adverse effects of the lockdown, many Filipinos are now looking into starting their own businesses to make a living. You may have seen stories of recently laid-off employees or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) turning their setbacks around by going into entrepreneurship and becoming their own bosses.

That was the topic of UNAWA’s recent free webinar: “From Zero to Hero: Leap from Unemployment to Entrepreneurship.” We invited self-made entrepreneurs who were able to grow their businesses from scratch, to share their insights on how their fellow Filipinos can start their entrepreneurial journeys.

Here are three of the tips they shared:

1. Do your research

Before Rolandrei Viktor “Zark” Varona became an entrepreneur, he wore many hats in various food establishments, most notably as part of the cold kitchen staff of a cruise liner for two years. However, throughout his professional life, he still stuck to one dream: open and run his own restaurant.

When he finally opened fast-food chain Zark’s Burgers in 2009, he had to take the leap from being a chef to being a restaurateur, and it wasn’t easy. On that end, Varona shared one simple but very important tip for other aspiring entrepreneurs: doing extensive research about what they’re getting into.

“‘Yung biggest challenge para sa ‘kin, nag-jump ako from cook [tapos] naging entrepreneur (The biggest challenge for me was jumping from being a cook to being an entrepreneur),” said Varona. “Ang ginawa ko, mas doble effort para pag-aralan yung mga best practices ng mga nauna na, ng mga malalaking brands (What I did was to exert double the effort in studying the best practices of the ones before me, of the big brands).”

He also added that he was able to ask for advice from his colleagues in previous jobs. As these were experienced restaurant managers, he was able to apply their insights into his own business.

Humingi ako ng tulong sa mga supervisor, sa mga manager ko sa dating trabaho. Buti naman, we shared the same vision, same values, so tinulungan nila ako magbuo ng company (I asked for help from my supervisors and managers from past jobs. Good thing we shared the same vision, same values, so they helped me build a company),” shared Varona.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail

One of the biggest reasons why most people are scared of starting their own business is all of the risk and uncertainty that comes with it. It’s almost guaranteed that an entrepreneur will first need to put in money when they start the business, and it will take them some time to recoup that initial investment.

Rodel Anunciado, co-founder of agritech firm BINHI Inc., has a unique way of viewing the losses entrepreneurs incur from running their businesses. For him, it’s best that business owners treat these losses similarly to the tuition fees they pay to study in a university, except the school in this case is the business.

“When you lose money doing business, it’s a form of tuition fee,” said Anunciado. “With all the challenges, with all of these things that happen to you and your business, you just have to fight on. Learn and move forward.”

He added that most aspiring entrepreneurs are afraid to start their own businesses because they are pressured to make it as perfect as possible, and to execute their strategies without making any mistakes. Anunciado stressed that it’s not about doing things perfectly, but doing things as best as you can and then improving afterwards.

“My mindset [is] positive action more than perfectionism,” he said. “You get things done whether [it’s good or not], and then you go back and make it more ‘perfect’. Use data and then do it, because once you don’t do it, you don’t know whether it will work or not.”

3. Look into government programs for help

For those who need extra support in starting their businesses, the government has various programs aimed at helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn the necessary skills needed. Various government agencies offer workshops, training programs, and other useful programs that can help an entrepreneur get started, scale up, and become successful.

One of these agencies is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA. In the webinar, Rosalina Constantino, Assistant Executive Director of TESDA’s Planning Office, talked about TESDA’s various programs to help Filipinos start their entrepreneurial journeys. She highlighted the TESDA Online Courses, which are free and accessible resources for anyone to learn more about entrepreneurship and a variety of other topics and industries.

“We have programs to help Filipinos upskill and retool themselves and prepare them for a job and a livelihood after,” said Constantino. “We have this battle cry, ‘TESDA abot lahat’ (TESDA reaches all), [which means not just] towards global competitiveness or workforce readiness, but also those who are unreached, [the] social equity part of our responsibility.”

The webinar also featured a special guest speaker: Melvin Santiago Rojo, who runs Iloilo-based bakery Myrnz Cakecreations with his wife Myrna. Rojo shared his story of how he and his wife used to work as OFWs in Brunei, but then came back to the Philippines because they wanted to start their own business.

What was able to help the couple was the Negosyo Center program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). With the support of the DTI, the two were not only able to grow their business into one of the most well-known cake shops in Iloilo, but also promote their cakes around the country through DTI’s roadshows and exhibitions.

Take the leap

These three tips only scratch the surface in terms of what entrepreneurs will need to start their own business, but we hope they were helpful all the same. As Anunciado puts it, you’ll never know whether or not your business will work until you try it out and take the leap.

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.

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Overcome These Top Business Barriers

With businesses now being allowed to slowly reopen, owners of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are looking for ways to reopen and operate safely, and also refine their business strategy to meet changing needs. Several months of community quarantine have dampened their sales and forced them to adjust to the new normal, so the next few months will be critical in keeping their businesses afloat.

Fortunately, they do not have to do it alone. Many government agencies, large companies, and even fellow MSMEs have rolled out products, programs, and projects aimed specifically to help small business owners get back on their feet. These MSME enablers were the highlight of our sixth webinar, “Ready, Set? Reboot! MSME Enablers in the New Normal.”

