On Impact Journalism Day, we put the spotlight on Seed4com, an NGO that provides solutions to rural community problems in the Philippines.
by Portia Ladrido
Carcasses stacked on one another, mothers using lighted candles to look for their missing children, and dilapidated ships parked ashore – this was what Leyte, a province in central Philippines, was like immediately after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country in 2013.
Typhoon Haiyan is known to be one of the strongest storms to strike the world that year. The typhoon wiped out clusters of islands and over 100,000 people sought refuge in evacuation centres. Dann Diez, a social entrepreneur who lives in a nearby province, Cebu, felt compelled to mobilise and find ways to help those that had lost homes and lives.
Dann teamed up with a friend who created Project EnKindle, an initiative giving access to renewable energy systems to communities affected by the disaster whilst they were waiting for their energy sources to be rebuilt by the local government. The project’s first community was in Tolosa, Leyte, where they set up a solar energy panel that enabled the locals to at least have light and electricity for charging.
Once a community’s energy sources are restored by the local government, Seed4com takes their energy equipment and transfer it to another community that also lacks access to energy sources. “The intention for that first deployment was to address the shortage of light and energy. The next step was to go back and monitor to see if they would still need the equipment because it was just a stewardship. We don’t give it to them, so once their power returns, we get it and then re-deploy it to some other region,” Dann explained.
This model worked in 150 communities which they helped for two years, but Dann felt that they should continue doing the programme instead of just addressing the immediate need during the typhoon. With a purpose to sustain, manage, and continue the lighting initiative, he built his nonprofit Sustainable Energy and Enterprise Development for Communities (Seed4com).
“We promote and campaign for clean energy; our advocacy is energy for all. We have many initiatives – from solar rooftops to island solar farms,” he said.
The original mission of Seed4com’s energy projects scaled and eventually included implementing programmes that encompass addressing environmental issues. “We don’t only provide them energy for lighting, we also implement programmes for our environment. The idea is once we engage with you with our energy, and we light up your homes or community, then we will be able to create that relationship, collaborate longterm, and help in other environmental areas which also need attention.”
Essentially, what they execute is a two-pronged approach to helping rural and last-mile communities. First, they make sure that the communities get access to light and electricity through their lighting project. Second, they ensure that the communities take care of the environment by educating them about sustainable livelihoods. “For example, in communities with fishing as their main livelihood, some methods are not sustainable and are even harmful to the marine ecosystem. With our programmes, we aim to educate them in what they can do to better practice their livelihood without harming nature,” he explained.
Another initiative carried out by Seed4com is their annual eco-camp. Participants of these camps are youth leaders from universities or young people who are keen on improving the state of their environment. The three-day camp includes three main workshops: leadership, environment, and community-organising.
What Dann aims for these camps, which are held in various islands in the Philippines, is to train future leaders that would be able to be in the forefront of fighting policies that may ill-treat our environment. “The ones who graduate from the camp could have the option to start their own team that would execute environmental campaigns. But if they think they don’t have a good network yet to create a team, they can opt to be an ambassador for the cause.”
A major activation that they are also working on is the Let’s Do It Philippines movement, a global movement tied to the World Clean Up day that is celebrated across various countries. Dann was inspired by how Estonia underwent a country-wide programme in 2008 that gathered 50,000 people to clean up their country. Even if only 5% of the country participated, the initiative resulted to the removal of 10,000 tonnes of waste – a result that would have taken the Estonian government three years and €22.5 million to achieve.
Seed4com executes the campaign by actively encouraging local communities to join the movement. Dann introduces the initiative to them, but leaves the respective communities to plan what is best for their context. The World Clean Up movement also created a tool to digitalise the ways for planning, data gathering, and policy making, so local groups can access and execute the initiative in the most effective way they can.
“With this execution, they really have a sense of ownership because we don’t fund them. The communities are given freedom to come up with ways that can empower their localities whilst also helping the environment,” Dann said.
Let’s Do It Philippines is now gearing up for World Clean Up Day 2018, and with the population amounting to approximately 100 million, Dann believes that there will be a strong 5% eager and willing to improve the environmental state of the country.