By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran
As an archipelago with over 7,000 islands, the Philippines is a geographically fragmented nation. At the minimum, the physical boundaries have always acted as a gap between the peoples of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And now that Filipinos going overseas to provide for their families is seen as a normal thing, those gaps have only gotten wider.
Overseas Filipino workers, otherwise known as OFWs, have become a foundation on which the country has built its burgeoning economy. OFW remittances are largely credited for the country’s recent stellar economic growth, resulting in investment status upgrades from credit ratings agencies such as the Fitch Group and Standard & Poor’s. From more than $2 billion worth of remittances in 1994, cash remittances from OFWs reached $26.9 billion in 2016. The World Bank made a forecast that remittances could reach $33 billion this year.
OFWs are a critical part of the country’s growth, and yet they are forced to be away from their families for months, even years, at a time, creating an ever-widening culture of disconnection, especially among the young.
Trying to minimize this distance was the goal of Rosemarie Rafael when she created SpeedRegalo Inc., a gift delivery business focused on bridging the gaps between the workers and their families.
Ms. Rafael, who owns the transport and logistics company Airspeed International Corp., had seen firsthand during her travels the need of Filipino families to have a strong platform with which to connect with their OFW relatives.
“Airspeed International Corp. was started in 1985 and is a company that has grown from 6 employees to about 400. Being in the logistics industry has allowed me the opportunity to travel to many different places, and it was through these travels that I saw the need to bridge the gap between overseas Filipino workers and their families back home,” she told BusinessWorld in an interview.
“I had a strong desire to provide our fellow kababayans abroad with a convenient, reliable, and affordable platform that would help them send gifts to their loved ones who were far away. Gift-giving is part of our culture and it is the heart of Speed Regalo. We provide various products — from flowers, to cakes, and even lechon — that can be delivered straight to your family’s doorstep.”
From humble beginnings in 2011, when much of the company’s business was being conducted locally, SpeedRegalo has now made huge strides in realizing its mission to connect Filipinos with relatives who are working abroad.
“Majority of our customers are now Filipinos overseas and being able to secure this market has been a major accomplishment in itself,” Ms. Rafael said.
“A challenge we are constantly facing is the ability to properly market our Web site and continue building awareness towards the right type of customers.”
As more Filipinos seek greener pastures abroad, the more challenging it will be for SpeedRegalo. Ms. Rafael acknowledged the rising number of people seeking deployment to other countries, and expected SpeedRegalo to match its growth as to provide Filipino families with a stable avenue of engagement with one another, despite the distance.
“Because Speed Regalo’s number one mission is to connect Filipinos with their loved ones who are far away, we see the continuous growth of Filipino deployment as an opportunity for growth when it comes to what we are doing,” she said.
“Through our platform, we just want Filipinos to be able to fully engage with their loved ones, regardless of distance. We envision our presence to grow leaps and bounds, and instead of just being an online platform for Filipinos in certain countries, we want to be accessible to all Filipinos in every part of the globe.”
One of the measures the company is taking toward future-proofing itself is the upcoming revamp of its Web site early next year. The launch will include a marketplace, a build-your-own-basket feature and a gift registry, improvements that aim to secure the future that Ms. Rafael dreams for the Filipino people.
“It’s our heart’s desire for everyone to connect with their loved ones — always. We don’t want people to feel disconnected. We want them to engage with everyone,” she said.