In the webinar, the panelists were asked to identify the biggest barriers MSMEs are currently facing in their road to recovery. Here, we list their replies and highlight how each of their organizations are helping MSMEs adapt to the new normal:

Barrier #1: Lack of Information

When Jude Buelva established hyperlocal delivery startup Pandalivery as a college student back in 2017, he found it hard to find resources that would help him start his entrepreneurial journey. He highlighted how this lack of information is a major barrier for anyone who wants to put up their own business.

“As a student aspiring to become an entrepreneur years ago, hindi ko alam (I didn’t know) where to start. Entrepreneurs have a really hard time accessing information,” said Buelva. “Hindi nila alam kung paano magsimula, ano yung opportunity na meron sa kanila, and ano yung available na resources sa kanila (They don’t know how to start, what opportunities are present, and what resources are available for them).”

Today, Buelva is enabling other businesses in Camarines Sur and Albay through Pandalivery, a logistics startup for food, groceries, and medicine. His hyperlocal approach allows Buelva to contribute in building the business community of the Bicol region, ensuring that his fellow entrepreneurs have resources available to grow their businesses.. 

Ghian Marucot, Co-founder and COO of global e-commerce enabler eCFULFILL, recommended that MSME owners seek out enablers like the organizations of the panelists. These businesses, government agencies, and groups have a lot of useful information readily available to any entrepreneur who needs it. 

“[By using] these services, makikita niyo (you’ll see) how easy it really is to recover using online platforms,” said Marucot.

Barrier #2: No Confidence in Their Business

Both Buelva and Marucot also pointed to entrepreneurs’ lack of confidence in themselves and in their offerings as major barriers in scaling up. While entrepreneurs have to face many uncertainties in how their products will be received or how their business models will fare, both of them agree that these are necessary in order to scale up.

“When you talk about scaling up or expanding, parang natatakot sila kasi baka mawala sa kanila yung product (they’re afraid that they might lose control of the product) or they’ll actually spend more,” said Buelva. “But they don’t realize [that] if you don’t risk, you’ll never really grow.”

This barrier is especially close to Marucot’s heart, as eCFULFILL’s platform allows local retailers and merchants to sell and market their products to potential customers all over the world, through global e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Wish, and Etsy. He assured entrepreneurs that their products will find a market abroad, as Filipino-made goods already have a reputation for being high-quality.

“We have very good quality Filipino products. Our brands can be global brands,” claimed Marucot. “The way we present our products, yung mga designs natin (our designs), they’re globally accepted. Be confident with your product, let’s bring it out there. Magugulat kayo (You’ll be surprised) how [receptive] the global consumer is to the Filipino product.”

Barrier #3: Reluctance to Change

The webinar also featured two representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which have been rolling out and promoting various programs that are helping MSMEs cope with the effects of the pandemic. Both also talked about common barriers experienced by MSMEs that they’ve observed in their projects.

Jerry Clavesillas, Director of the Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development at the DTI, highlighted that entrepreneurs must be adaptive especially with how quickly the market is changing. MSME owners who still fall back to their habits and models prior to the lockdown will find it much harder to thrive in the new normal.

“During this time, the challenge for our entrepreneurs in getting back to their operations is the reluctance to change. Nagbabago ang preferences ng market (The market’s preferences are shifting), so you have to change, you have to adapt to the new norm,” said Clavesillas. “The mindset of our people should be attuned to the demands of the times.”

Clavesillas added that having a change in mindset was one of seven Ms that the DTI is promoting to MSMEs in order for them to succeed. For the other six Ms, check out this post from the DTI.

Barrier #4: Low Digital Skills

One of the key programs that the DTI rolled out during the lockdown was CTRL + BIZ Reboot Now!, a series of free webinars that highlight various topics on how MSMEs can enter the digital economy. Mary Jean Pacheco, Assistant Secretary for Digital Philippines and DTI E-commerce Lead, shared in UNAWA’s webinar that hosting CTRL + BIZ has been a great learning experience both for the MSMEs and for the DTI.

For Pacheco, one of the insights she gathered was how there was a general lack in digital skills among many Filipinos and MSME owners. She enumerated tiers of digital readiness among MSMEs, and she noted how many MSMEs were still in the first tier: having an email for their business.

“We have to make sure that our SMEs are digitalized,” said Pacheco. “There are many SMEs who don’t even have an email. Dapat, geared up ang ating mga kababayan to do the basics (Filipinos should be geared up to do the basics).”

On the individual level, Pacheco urged Filipinos to be more productive with their use of the Internet. She cited how Filipinos were among the most frequent Internet users in the world, but also had low adoption of other digital products such as mobile wallets. 

“We spend 10 hours a day on the Internet,” she said. “If we will be more productive [by using] the Internet either as a consumer or as a seller, our e-commerce will really grow.”

Break the Barriers

As Pacheco highlighted, one of the most effective ways to break these barriers is to invest in digital platforms. By using technology to access information, increase confidence in their products, and change their operations, MSME owners can get a head start in their efforts to reboot their business.

