12 Things You’ll Realize When You Hit Rock Bottom and Survive

2016 was a big year for me.

It was the year my son was born. But it was also the year when R2R almost closed.

So that was the year when I was trying my best to be happy so that my then unborn baby will be healthy, but at the same time, I would cry almost every day because of all the painful things we had to do to survive. But those, and the reasons why we even got there in the first place are in a much longer story for another day. Actually, that is a story for a (very thick) book in the future, probably.

When I was going through what I thought was the hardest year of my life, there were times when I wished that I could just collapse and get confined just so I can sleep under meds. I took everything personally. I used every wrong decision as ammunition to shoot myself in the heart. I saw every right decision as a fluke. I said no to a lot of invitations to share or talk about what we do because I did not believe that what I had to say was of value. It was a terrible place to be in.


We thought that our R2R Christmas party last 2016 was going to be our last one. This was me (barely 2 months after giving birth) with our team, talking to our artisans about the very real possibility of closing our enterprise. The artisans and our team knew that this was coming since the first quarter of the year and we never stopped updating them and being transparent with them even when it was hard to.

No one outside my immediate family knew that I was going through these internal struggles. From the outside, I probably looked like the strongest, most resilient person who can take on anything. Sure, I was vulnerable too. I was very honest and transparent with our team and artisans about what we were going through and the very big possibility of closing the company we all loved. I showed emotion, and even if it seemed big and all-out, it was only a scrap of the whole mass of emotions I was going through. I don’t think I showed that I was so broken.

It has been about 3 years since and I have had lots of time to reflect on the things I have learned during the time when learning was the hardest, but the only thing left to do.

If you are reading this because you have experienced the same or are going through your own challenges, I hope this helps.  

  1. You are more resilient than you think you are
  2. There is a kind of liberation about accepting the possibility of the worst-case scenario and knowing that you can take it and it would not define you
  3. When you have (almost) nothing to lose, you have everything you need to hustle
  4. People love success stories. People also love being part of success stories in some way. But in between the beginning and success is a long, difficult road that only a few people would truly go through. Appreciate those who go through this with you.
  5. There is nowhere to go but up. Really.
  6. You learn more from failure than from success
  7. When you are failing, some people will help you and some people will step aside to let you fail (believing that you need it). Both groups are valuable, you’ll just like the first group more. Ask for help anyway.
  8. Almost all of your failures will have a pattern. That’s how lessons work I guess; they stick around until you actually learn them.
  9. Even if you are fighting for your life, take a few minutes a day to be grateful and plan for the future. Your future self will thank you.
  10. The possibility of a BIG and public failure is hard and really (really) painful to imagine. But failure, even the most public ones, become old news quite fast. There is always a chance to reinvent yourself and become better
  11. Failure stories make success stories more interesting. Wait, scratch that. Failure stories MAKE success stories.
  12. When you are going through the most difficult times, it is important to stay strong. But it is more important to stay kind. It is easy to be kind when life is kind but being kind is necessary especially when life is not.

During our darkest days, I would go into the rabbit hole of online self-help articles on failure, bouncing back, reinventing after failure, and staying strong. I was not reading about how to not fail, we were WAY past that. I was reading about how to rise above failure. I read and re-read those articles, finding comfort in the fact that a lot of people have gone through the same or worse. Some of the articles did not end well, but some did. All of them reminded me that life is so much more than work, career, or any aspect of life that may seem all-consuming and self-defining.

Now that we are out of the darkest days and I have processed most of the lessons from that time, I’m going to add to all those articles, and hope someone reading this could find comfort in our story not just because it did not end badly, but because it could have and it still made us better.

As someone who failed and almost lost an advocacy and work I loved and built for almost a decade, I think I offer a unique perspective on survival, self-worth, vulnerability, and success.

On Survival

I have gone through all stages of grief already and we only made it here because of two reasons. The first reason is because of a few very unlikely chances to survive were happening all at the same time and a few people who decided to make them happen even when all the odds were against us. So yes, luck played a part. But the second reason was that we (my husband, team, and artisans) kept our hopes up and hustled for the life of the company we love, so when the chances to survive came, we were ready to take them on. While luck played a part, if we were not ready for it, we would have still missed it.

We (our team, artisans, advocates) had the perspective of giving our 100% regardless of the outcome. We gave 100% because if we made it, we will know that we gave 100%. But if we did not make it, we will still know we gave it our best shot. We either win or gain the strength of character.

On Self-worth

I realized that the end of R2R would not have been the end of my life or journey. It would not have been the end of anyone’s life or journey. Because R2R is only a part of our lives, no matter how beautiful, all-consuming, and at times, self-defining it was.

