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 menti.com. 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 https://iisla.world/ventures/ 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.