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


Reboot Your MSME for the New Normal with This Free Webinar

On a roll to help micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with their re-entry planning, regtech startup UNAWA is offering its sixth free webinar, “Ready, Set? Reboot! MSME Enablers in the New Normal” on Friday, May 29, 4 PM–5 PM. Here, panelists will talk about the tools, platforms, and programs available for MSME owners to reopen their businesses in the new normal.

“For many MSMEs, the end of the lockdown doesn’t mean the end of their challenges, but the beginning of a new set of challenges with regard to re-entering the market amid a new set of limitations and government guidelines. Through this webinar, we at UNAWA aim to equip MSME owners with concrete tools and resources to map out their re-entry after the lockdown,” said Atty. Mona Dimalanta, CEO of UNAWA.

Interested participants can register for the webinar through this link:

Ready for Re-entry

To talk more about a range of government and private sector resources that MSMEs can use are representatives from the following:

    • The Department of Trade and Industry, which has been rolling out and sharing various helpful tools and programs for MSME owners to better cope with the effects of the lockdown; 
    • eCFULFILL, a provider of e-commerce solutions for business owners to better manage their online stores; and
    • PayMongo, a financial technology startup enabling businesses to accept different types of payment methods for their transactions

Prepared for the New Normal

“Ready Set? Reboot! MSME Enablers in the New Normal” is the sixth installment of UNAWA’s free weekly webinar series entitled “Navigating the New Normal.” For the past month, UNAWA has featured several panelists that include business owners, industry experts, and government officials who have all spoken about different ways MSME owners can prepare their businesses for the new normal, ranging from revenue generation to data privacy.

As the lockdown winds down, UNAWA has two more webinars planned to complete the series, which are as follows:



From Unemployment to Entrepreneurship

June 5, Friday, 4 PM

Reimagining Travel, Hospitality, & Leisure (Sector Focus)

June 11, Thursday, 4 PM

To get more fresh updates and event registration links, follow the UNAWA Facebook page at

Secure Your SME Digitally

“Navigating the New Normal,” UNAWA’s series of free webinars helping small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners with the new realities brought about by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), has addressed various aspects of business continuity in its past four webinars. One consistent recommendation brought up by our panelists is the need for businesses to go digital, with the remote working and social distancing environment benefiting from purely digital processes.

However, the push to go digital also comes with an increased need for data privacy and cybersecurity. As companies move their operations to digital platforms, they must also be aware of how to properly secure and safeguard these platforms from various cyber threats.

This was the focus of UNAWA’s fifth webinar, “Data Privacy and Cybersecurity–Is Your Company Ready?” Our panelists offered various insights from technological, legal, and professional perspectives on how SMEs can improve their data privacy and cybersecurity in an era of remote working and rapid digitalization. Here, we share five of these insights:

1. Don’t forget about data privacy and cybersecurity when digitizing your business.

Companies that are predominantly brick-and-mortar in nature are now exploring new ways to reach their customers digitally, such as putting up e-commerce platforms or setting up digital communication channels and apps. But Iannis Hanen, CEO of cybersecurity testing platform Secuna, reminded business owners going through this digitization phase not to forget about proper data privacy and cybersecurity practices. 

“As [businesses] cut corners, they use ways to collect and transfer information that’s very sensitive. And they usually tend to ignore the security aspect as they do that because at this point, a lot of SME owners are not thinking about security of the data. They just want to have transactions with customers,” Hanen pointed out.

This applies especially to companies who are developing or deploying their own app, website, or software. Business owners must be vigilant in ensuring the safety and security of these platforms and not simply focus on how they can boost the company’s operations.

“Some companies are a little bit more ahead and are already thinking of developing either a new site or a new app [for their operations]. At that stage, they’re not necessarily considering security, they’re just looking at functionality. They want to sell fast, and they are deploying software that’s not necessarily tested or vetted,” added Hanen.

2. Data processing must be transparent, have a legitimate purpose, and be proportional.

So how can companies practice proper data privacy and cybersecurity protocols? Atty. Leandro Aguirre, Deputy Commissioner of the National Privacy Commission (NPC), suggests a good starting point in the three guiding principles of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (DPA), the country’s set of regulations governing how organizations should process personal information.

The first of these principles is transparency, which means properly disclosing to your customers how you’re processing their data. “Transparency goes into the whole idea of trust. You want to be transparent with your customers and with your employees in terms of how you’re processing their information, and you have to do it by communicating it to them in a clear manner,” explained Aguirre.

The second principle, legitimate purpose, simply states that if a company will process customer data, they must have a valid reason why they’re doing so. “We want [your business] to use information only for a specific purpose that you’ve communicated with your customers,” added Aguirre.

Last but not least, data processing must have a sense of proportionality. This means that the data you collect for whatever purpose must only be enough for that purpose, avoiding instances where customers are required to divulge too much information and increasing the risks of a data breach. “The idea here is we want to minimize the amount of information we collect. If you don’t need that information, don’t collect it,” said Aguirre.