On Vulnerability

This is probably the hardest, scariest, and most vulnerable blog post I had to write (and I have written a lot of scary and vulnerable posts already). Three years after the darkness, it is still hard to talk about the darkness. But everything in life has something to offer, even darkness. And pain, darkness, hopelessness all exist. There is no point in denying them. And maybe in shedding light on them, some of them could be realized as lessons, turning points, and moments of clarity.

On Success

Today, R2R is going through some exciting developments. We have survived. But beyond just surviving, we are thriving and continuing the advocacies we started. And I am most proud that we got here without losing ourselves or our values.

There is something to be said about surviving difficulties. We praise the survivors for surviving. But I think that there is something even more important. We must also recognize those who go through the hardest things in life with kindness, sincerity, and unwavering hopefulness. Because you get the most out of challenges not just when you go through them but when you grow better because of them. IMG_4904

I pinned this on my secret Pinterest board last December 25, 2016. This secret Pinterest board knows all the things I went through in the form of quotes and words.

3 questions I had before Davos (and the answers after)

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Last week, I went to Davos for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. It was my first time and I did not know what to expect. I did have a LOT of questions though. Some of my questions were quite trivial like “is it going to be crazy cold?”, “will there be rice somewhere?”, “will I cry every time I miss my baby?” and “do I have the right shoes for the event + snow + walking + dancing?”. Let’s get those out of the way. The answers were: no, yes, almost always, and yes!

Of course, I also had more substantial questions that have the potential to guide my decisions and actions for my life, work, and advocacy. Throughout the week, I was able to gather some answers and learn a lot.

Question 1: Will I be able to represent our artisans, advocacies, and country?

Answer 1:

YES! I was given the opportunity to speak in two sessions. The first session was about enabling E-commerce for small enterprises to become global players. I was part of a panel together with Jack Ma (Alibaba), Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz (Peru), and Director-General Roberto Azevedo (WTO), moderated by Richard Samans (WEF). And the second session was a dinner panel called “You Are What You Wear” where I was a discussion leader together with Stella McCartney, Ellen MacArthur, Stefan Doboczky, Valter Sanches, and Vincent Biruta, moderated by Hadley Gamble.

These sessions were planned (so well) ahead of time and though I prepared, I was still really wondering if a voice as small as mine representing artisans and communities will be heard in a stage as big as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Big businesses and policy makers meet in this place, discuss ideas on how to improve the state of the world, and for a few, even actually create collaborations that bring about systemic change. It was easy to feel small indeed! And let’s be honest here, we are small (and I don’t just mean my height). But this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a great thing!

See, our being small allow us to see things from the ground and the grassroots where most of the people are. And when we talk about improving the state of the world, we cannot possibly forget the majority of the world.

For both the sessions I contributed in, I was probably the one closest to the grassroots. And I took that as a huge responsibility to magnify the needs from the ground and really represent the voices that need to be heard by the decision makers that affect their lives. This role was a bit daunting (fine, VERY daunting), but it was exciting and inspiring. A few days after the Annual Meeting, I was already in touch with industry leaders and luminaries who are interested to get our insights for policies and business decisions, as well as collaborate with us (more on that soon!)!

Question 2: What sessions / people will surprise me and make an impact on me?

Answer 2: 

There were a few sessions that I really enjoyed and learned from, but the most memorable ones were also the most painful.

I have been exposed to poverty almost all my life so it was easy for me to say that I have seen it all. It was devastating to be reminded that pain and suffering is still happening every single day in extreme situations that I could only imagine.

The first session that made an impact on me was the one where Cate Blanchett talked about her experiences and advocacy as a Goodwill Ambassador of the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency). I was not expecting to hear the things I heard from the session. But maybe that was also because I did not set many expectations. Like many who signed up for the session, I was there in-part as an admirer of her work as an actress, and perhaps mildly interested in what she had to say about the plight of refugees around the world. I left the room incredibly touched by the stories she shared and challenged by how big the problems are. I realised something that I knew all along but forget sometimes: that we are all human beings, figuring things out together and trying our best to make sense of what we are capable of (both good and evil) and how we can be better or make things better for others.

That session foreshadowed another event that made an impact on me: A Day in the Life of a Refugee. Mark and I attended this during our last day (it was running for the whole duration of the annual meeting) and it put a lot of the things we learned, into perspective.

The program started with a simulation where the participants (us!) were assigned random “identities” that we will own while inside the 20-minute simulation. My identity was Suad Yehia, a 15-year old unmarried factory worker who is malnourished and have no assets to even buy food or medicine. During the 20 minutes, the participants experienced a morsel of what it is like to live as a refugee in camps around the world. After the simulation, we heard harrowing yet hopeful stories from past refugees themselves or aid workers working with refugees.

