The BOB Talks – Best of Bicol

The BoB Talks are a series of talks on the Best of Bicol – a movement encouraging entrepreneurship and bringing out the best that the region has to offer.

BOB Talk poster from the Best of Bicol Facebook Page

Last week, we were asked if we could be part of the panel for the BoB Talks for their second run.  The talks, a brainchild of GP Priela, are inspired by the TED talks we find online. Given the chance to hear the stories of local businessmen and other familiar faces though gives a stronger boost to those that are lucky enough to get a slot in the crowd.

It was great listening to Randall Dagooc share the story of Mango Red and Naga City Deck’s Joan de la Trinidad. The organizers of the BoB Talks acknowledged that they are the best in their field. Mango Red makes Bicolanos proud by being the best around the world in photography. Naga City Deck offers the best to Bicolanos, particularly Naguenos, by keeping us all up to date with the latest news. Hearing their struggles and triumphs gave everyone, myself included, much encouragement to continue doing what we’re doing.

Now, I am not being modest in saying that we are not the best. In all honesty, we know that as a business, we aren’t the best. There are many tour operators and travel agencies in Bicol that have been in existence longer, that have more experience and are making more money. We are a start-up and we’re still learning the ropes. We are far from being the best – at least in the usual business perspective. 

But I would like to think that the BoB Talk organizers may have seen something in our company to want to have us at the talk.

So,  yes, we are a travel business. We do the usual ticketing, selling of packages abroad and around the country – but our focus is inbound tours. Basically, showcasing what we feel is the Best of Bicol – the Butanding of Donsol, the majestic Mayon volcano, the white sand islands of Caramoan, the hilots of Magarao, the built heritage of Naga, the pili, the spice, the coconut milk.

Before moving to Naga, I worked with an NGO called Gawad Kalinga. In a nutshell, GK focuses on building communities to end poverty. Such a daunting task. We build homes, run programs for health, for child and youth development, productivity and livelihood. With over 2,000 communities in the country – 32 of which are here in Camarines Sur – we have sites in different stages of development.

So, it made perfect sense that, if we were to start a business, it would be something that can connect to our communities, something that can ignite Filipino pride. There is nothing like an excellent travel experience to make you fall in love with a country. And that is exactly what we want – for more people to fall head over heels in love with the Philippines.

Our flagship is what we call the Patriotic Tour. Some call it community tourism, voluntourism or social tourism. We create a travel experience in which guests experience the best of Bicol, and in which they can also give their best to Bicol as well. The presence of these volunteers always has a strong impact on the community – especially the kids. They gain confidence, they gain exposure, they gain new friends. Our volunteers on the other hand get their dose of adventure, the beach, the culture and the genuine hospitality of our communities. Our volunteers have this opportunity to help and we feel it brings out the best in them as well.

Patriotic Tour
Building homes in Siruma, Camarines Sur

Honestly, the work of GK is far from over, and because of these guests, we have new sources of funding to repaint, to reconstruct, to run programs. But we don’t always want to be in this position. Waiting for the generous, adventure type (who are most probably young people with not a lot of money of their own) to come help sustain the work is not the best or quickest way out of poverty.

We hope that one day we can be a social enterprise and be able to create a real, positive, sustainable impact on our communities because of tourism. That people will join the tours not to help rebuild and not to see poverty, but to experience how beautiful life is in the countryside. That they will visit the villages because they are productive, thriving because of agriculture, sewing, or hilot.

This is the direction GK is going. With the GK Center for Social Innovation, we hope to raise social entrepreneurs that will partner with our communities – providing livelihood, creating Filipino brands, selling quality products and services that we can be proud of.

Our village university for social entrepreneurship is in Bulacan. There, we offer camps, trainings, seminars on social enterprise. We share the story of our products: Bayani Brew, Human Nature, Theo & Philo, Gourmet Keso and my new favorite, Cream of the Crop – the clean ice cream.

Classic Bayani Brew and Purple Leaf - lovingly brewed at the Enchanted Farm
Classic Bayani Brew and Purple Leaf – lovingly brewed at the Enchanted Farm

Spiral Sun can help you organize trips to the farm so that more people can be inspired to put up an enterprise of his/her own together with the community.

What is exciting for us though, is that the next Enchanted Farm will be here in Bicol. In GK Libmanan. With the right partners we will have a hub for social enterprise in Camarines Sur.

To be the best of Bicol for us means we will provide the best for our people to also be the best. Thats what GK does. It allows all of us, even the business community, to help the least become the best.

We promise to work hard in promoting the best of Bicol, para maging da-Best ang Bicol, kasama ang lahat, pati ang mahirap.