3. Proper security is discipline, responsibility, and acting right without delay.

In the same vein as Aguirre, AJ Dumanhug, the Co-founder, CTO, and CISO of Secuna, also shared three factors that make up a good cybersecurity strategy. This can be summed up with one sentence: “Security is discipline, responsibility, and acting right without delay.”

By discipline, he meant that companies must be consistent and persistent in how they relay practices about cybersecurity to their employees and customers. This includes strategies against common cyber attacks, tips on securing their devices, and reminders on how to better protect their assets. “For discipline, [these are] regular things that your business should do, such as educating your employees [as well as] your colleagues and users,” said Dumanhug.

By responsibility, he referred to how a company is handling the data they’re processing and understanding the types of data they have to protect. While Dumanhug recommends conducting a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), he also says that a PIA alone won’t be enough. “PIA is not just for the privacy, it should be working hand-in-hand with cybersecurity. You have to make sure that all the data [you are handling] are secure,” shared Dumanhug.

And by acting right without delay, he recommended SME owners to have a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) ready in the event of a cyber attack. But at the most basic level, Dumanhug said that companies must be smart, fast, and prepared to respond to a cyber threat. “Always remember that the winner is not the one with the strongest tools, but the one who is acting right the fastest,” added Dumanhug.

4. Make sure your data privacy and cybersecurity protocols consider remote working arrangements.

With these frameworks in mind, companies should have an easier time laying out their data privacy protocols and cybersecurity strategies. But Atty. Glorie Pineda, Senior Associate at multi-awarded law firm PJS Law, advised that businesses must take into consideration the new normal brought about by the ECQ, specifically the increased reliance on a remote working setup.

“Work-from-home arrangements are now here to stay. You must take this into consideration when you are drafting your policies and protocols, meaning that you must provide your employees with adequate standards. What do they have to take into consideration when they are working from home?” said Pineda.

She also recommended that business owners assess how their employees are accessing company data remotely. Without the proper protocols in place, businesses face a great risk of a data breach with different individuals accessing sensitive data from non-secure devices or connections. Companies must be diligent in implementing these protocols to protect their data even if their employees are working from home

“This goes beyond having the proper equipment, having the proper software, but also the security or the encryption methods that you must put in place when there is remote access to data, not just business data but also personal data. How do you extend that security that you have been implementing in your workplace?” explained Pineda.

5. Protect your business from cyber threats like you would protect your house from a fire.

In his discussion, Andrew Hong, Regional Director for Asia Pacific of multinational cybersecurity solutions provider CyberScout, brought up an analogy for SMEs to better relay the importance of having a concrete plan against cyber threats:

“Imagine you are a homeowner. In the event of a small fire, in every house you have a fire hydrant or an extinguisher, whether the mini tube one or the big one. But do you know that the mini type of extinguisher, you need to renew every year for licensing? Most people don’t, they just ignore. So when a fire happens, they take the fire extinguisher, and nothing comes out. There’s no foam because the things inside are expired. When the fire gets bigger hours later, you call for the [firefighters] to come in with their big hydrants, but then at least 90% of your property is lost [by then].”

Hong then explains that the fire is analogous to a cyber attack, and the fire extinguisher represents your company’s internal plan on how to handle them. Just like the mini fire extinguisher, your company must be careful with how they maintain it, and to make sure that it will be available when it is needed. The firefighters are the external organizations and experts that companies should call for help when needed, and Hong recommended that businesses be quick in asking for help.

“What to do when you have a cyber attack? Call for help early,” added Hong. “Do not delay [your] call for help.”

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.

Lifelines for SMEs

With Luzon’s enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) lasting for over two months, many small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners have felt the impact in their businesses. As many SMEs deal with limited sales, non-moving inventories, and reduced foot traffic, entrepreneurs will have to make several difficult decisions to make their financials work for them.

Anticipating these scenarios, both public and private organizations have rolled out various programs and projects aimed at helping SMEs get back on their feet after the ECQ. These projects were the focus of UNAWA’s fourth free webinar, “Navigating the New Normal: Government Lifelines for SMEs,” which featured representatives from both government agencies and private organizations talking about various ways that entrepreneurs can steer their business in the right direction after the ECQ.

In this article, we summarized three ways SME owners can keep their businesses afloat mentioned in the webinar:

1. Apply for the government’s SME-focused loan facilities

Recognizing that SMEs will be among the most affected sectors by the ECQ, several government agencies have rolled out loan facilities, cash assistance programs, and other projects aimed at helping entrepreneurs. One of these agencies is the Small Business Corporation (SB Corp.), which recently rolled out the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises or CARES Program, a Php1-billion loan facility targeted specifically to micro and small business owners.

Frank Gonzaga, Vice President for Planning and Advocacy at SB Corp., shared that the CARES Program can help entrepreneurs get back on their feet after the ECQ is lifted. Micro businesses, or those with an asset size of Php3 million or less, can apply for a loan worth up to Php200,000, while small businesses,or those with an asset size of Php15 million or less, can borrow up to Php500,000 from the program. 