The Day in the Life of a Refugee experience was definitely memorable and eye-opening. I am strangely comforted that my experience working in poverty alleviation has not made me callous to the needs of others, no matter how disturbing or painful they may be.

It is easy to think that I am already doing my part and doing enough but the truth is, there is still so much to be done. And it is also easy to think that the problems of the world are too big and there is nothing we can do, when in fact, every single thing we actually do, matters.

To learn more about the program and how you can help, visit http://www.refugee-run.org/. And of course, closer to home, you can explore how you can contribute to different organizations that are creating solutions to various social problems such as hunger, homelessness, lack of quality education, and poverty, among many others.

Question 3: Who will be changing the world? And how can we create bigger impact together?

Answer 3:

Many people I have met in Davos are already changing the world and I know that more people will. For one, a of lot partnerships between social entrepreneurs (the community I am part of!) and key decision-makers are already in discussion, and I’m excited for the future because of these collaborations. When powerful decision-makers come together, big things can happen. But when powerful decision-makers come together with leaders who represent the powerless, good things can begin.

But this is just a small part of the big change that has to happen.

World-changing is not exclusive to the big decision-makers because if you really think about it, we are all decision-makers. The small or big decisions we make may seem inconsequential, but when we think through consequence number 100+ of our decisions, we’ll realise that they go a long way. World-changing is everyone’s business because… well, everyone lives in the world and we are all stewards of this only home we have so far.

It may sound like the biggest cliche ever, but it is still true that making the world a better place starts and continues with each one of us. And if we consolidate and coordinate our efforts even in small communities, the impact we can create will be far more than what we can do alone.

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Schwab Social Entrepreneurs!

And speaking of creating bigger impact together…  

As always, we are working triple time to build R2R as a global brand that artisans can rely on as a viable and sustainable partner to help improve their lives. We have been doing this for 10 years and through all the challenges and little wins, you, our advocates, have been with us. You cheered us on, supported us, gave us valuable feedback, granted us second chances (and more), and created positive impact with us all these years. And we know that like us, you are in this for the long-haul.

Because we are in this together, we are sharing with you some of the things we are working on to create more positive impact. And if you have any ideas or partnership possibilities you could direct our way, we would be most joyful and grateful!

Here are a few of the partnerships and possibilities we are searching for:

  • International distribution through retailers (could be boutiques, chains of boutiques, etc.) in key countries around the world – while we probably won’t be able to supply all immediately, it would be great to get connected to markets for our current as well as future capacity and communities!
  • Partnerships with corporations that can include us and our artisans in their supply chains! We have done one-off partnerships with brands we love (like corporate gifts, etc.), but if ever there are chances to partner with companies for the long-term too, that would be awesome!
  • Partnerships with global brands and designers who can collaborate with us to create amazing products and put a spotlight on what our artisans can do
  • Partnerships with social enterprises and artisan-supportive brands from all over the Philippines and Asia to join our platform www.thingsthatmatter.ph, which is a joyful marketplace that creates positive impact and inspires an intentional lifestyle.

Ideas? Connections? Exciting possibilities? We are so excited to hear from you! Send me a note: reese.fernandez@rags2riches.ph.


Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Schwab Social Entrepreneur 2013

Young Global Leader 2012

World Economic Forum



About 10 years ago, we started R2R with Php 10,000, a group of hopeful social entrepreneurs, a small community of women artisans, and a huge dream. We wanted to create a fashion and design house empowering community artisans in the Philippines. We knew it was not going to be easy but it was going to be worth it. Fast forward to today, we now have 10 years of experience in building, failing, bouncing back, and building again.

While we are so joyful that a lot more are now creating inclusive supply chains and community-centered enterprises, we know that there’s still so much to be done. Bridging artisans to markets is easy; keeping the market interested is harder. Connecting designers to artisans is easy; creating a culture of design in the artisan communities is much harder.

But the hardest thing to do is to build something that lasts. So we thought, why not share all the wins and mistakes we have learned along the way to more social enterprises, brands for a cause, community artisans, and small-scale producers? And the best time to do this is on our 10th anniversary this November 2017!


Our team is so excited because, for the past few months, we have been building Things That Matter, a joyful marketplace that creates positive impact and inspires an intentional lifestyle. But it is more than just a one-stop shop for all beautiful and meaningful products. It is also a community of advocates who are creating a better world, one intentional decision at a time.


