The View From Taft

Do entrepreneurs become more socially responsible amidst crisis situations? Are they not supposed to focus on finding ways to keep their businesses afloat? Going by the experiences of several small- and medium-scale Philippine enterprises during the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, it seems that entrepreneurial resilience and entrepreneurial responsibility are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Badly hit by the pandemic are businesses in the tourism industry because the lockdown restricted people’s mobility. For social entrepreneurs Rafael Dionisio and Thomas Graham, owners of MAD (Make A Difference) Travel, the lockdown meant having to discontinue their guided tours, which were designed to provide tourists with authentic and meaningful experiences.

Through Tribes and Treks, MAD Travel brings local and foreign tourists to Sitio Yangil in Zambales — home of an Aeta community — where guests get a glimpse of the locals’ way of life. Part of the tour is a tree-planting activity, which supports the reforestation of the 3,000-hectare ancestral lands of the Aetas. Because of the guided tours, the locals are able to augment their income by selling organically grown fruits, honey, bracelets, bamboo whistles, bamboo straws, and mini bow-and-arrow sets to tourists.

While other tour operators closed shop during the lockdown, MAD Travel came up with other business ideas because of its commitment to help its partner communities, which suddenly lost their source of livelihood. One of these ideas took the form of Feed the Farmers Today, Fund Tomorrow’s Forest, a global crowdfunding project through which each purchase of a tree pays for the Aeta’s labor of planting it. In addition, MAD Travel started MAD Market, an online delivery service that sourced products from farming communities in areas such as Benguet, Davao, and Nueva Ecija. It also launched an e-learning program called MAD Courses, which offered courses on innovation, sustainability, and social enterprise.

In 2020, popular tourist destinations had to shut down because of the pandemic. For entrepreneurial couple Nowie and Odette Potenciano, owners of The Sunny Side Group, this seemed like a repeat of the six-month, island-wide shutdown of Boracay in 2018, which forced them to close the restaurants they operated on the island.

The couple originally planned to bide their time until the pandemic had eased. But as the travel ban extended indefinitely, the Potencianos reconsidered their plan. They organized pop-ups of their flagship Sunny Side Café, featuring its most popular dishes, and of their coconut dessert shop Coco Mama. The goal was to cater to those who had tried their restaurants in Boracay, giving them “a real beach vibe” without leaving the city. To achieve this goal, the couple brought their restaurant staff with them to Manila just to keep them employed. They paid for their workers’ ferry tickets and swab tests, and shouldered the rent of an apartment that is walking distance from their restaurants.

Everything Green, a company that offers sustainable products and solutions to the hospitality industry, had to close down temporarily when Metro Manila was placed under community quarantine. Orders for the company’s environment-friendly hotel slippers were canceled because the company’s target market (i.e., hotels and resorts) scaled down operations.

Everything Green thought of ways to continue supporting the marginalized communities and the persons with disabilities (PWDs) that have benefited from the business. According to its owner, Camille Albarracin, “We had to come up with a crowdfunding campaign to provide for the needs of our people.” A few months into the lockdown, Camille decided to offer new products, including fashion accessories and wearables, to sustain the business. She also started to develop her e-commerce platform, which allowed Everything Green to shift its business model from business-to-business (B2B) to business-to-consumer (B2C).

The experiences of the above-mentioned businesses bring to mind Nassim Taleb’s antifragility. According to Taleb, the resilient resists shocks and stays the same, while the antifragile gets better. While the COVID-19 pandemic is generally seen as having had a negative effect on businesses, it might actually have benefited certain businesses in the long run. By coming up with innovations in products, processes, and business models in their desire to continue fulfilling both their economic and social missions, these renewed businesses have become antifragile.

As a line in Kelly Clarkson’s song goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” 


Raymund B. Habaradas is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU). He is part of a global research project titled “Entrepreneurial Resilience and Recovery During and After COVID-19 Crisis: Firm- and Community-Level Responses in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand,” which is supported by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).