“What are the purposes for you borrowing [from SB Corp.]? It’s either that you are going to restock your inventory, yung mga perishables niyo gusto niyong palitan (if you want to replenish your perishables) and you need more capital, so you can borrow from us. Or if you think you need more working capital, say for example you’re going digital and you’ll need to hire someone who’s really good in e-commerce, and then you can also borrow from us. Worse is may utang ka na binabayaran (you’re paying a loan) and you need to update those loans, you can also borrow from us to update those loans,” explained Gonzaga. 

He added that the CARES Program is only one of several projects that the government is rolling out as lifelines for SMEs. Many other agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, and the Philippine Guarantee Corporation are also offering loan programs that target SMEs.

“There are lifelines that you can call, and this is one of the lifelines that the government can offer. We are not the only one lending,” said Gonzaga.

2. Consider talking to investors when raising capital

While they are the most common, loans aren’t the only lifelines that SME owners can take advantage of after the ECQ. For Vince Rapisura, President and CEO of capacity builder SEDPI, he recommends that entrepreneurs raise capital from investors instead so that they do not have to deal with loan repayment terms that may prove harmful to company financials in the long run.

“Rather than looking for loans to restart your business, why don’t you look for investors who would share the risk and the profit with you? If you want to be on the safer side, it’s better to focus on mobilizing investors rather than seeking debt to restart and reboot,” advised Rapisura.

Rapisura points to two possible sources of investments at this time: an entrepreneur’s inner circle, which consists of friends and family; and crowdfunding platforms, where entrepreneurs can pitch their projects and ask for funds from various donors. These sources allow business owners to raise capital in their own terms and have better tabs on how much cash goes in and out of the company.

More importantly, Rapisura recommends investments over loans so that entrepreneurs can have more control over the deal. And if they are offering a product or service that can stand on its own, then Rapisura believes that SME owners won’t have a hard time getting the investments they need.

“The terms and conditions that you have to ask from your investors when they come in is that you still have control over your business,” said Rapisura. “If you have a very good business plan and if you have a very good product or service, and the need is there, madali maka-raise ng funds (it’s easy to raise funds).”

3. Prepare tax documents in advance

One financial obligation that many business owners have been worrying about is how they’re able to settle their tax filings with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). While the deadlines have been moved because of the ECQ, SME owners will still have to deal with submitting their deliverables and filing their taxes when their business is already strapped for cash.

Mon Abrea, Chairman and Senior Tax Advisor of tax advisory firm Asian Consulting Group, reminds his fellow entrepreneurs that the best way to prepare for tax filing season is to prepare as early as possible. For him, dealing with the BIR only becomes a hassle if the business owner isn’t sufficiently prepared or is only doing the work on the deadline itself, especially with many BIR deadlines potentially overlapping in the near future.

Mag-ooverlap ang maraming deadline, pero instead na mag-panic kayo, plan it now (Many deadlines will overlap, but instead of panicking, plan it now). Plan it ahead. There are ways to defer payments, and there are ways to reduce taxes. Gawin niyo na po ngayon, hindi kung kailan deadline (Do it now and not when it’s already the deadline). It’s not just being resilient, but we have to be more proactive,” said Abrea. 

He also advised entrepreneurs to take advantage of any deductible expenses they may have incurred during the lockdown period. As long as these expenses are properly documented, they can help ease the burden of tax filing for any SME owner.

“Make sure that you maximize whatever possible deductive expenses. Halimbawa, marami sa ating mga kababayan (For example, many Filipinos), even the small entrepreneurs, mga nag-donate (donated) during this pandemic. Might as well use it as a deductible expense,” said Abrea.

Seek the Lifelines for Your Business

Recovering from the ECQ won’t be easy, but SME owners don’t have to do it alone. Both public and private organizations have rolled out various ways that can make this recovery easier, and entrepreneurs only have to be diligent enough to apply for these different projects. Now more than ever, there is no shame in asking for help.

If you want to find out more about other lifelines that the government is offering to SMEs, check out our article on the Philippine government’s 4-Pillar Strategy. We also have a Telegram group where we continuously update members on the latest government releases focused on SMEs and give tips on how businesses can better cope with the effects of the ECQ.

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.

Remote Work Management

Ask people about their “new normal” amid the pandemic, and chances are you’ll get many answers about working from home. While remote work has been the norm among freelancers and in certain industries even before the lockdown, it has moved from alternative to mainstream as a result of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Many workplaces are suddenly adjusting their operations to keep their businesses up and running.

UNAWA’s third free webinar, “Navigating the New Normal: Employee Welfare in a Remote Work Environment,” trained the spotlight on these issues and shared how business owners and leaders can keep the entire team engaged, productive, and well-adjusted while working from home. The panel featured representatives from the business, medical, and legal sectors who shared insights on how businesses can optimize their remote work setups.

In this article, we compiled one insight from each of our panelists on how SMEs and startups can better implement their remote working setups.

1. Find a daily schedule that works for you.

At its inception, game development company Altitude Games founded by Gabby Dizon in 2012 already implemented a remote work setup for 80% of its employees. The set up has been welcomed by many to the point that Gabby is now recognized in many other webinars for leading this remote working experience. 