We are overjoyed and excited to invite YOU to be one of the first advocates of Things That Matter! We are launching this November and when you sign up for our Things That Matter newsletter, we’ll give you Php 250 off your first purchase. Yes! Php 250 off for shopping for things that are beautiful, useful, and meaningful. Sign up here now.

Lastly, follow Things That Matter on Instagram and Facebook to know more about which social enterprises, brands, and communities we have on board and other exciting updates in the coming days!

In Good Company Podcast

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Oh hi!

So, after years of public speaking, I did not think I will still be quite shy about my voice (literally and figuratively) but I still am! haha There is a very compelling reason for me to finally come out and speak up. See, for the past few months, I have been searching, struggling, and scrambling desperately for inspiration and good news. Thankfully, I am quite fortunate to experience bits and pieces of hope and inspiration around me that I thought others should know about too! So I got over myself and decided to somehow share these stories through a medium that I am using to learn as well: podcasting!

A few months ago, Tom Graham and I met up, brainstormed, and shortly after, we started recording a podcast together called In Good Company. This podcast will explore the lives, careers, and advocacies of people who want to create positive impact in the world. Big words, I know. haha The journey of making this podcast has been already so inspiring and definitely quenched a little bit of my thirst for inspiration, so I hope more people can find inspiration through this as well!

We are launching this VERY SOON and we’ll announce the date in our Facebook Page: In Good Company Podcast. Don’t forget to like and follow for more details!

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I thought it would be easy


Or at least easier than this.

But nothing worth it ever come easy, I should have known. For one reason or another, I thought that there will be some free passes and shortcuts because we were “doing something good”. And to be honest, there were times when we did. But when the hype declined and the real daily grind happened, the concessions we enjoyed because we were new, trendy, and “doing good”, also declined.

When we started R2R nine years ago (!!!), I was about a year out of college. It was a scary and exciting time because I chose a path that I did not fully understand and yet it fully occupied my thoughts and imagination. I loved the idea of becoming a social entrepreneur! It sounded new, exciting, smart, brave, and, for lack of a better term, “good”.

But 9 years has a way of untangling hubris and making things clearer. And I’m still going through a lot of untangling. A long time ago, I decided to write this whole process down and even keep some voice memos so that I’ll always remember.

So I am writing this entry more for myself than for you (whoever you are :)), so that I am always reminded of what truly matters. But if these help you too, that would be awesome!

If it is not yet obvious, I LOVE lists. haha So here is a list of the things I have learned. Because I’m writing this more for myself, it is the kind of honesty that I could take from myself: no holds barred.

I have learned that:

1) Livelihood is not just a project. If it is, it is not livelihood, it is a project. Working with community artisans is hard work and it is definitely not a feel-good endeavour. Not to say that it won’t feel good at all. It will! But if feeling good is a main motivator, you are so not going to last here.
2) Creating impact is more than just increasing income, it is about creating more opportunities constantly and consistently. Increasing the income of others is the easiest thing to do. The long-term impact that matters is not easy to do, but must be done.
3) If something is handmade and super cheap, someone else is paying for it. And it is not the customer or the business.
4) You will get lots (LOTS) of advice from well-meaning people and a lot of them will expect you to follow their advice especially when you asked for it. Sometimes, you’ll never know if the advice is good or bad until you try it. So now you know. haha #GAH
5) You’ll eventually make good decisions because you have learned from your bad ones. And even if you flip it and reverse it, the pain of these bad decisions led you to the good ones.
6) Practice curiosity. Sometimes you are an introvert but sometimes you use your introversion to be a snob. Know the difference. 🙂
7) Yes, you don’t have family money, the limbs of a supermodel, an angle-less face (in fact you only have one angle), a well-curated closet, or connections that will get you massive social media following, BUT you have your own currency. Listen to Amy Poehler:

“Decide what your currency is and let go of what you don’t have.” –

Amy Poehler, Yes Please 

8) You will feel insignificant in the face of the newest shiny things that look so bright and bold. But don’t lose sight of the long-term. Because…
9) It does not matter if you came here first and it does not matter who is the latest. What matters is endurance and grit in the face of challenges and yes, in the face of new shiny things.
10) If it is a business with purpose, it needs to continue to be a business (profitable, sustainable), for the purpose to continue. And this may sound easy, but it comes with the most painful, lose-your-sleep kinds of decisions.
11) The goal of your enterprise is not to be obsolete as a company but to make the qualifier “ethical” not necessary in the future because it is the only way to do things.
12) There is virtue in doing good quietly, but declaring a business model that is doing good has value in it too. When you declare something (good work, struggles, intentions, setbacks and all), you hold yourself accountable with the public as your witness. You will allow yourself to be visible, susceptible to criticisms yet at the same time become a source of inspiration.