One tip he shared in UNAWA’s webinar is for employees who are new to the remote working setup is to add structure to their daily routine. While an office-based setup automatically provides this structure, a home-based setup will need employees to create and adopt a structure that allows them to adjust to a remote working setup and achieve work-life balance.

“One of the things that we tell our team is to be able to create a structure for themselves, between what time they wake up, …prepare their breakfast, …do focused work [and] meetings, [and time] block[ed] off for their kids or family,” shared Dizon. “Without that kind of schedule or structure for yourself, it will be hard to thrive in a home-based environment.”

Employers should also be mindful of these schedules and help their employees adapt as much as possible. They can implement flexible working hours to account for more variation in schedules, and they can make sure that all communication lines are monitored in such a way that they are not used to outside of an employee’s schedule.

2. Explore collaborative ways to promote employee welfare remotely.

With working from home being an unfamiliar experience for most employees, some of your team may have difficulty adjusting to the new normal. Employees who are used to having casual conversations or hanging out with their workmates, for example, no longer have those outlets. This can lead to undue stress and feelings of loneliness.

Emma Guevarra, people director at multinational outsourcing firm TaskUs, revealed that the company has resorted to more creative ways of boosting morale while almost all of their employees are working from home. For one, most of their wellness activities, such as yoga and Zumba sessions, transitioned from in-person to a virtual platform, with many employees around the world joining in their video conferences to these sessions.

Guevarra also revealed that the company’s president releases wellness videos every week to help employees cope with the remote working setup. TaskUs has also established a website dedicated to helping their employees achieve “work-life harmony”.

“Even before COVID, we [have really been] advocating for a work-life alignment. You just need to set the boundaries, and the leaders respect that,” said Guevarra. “We continue that practice and culture even virtually.”

3. Executives should promote employee wellness efforts.

Following on from Guevarra’s sharing of her company’s practices, Suzy Roxas, a life and career strategist, highlighted another important factor that makes TaskUs’s activities work. Roxas pointed out that it was important that these employee wellness initiatives are either being promoted by the company’s executives, or are led by the executives themselves.

For Roxas, this setup allows employees to more easily integrate these programs into their daily schedules, which leads to them prioritizing their welfare. Business owners and leaders are best placed to set an example for the rest of their teams, as in an unfamiliar environment such as a remote working setup, employees will turn to their leaders for guidance more than ever.

“When the business leader is on top of the wellness program and he has a hand in measuring the quality or the importance of the wellness program and he holds everybody as part of the wellness program and actually participates in it, that buy-in automatically makes the employees value the wellness program, value well-being, and therefore join in the bandwagon,” explained Roxas. “As a result, you have a more flourishing work environment even in the time of stress.”

4. Analyze which parts of your operations can be done remotely.

While ideal, not every business can operate with every person working remotely. Some businesses require people to be on-site to be able to deliver their products and services properly, while others need to have an office-based team at all times. For these businesses, Atty. Regina Jacinto-Barrientos, managing and founding partner of award-winning law firm PJS Law, should think about how their workspaces can be more conducive to promoting a healthier environment.

“One of the things people should consider is analyzing their workspace,” reminded Jacinto-Barrientos. “Because there’s social distancing required, now you should determine how many people are in the room and if you need to be six feet apart. You need to analyze those things and consider moving people around, doing things, and even reconfiguring your office.”

Atty. Mona Dimalanta, CEO of UNAWA, adds that business owners should carefully examine their operations and determine which aspects can be done remotely. She believes that remote working strategies should be something that all business owners should think about when navigating the new normal.

“Break down your operations, …how you do your work, and take it up from there. What can be done remotely? What needs to be done in the office?” said Dimalanta. “There are also means like working in shifts to limit the number of people in the workplace at any given time.”

Make work-from-home work for you

While remote work has crept up on many businesses, it is nevertheless part of the new normal that employers and employees alike have to integrate into their lives. We hope that these tips can help you and your team craft a remote work strategy that can steer your business through the new normal while keeping your employees safe and healthy.

If you want to read more tips about working from home, Dizon shared a deck that goes over several tips and tricks on how your company can build an effective remote work strategy, which you can read here.

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.

PH Gov 4-Pillar Strategy

As the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) persists and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, several owners of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. With severely reduced business activity, many entrepreneurs are running out of cash to weather the storm brought about by the lockdown.

Recognizing the risks and challenges that the country’s MSMEs are facing, the Philippine government is implementing several measures to mitigate the effects of the ECQ. Many of these MSME-focused programs are included in the 4-pillar socioeconomic strategy against COVID-19, consolidating several initiatives that the Duterte Administration rolls out to help the country get back on its feet after the pandemic. 

Here, we summarize this 4-pillar strategy focusing on the benefits and financial aid that MSMEs will receive. Note that these are provisions from the strategy as of April 9, and the Department of Finance (DOF) has noted that the contents of the strategy may be updated in the future:

Pillar 1: Emergency support for vulnerable groups

The first pillar targets various individuals and groups of the population that are heavily impacted by the pandemic. It summarizes various financial aid and cash assistance programs across different government agencies worth an estimated total of Php305 billion

This pillar has the most extensive list of programs among the four that specifically target MSMEs. Among these programs are:

Pillar 2: Marshalling resources to fight COVID-19

The second pillar outlines all of the government’s provisions to aid the medical efforts against the pandemic. Most of these programs target the individuals who have contracted the disease, the frontliners who are helping contain the pandemic, and the organizations which have dedicated resources and facilities to support the medical efforts.

As this pillar focuses on the healthcare aspect of the pandemic, there are no programs here that specifically target MSMEs. However, the pillar does list various tax incentives and exemptions for businesses providing critical medical supplies, including the waiving of importation fees for certain categories of products.

Pillar 3: Fiscal and monetary actions to finance emergency initiatives and keep the economy afloat

The third pillar focuses on the government’s efforts to maintain the national economy amid the crisis, which has taken a hit from the reduced business activity both within the country and around the world. Most of the agencies involved in the programs under this pillar all have something to do with circulating government funds such as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). 

For this pillar, there is one provision that applies to certain MSMEs: the extension of tax-compliance and loan payment deadlines that fall under the ECQ period. The government is allocating a budget of Php470 million for this specific program.

Pillar 4: An economic recovery plan to create jobs and sustain growth

The fourth and final pillar revolves around one specific program: a bounce-back plan designed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). The bounce-back plan will focus on revitalizing the national economy once the ECQ is lifted, and it will target several business sectors affected by the lockdown. 

The IATF has already begun laying the groundwork for this pillar by conducting a nationwide survey assessing the damages and challenges experienced by various businesses. The results of this survey will then be used to steer the direction of the bounce-back plan, with the IATF creating unique strategies for different sectors, most notably a targeted plan for MSMEs.

Rising Above the Lockdown

The 4-pillar strategy captures a bulk of the government’s efforts to help MSMEs rise above the lockdown. It highlights how even if entrepreneurs are facing numerous hardships brought about by the ECQ, there are still several avenues they can take to keep their business afloat and turn the challenges into opportunities.

To stay updated on government initiatives concerning MSMEs, join UNAWA’s Telegram Group. For more business tips on how to navigate the new normal, check out the other articles of UNAWA Explainer.

Prepare Re-Entry Plans and Remote Working Arrangements with this Free Webinar

Regtech startup UNAWA will be holding its third free webinar on Thursday, April 30, 5 PM–6 PM. Titled “Navigating the New Normal: Employee Welfare in a Remote Work Environment,” the webinar will tackle key issues that SMEs should consider as they prepare plans for resuming operations post-Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). A key concern here is how to prepare organizations for remote work, which is now quickly becoming the new reality for many businesses.

“UNAWA believes it is necessary to engage in this conversation of a ‘new normal’ not only as the general theme of our webinars but particularly as employers consider actual operations,” said Atty. Mona Dimalanta, CEO of UNAWA. “As many of our fellow businesses are still getting used to having most, if not their entire team, working from home, we hope this webinar helps them identify the questions they need to ask to know how extensively they can adopt and integrate remote working arrangements into their everyday operations.”

Highlighting Employee Concerns

UNAWA’s third webinar will also serve as its Labor Day Special, shifting the focus slightly from the industry level to the employee level. It will highlight topics that not only concern employees’ current working arrangements but also how these arrangements can be better implemented to promote employees’ welfare while helping the business move forward in the new normal. 

Starting off the panel discussion is Suzy Roxas, a life and career strategist specializing in Cognitive Therapy, Leadership, Trauma Recovery, and others. She will discuss what this “new normal” will mean for organizations and employees, and how leaders can help their teams cope with work from home arrangements, prevent burnout, and also manage any trauma arising from these abrupt and drastic shifts.

Meanwhile, Atty. Regina Jacinto-Barrientos, Managing Partner of leading local law firm and UNAWA’s partner, PJS Law, will share information about how the Philippine government is supporting employee welfare through updated labor guidelines, and will also offer insights on how companies can map out their “re-entry” strategies after the lifting of the ECQ.

Sharing best practices from their respective industries are Gabby Dizon, Founder and CEO of game developer Altitude Games, who will reveal how his team created an optimal remote working arrangement for their employees; and Emma Guevarra, People Director at TaskUs, who will talk about the company’s “frontline-first culture” and how this translates to our current environment.

“From our previous webinars, our panelists would usually bring up this reminder that businesses should start thinking about their re-entry strategies as early as now: if you wait for when the ECQ is lifted to prepare re-entry plans, that would be too late,” added Dimalanta. “This webinar will help entrepreneurs build their strategies and make sure that their businesses are ready to open on Day 1, post-ECQ.”

Simplifying the New Normal

“Employee Welfare in a Remote Work Environment” continues UNAWA’s series of webinars titled Navigating the New Normal, which focuses on different business verticals that have been affected by the ECQ. The preceding webinar talked about revenue-generating opportunities amid the lockdown, while succeeding webinars will spotlight various other topics to make sure all bases are covered.

Here is the tentative schedule of UNAWA’s webinars for the month of May:



Lifeline for SMEs: COVID-19 Government Assistance

May 8, 5 PM

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity: Is Your Company Ready?