Entrepreneurship 101: A Disorganised List of Lessons Learned in Entrepreneurship Part 1

I’m starting a new series here called “My Disorganised List of Lessons Learned in Entrepreneurship”. Because I have actual work to do and a baby to deliver soon, I don’t have a lot of time to write coherent articles. What I do have though are lots and lots of little lessons that I wrote down for myself for the past few years. These are the lessons I wish I knew before learning them the hard way. But oh well, the lessons learned with pain tend to stick. I’m sharing these with the hope that some of you may not need to go through them to learn from them and if you still go through them, you won’t feel alone.

So here they are in bullet points! Not all of them are applicable to all businesses though so you would have to decide which ones are applicable to you.

1.) Start somewhere! Don’t overthink the whole “starting” thing

I know it is easier said than done, but small steps could go a long way. The first step in starting a business is creating a product/service and validating it in the market. It does not matter if the product is imperfect, it is a good idea to test it out anyway but be very honest that it is a sample/prototype. I have heard people say “make your product good enough first because if you fail, you’ll never get another chance”, but I found that that is not necessarily true for everyone. We started R2R with a less than perfect website (oh, don’t get me started here) and products that needed a lot of development (like a lot), but we started anyway, learned from feedback, stuck to the vision, and improved one step at a time.

You can try something out, and if it makes you less nervous, try it out with family and trusted friends. You’ll learn a lot more from trying than thinking on your own.

2.) Money is not always a blessing.

Really. Having too much money or resources can make you do stupid things. When you have a problem in the company, don’t just throw money at it or solve the problem with money. For example, if you have a problem with getting your brand name more known, don’t just spend a lot of resources on ads or big events. Think about your target market, where they are, who they are, and what they could possibly want/need from you. For all you know, you’ll be able to already reach them through cost-effective ways like targeted Facebook ads or newsletter marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, money is important and it can definitely make things easier. But if you are a start-up with limited resources (even if they don’t seem limited in the beginning – trust me, money drains up fast), be diligent enough to think of ways outside of money to solve problems. At the very least, you’ll be able to stretch the resources that you have and spend on the things that matter for your business.

3.) Hustle for as long as you can – don’t act or spend like a big company when you are a start-up

When we were starting in R2R, there was a time when we got a lot of resources and one of the first things we did was “hire professionals”. This meant that overhead increased faster than our growth. In retrospect, we should have stayed lean and agile for a longer time. We should have used the resources to build our market and test products rather than hiring a lot of people right away. There are lots of businesses today that are thriving with only a few people (awesome, hardworking, and really smart people) behind them, and I think there is great value in maintaining a lean team. Hustling is not just about working with a leaner team though, it is also about a lot of other aspects of the business!

Hustling and keeping your business lean and agile means that you don’t immediately hire away your problems or build departments, layers, levels or red tape/bureaucracy that would (probably) fit a bigger company.

When your business is starting up and you are figuring out a lot of things (like your product, market, and business model), having some set-in-stone systems and a huge team to support may do more harm than good. Choose the systems and people you really need. Don’t overcomplicate your already complicated life. 🙂

4.) Listen to mentors and advisors BUT, don’t immediately implement every single suggestion

Mentors come from different experiences and chances are, they will give you inputs that come from their own experiences. Their experiences may or may not be applicable to you. And also, some of these inputs will be consistent, others will be in conflict with each other. So when everything is said and done, you’ll still decide on which way to go. Communicate with your mentors on why you are taking or not taking their advice. While it is important to listen to advice, it is also as important to stand up for what you believe in and own up to it.

5.) Prioritise! When you have really limited resources, don’t spend your last few thousands on mid-term needs or nice-to-haves

Leverage the little that you have to generate more cash/revenue so that you can reach the mid-term in the first place.

For example, if you only have, let’s say, 30,000 pesos left (and no immediate cash coming in), what would you prioritise among these 3 things that are important to you and your company? a.) Go out on a team outing because the team has been working so hard lately, b.) Purchase a new AC because summer is coming soon and the office needs to be a conducive place to work in, or c.) Join an upcoming well-reviewed bazaar.

While each of the options is quite important, remember that you only have 30K left. If you spend it on either a.) or b.), you won’t have enough cash to live long enough to enjoy them. If you choose c.), you might be able to double your 30K and generate more revenue. Eventually, you will be able to afford both a.) and b.), but you have to decide on leveraging what you have left. It is important to explain these decisions to your team and those who will be affected by the decisions. Being transparent is not easy, but if done right, the team will understand and together, you’ll survive! And yes, these times will happen when you are running a growing business.