May 15, 5 PM

From Unemployment to Entrepreneurship (tentative)

May 22, 5 PM

Reimagining Travel, Hospitality & Leisure (Sector Focus, tentative)

May 29, 5 PM

To get more fresh updates and event registration links, follow the UNAWA Facebook page at

Finding Revenue Amid ECQ

How does one keep cash flowing while businesses are shut in the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ)? With operations severely reduced, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) find it harder to generate revenue and keep their company afloat as each day of the ECQ passes.

UNAWA’s second free webinar focused on confronting these issues head-on by highlighting creative ways entrepreneurs can protect and strengthen their financial position. Titled “Navigating the New Normal: Revenue Generating Trends,” the webinar featured four entrepreneurs and industry experts who shared various tips and rich insights in keeping cash flowing during these challenging times.

We share here one revenue generation tip from each of our webinar panelists. Want to learn more? Please watch the replay below!

1. Reach out to your customers and understand their needs

For Bong Pacia, Independent Senior Business and Management Consultant and Indonesia Country Head for market intelligence firm Mintel, the pandemic will cause major shifts in how we do business, both on the side of entrepreneurs and customers. It is up to the business owners, then, to understand these shifts and make sure their business does not get left behind.

One way Pacia suggests to be on top of these shifts is to ask your customers directly. As consumer needs and behaviors change, it will be important for companies to keep up with these changes. The best way to find out how these changes are playing out is to engage with your customer base. 

“Before, they [would] come to you, and you [would] give them advice on [what to do],” said Pacia. “Now, it’s the other way around. You go to them and ask them, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’, ‘How can we customize something for you?’ That’s where you [build] your business on.”

Pacia added that these insights will not only help your business stay relevant while the lockdown persists, but it will also help your company get back on its feet quickly once the lockdown is over. He suggested that these insights should be used in forming your company’s strategy post-ECQ, as these changes in behavior will soon become the “new normal” for customer interaction.

2. Be diligent with your research

Related to the first tip, Rommel Ng, co-owner of restaurant chain Buffalo’s Wings N’ Things and founder of online informational platform The Resto Coach, reminded his fellow entrepreneurs about the importance of doing diligent research. Ng related it to Pacia’s advice by saying that entrepreneurs would have an advantage when they are actively gaining insights during the ECQ.

“One thing that you gain from operating now versus waiting for the ECQ to end is you gain a lot of insights from actual customer interaction,” said Ng. “The product mix is the most dependable [piece of] data because it is the one that customers actually spend money on.”

Ng expands on this tip by saying that there are many more potential sources of customer insights that can be used to improve your business. With the wealth of information available online, entrepreneurs can use these pieces of data to refine and strengthen their strategies during and after the lockdown.

“Information and data are now being shared openly. Take advantage of that,” advised Ng. “You cannot afford to waste money now in [external] R&D. You just have to be diligent enough to do the research [on your own].”

3. Build trust within your network and uphold your company’s values

As the ECQ began, Anya Lim immediately worked on shifting the products she was selling in her social enterprise, ANTHILL Fabric Gallery. As the fashion house mainly focused on clothes, accessories, and other lifestyle products made by local artisans, Lim and her weavers started creating and selling essential goods such as face masks.

“A lot of fashion brands and designer entrepreneurs have shifted to essential goods, which currently are reusable masks and PPE (personal protective equipment) production,” shared Lim. “I think the masks are going to be a staple in our wardrobe, [probably] for the next three years.”

However, this shift in production is not the only way Lim is boosting sales within her company. One of her store’s most popular products in recent weeks has been the ANTHILL Bayanihan Bucket, which contains a “self-care kit” with teas and an air freshener that were packaged in one of ANTHILL’s weaved bags. While the bag alone would have been considered a non-essential good, bundling it with more essential items allowed ANTHILL to drive sales to their own products.

“The power of bundling right now is very effective. If you’re (selling) a non-essential good like we are, [you can] pair up your product with an essential good, which can potentially work,” said Lim. “With the bucket that we did, [the contents] made the consumers feel that they will benefit from that, and the bucket was just [a value-added component].”

4. Collaborate with less-affected businesses

The contents of ANTHILL’s bags were provided by partner small businesses, which Lim saw as an opportunity to both promote different entrepreneurs while generating revenue for her company. For fellow social entrepreneur Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, president of eco-ethical fashion brand Rags2Riches and CFO of UNAWA, this method can prove to be an effective strategy for businesses, especially those who are heavily impacted by the lockdown.

“An exercise that I’ve done with my team is to look at the industries that will not be as affected by this pandemic,” shared Fernandez-Ruiz. “If there is a relation with your industry, look at how you can collaborate with them.”

Implementing this strategy will allow your business to not only find a new vertical to generate revenue, but also to expand its scope and introduce your business to new audiences. As Fernandez-Ruiz and the rest of the panelists highlighted, this is a good way of future-proofing your company beyond the ECQ, as it can open up various opportunities for the business. What is important, however, is that entrepreneurs should act and find these opportunities now.

“Whatever you do now will define whatever you’ll be in the future,” said Fernandez-Ruiz. “In the future, you will not just survive but thrive and be different.”

We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.