6.) Don’t compare your entrepreneurship journey to others

Yeah, so I used to do this a LOT. I would look around and feel bad/sad about how our progress as a business was considerably harder and slower than others. I know it may not look that way from the outside, but the inside is a lot more complicated and unglamorous.

I would compare the number of years it took us to launch great products to the number of years it took someone else to. I would compare revenues, profitability, marketing strategy, leadership capabilities, and almost everything and anything I could think of. It was not healthy or helpful.

During these moments, I forgot that our journey is very different. We chose to be a social enterprise and start with building communities with our community artisans. We knew the short cuts but we chose the longer path with the conviction that it is the more sustainable one. Unlike others, we did not have celebrity power, huge capital, deep pockets, and connections. I mean, sure, we had a lot of celebrity support, but that is different from being celebrities ourselves. We had investors, but that is different from having our own money that we could draw from anytime and every time we need it. We were dealt a completely different set of cards from others and we chose a different path, so of course, our journey would look very different!

It is great to look at successful entrepreneurship stories, but if you get into the trap of comparing apples to oranges, you’ll just be disappointed. Spending energy on comparing your journey with others is not only disappointing, it is unproductive. Instead of comparing, draw inspiration from others. Look for the lessons you can learn from them and apply them to your situation.

For example, if you have been working on building your personal care brand for years and find yourself comparing your journey with Jessica Alba’s relatively quick rise to success (although she did work for years to get to her current celebrity status too), think instead about what connects her customers to her. Think about what connects you to your customers. Your currency may not be “celebrity power”, but you have your own unique currency that you can work on. Your personal care brand may not scale as fast as Jessica Alba’s, but your journey is unique and it is yours.

The Wrong Motivations for Starting A Social Enterprise

For the past 8 years, I have seen aspiring social entrepreneurs rise up, burn out, rise up again (for a few), and for some, eventually just burn up (resource-wise, motivation-wise). There are so many reasons for this of course, and one of them is starting with and keeping the wrong motivations.

My title is “the wrong motivations for starting a social enterprise”, but to be honest, there are motivations here that are perfectly fine (I struggled with most of them myself). BUT, each of them alone as the MAIN motivation for starting a social enterprise is weak and may make a social enterprise and a social entrepreneur crumble from within.

Note 1: even if I already have about 8 years of experience of running and building a social enterprise, I am still not an expert. Far from it. This article (among others) that I wrote about social entrepreneurship, meaning, and purpose, are all personal attempts to make sense of my experiences and share a few of the lessons I have learned along the way. BUT. I am still not done learning. I may be a few pages ahead, but honestly, I don’t know how many more pages are in this book! So if you have personal experiences too and lessons you would like to share, please do share them and let’s learn together! 

Note 2: For the purposes of this particular article, the definition of “social enterprise” will simply be an initiative, project, or business committed to creating positive impact or solving a social problem. There are so many schools of thought for the definition itself and it would need a separate entry! 

1) I want to be my own boss

How it looks like/sounds like: I want to be my own boss, handle my own time, have a team (with people I like) I could manage, and call the shots! All these while doing good! What an awesome deal!

What the work is really like: Wanting to be your own boss is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not a bad thing actually. But making it the main motivation could be dangerous to your health, emotions, and team culture.

The truth is, having your own social enterprise (or any enterprise at that) means that while you may hold your own time, you are rarely off-duty. And being an entrepreneur means that yes, on paper, you are kind of the “boss”, but in reality, you have to make sure that your team, customers, communities, stakeholders, board members, are engaged, happy, and productive.

Oh, and chances are, you won’t be able to always choose who you work with and who you serve. On the down side, you’ll get to deal with people from different backgrounds who will appreciate, challenge, frustrate, and make you hopeful, all at the same time. On the bright side, well, just repeat the reasons for the down side, they are the same!

Being the “boss” truly actually means that you are the servant leader of all. You eat last, you sacrifice your own benefits for the sake of your team and community, you recognise the contribution of every single person in your company, and when things fail or go wrong, you take responsibility. Our society sometimes forgets that.

Maintaining an “I’m the boss” state of mind is not only dangerous to your health and emotions (because you won’t really feel that way often), it is also detrimental to your team and culture. People want to work for and with leaders with strong visions and missions, (not big egos) especially if they are with you because they believe in creating positive impact or solving a social problem too.

Reframing the motivation: Instead of “I want to be my own boss”, shift to “I want to be of service – what is the best way for me to serve?”



2) I want to help people

How it looks like/sounds like: I want to be a social entrepreneur so that I can help people

What the work is really like: It is true though, you can help people.:) And as one of the motivations, this is good! But as the main motivation, it is incomplete. Being a social entrepreneur does not mean that you are the “helper” and you have beneficiaries you are “saving” from poverty. When you go to a community, you are not there as a saviour. You are there as a learner, collaborator, and potential partner.

Reframing the motivation: I want to be part of the change and collaborate with others to create positive impact!

3) I want to win awards, travel the world, and be part of cool groups and fellowships – to further the advocacy

How it looks like/sounds like: I want to win awards, travel the world, be part of cool groups and fellowships so that I can advocate for what I do and spread this to more people! I could network with a lot of people so that I can expand our impact!

What the work is really like: Sure, you’ll get awards, travel the world, be part of cool groups and fellowships. And these are all exciting. But the truth is, majority of the meaningful work happens outside the spotlight. The work could get dull, boring, repetitive, discouraging, and painful at times, but these are all part of the work. Having all the “external rewards” as the main motivations is not just deceiving (you might think you have made it when you are actually far from where you need to be), it is exhausting and time-consuming. If you find yourself attending every single social, every single dinner get-together, every single learning opportunity that takes you out of your work for weeks or months at a time, and applying for every single award and grant while lacking the time and energy in doing the things that matter, it’s time to pause and reflect on what’s really important.

Reframing the motivation: How can I make my work valuable for those who I serve? How can I make real and concrete steps towards fulfilling my Mission?

4) I want to find meaning in life

How it looks like/sounds like: I want to be a social entrepreneur to make my life meaningful

What the work is really like: It might make your life meaningful, but if chasing after this meaning becomes your main motivation, a few demotivating & disappointing events may make you give up.

Creating a social enterprise is not about making one person feel meaningful. It is meant to be for social good. And there will be times when you’ll question your capabilities, endurance, self-worth, and yes, even your purpose. The whole social enterprise ride is a fun one but filled with lots of unexpected roadblocks and apparent detours.

Reframing the motivation: I want to be a social entrepreneur to find meaning and purpose for and with others.



5) I want to see the immediate results of my actions! It is so hard to wait on the government

How it looks like/sounds like: We have so many things to fix in the country! And the government is too slow/bureaucratic/inefficient. I want to see change and I want it to start with me and my social enterprise!

What the work is really like: Surprise! It also takes a long time to create lasting and sustainable positive impact, wherever you are. And you may not be able to see the real and big results right away. Creating positive impact is a long-term build and commitment. We are not in the business of quick fixes.

Sure, you may think that the “results” are the number of smiles the people gave you because their lives are better, the number of people you have “touched”, and maybe even the number of goods and services you have provided. But all of these are not actually THE results (sorry). Some of them are indicators, some are activities, and the others are great memories you share with your partners. But the real results are the long-term ones that take a while to happen, and they stay even after our time.

Reframing the motivation: What are the real and lasting results of my social enterprise? How can we work towards these? How can I engage with the government and other partners to create systems that support these (yes, you need to engage! You can only do so much in your own little bubble)?

6) I want to feel good inside and feel that I’m doing something awesome for the world

How it looks like/sounds like: I want to be a social entrepreneur so that every day, I go home feeling good about what I have contributed to the world. This is the best way to live!

What the work is really like: It is perfectly fine to want to feel loved and appreciated!:) But if this is the main motivation for building a social enterprise, you’ll probably leave in a few months (or weeks/days). Working towards something long-term and creating something of value for others and for the world, takes a lot of time, patience, and understanding. You will not always be thanked, praised, and even loved. There will be days when you’ll feel alone, under appreciated, and tired. Working with communities and partners is a long-term process of building trust and meaningful relationships. Just like the best marriages and friendships, it will go through a lot of challenges and doubts that will make the relationships even stronger.

Reframing the motivation: What will keep me going? What is my WHY? What is my North Star when the going gets tough and I feel like giving up? What would make me stay when the good feeling goes away?



One of the Forgotten Things About Starting a Start-Up

When R2R was starting, it was kind of a side hustle for me and for our other co-founders. Jumping into entrepreneurship is exciting and nowadays, romantic. People will tell you to just go for it, just do it, jump and make the parachute on the way down. And to some extent, those are true. 

But there is another truth that is not as emphasised (or known) by our well-meaning cheering squad. 

One of the most common questions I get asked when I give talks in provinces or schools is “how can I be an entrepreneur and support my family?”. Most of the young people who ask this are breadwinners of their families. They would love to jump into building an enterprise they are passionate about, but don’t have the bandwidth, capital, or even free time, to do so. Most of them have to get jobs with regular income straight out of college to help support their families and younger siblings. Our responsibilities may be different, but the concerns are somewhere along those lines too. How can I start an enterprise while making a living/supporting my family/paying for rent/paying for the bills/saving for the future/etc.?

Yes, jumping all-in into entrepreneurship is not as easy when you are “adulting” in life.

So here is one of the things that don’t get talked about or emphasised as often when people talk about entrepreneurship: If you want to eventually start your own, one of the best jump off points will be organizations (that you believe in of course!) with bosses that support side hustles and entrepreneurship. You can work part time or full time, learn on the job, and contribute, while still having some time and flexibility to start something you are passionate about. 

I was super fortunate because my bosses during my first job (Program Assistant for the Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Program of Ateneo School of Government) were so supportive when we were starting R2R at the same time. 

I still showed up for work every single day and even during the weekends when needed. I commuted like crazy rain or shine, and showed up in the office (mostly) on time (those were the days when traffic was not yet as bad as it is now, but it was still stressful). But even if I kept full-time hours, I did not feel censored or stuck. 

My bosses talked to me about career options, social entrepreneurship, R2R, and they even indulged my once-a-quarter (or maybe even more frequent than that) soul-searching consultations. I worked on R2R stuff right after work, during the night, and some weekends. I got my full Millennial on with my bosses, but they remained patient, kind, and encouraging. When I decided to leave after about a year to go full time in R2R, they were not just happy for me, they became our advocates too.:) 

I got my full Millennial on with my bosses, but they remained patient, kind, and encouraging

Without their support and guidance, it would have been extra challenging for me to work full-time on R2R with our co-founders. I would have also starved in the process – or lived exclusively on cup noodles (well, not the entire time because some of my friends adopted me – that’s another story for another day!). 

But of course, while my bosses were super kind and supportive, I also had to do my share. Here are some of the lessons I have learned when keeping a full-time job + starting a side hustle that you eventually want to transition to a full-time thing: 

1) Don’t shortchange the company/organization that supports you and provides you with the flexibility to do your side hustle/passion project. While there may be times when your mind will be filled with possibilities for your side hustle, always be present (physically and mentally), responsive, and give your 100%. A good work ethic does not just apply to your side hustle/passion project.

2) Maintain good relationships with the people you have worked with. 

3) Inform your bosses and the people you work with, about your side hustle especially if you expect it to take more time to do. Supportive bosses will help you figure out a good schedule that works for both of you. Stick to this schedule! 

4) When it’s time to leave your job, be decisive so that the company you are working for could immediately move forward, and do a proper turn-over

5) If there are things that your previous job would need from you weeks, even months after your resignation, be generous with your time and talent. Generosity goes a long way and will definitely be remembered and appreciated! 

6) Before you start your own company, figure out how you can build a great culture and a supportive environment that enables others to pursue their passions too! It will not be the easiest thing, especially when you have critical priorities and your company needs focus. But it could be done in baby steps, starting with flexible hours, creativity days, one-on-one sessions with your team members, and other small initiatives that could enrich your company and encourage your team. 

Starting something is not just dependent on the entrepreneur’s grit or hustle.

I have read hundreds of pages of books and blogs about being an entrepreneur. There are tips about hustling, being gritty, not giving up, focusing on the mission, and other really sound advice. But starting something is not just dependent on the entrepreneur’s grit or hustle. New things, including start ups, are nourished by an enabling environment with nurturing mentors and leaders. It is important to identify them, seek them out, and engage with them.

I would not be here without them. 

So here is a shoutout, a long-overdue thank you, to the mentors and leaders who made it possible for us to get this far.:) Thank you Fr Ben Nebres, Dean Tony La Vina, Arnel Casanova, and Harvey Keh! 

Why Finding Your Passion is Not Enough

Warning: Venn Diagrams ahead 

When I was younger, I thought that I really wanted to 1.) graduate with honours, 2.) get a high paying job in a multinational corporation, 3.) climb up the corporate ladder, 4.) go for an MBA or further studies, and 5.) build my own company to be my own boss. In that order. And that is a perfectly good path. I know lots of people who are on this path and they love it! But I came up with this roadmap not because I felt passionate about it, but because I thought that it made the most sense.

See, I did not have the connections, inheritance, free flowing allowance, or the luxury to figure myself out and eat, pray, love. Nope. Earning a stable income was not a personal goal, it was a requirement for survival. Literally. So early on, I conditioned myself to choose the most stable and less risky path.

But life happened during college and utterly disturbed me. Ateneo’s “Men and Women for and with Others” happened. Philosophy, Theology, Socially Oriented Organizations, and Gawad Kalinga happened. I started reflecting and discerning a lot and realised that this is what I really want (that dark pink area in the middle):

The Venn Diagram of finding the passion you can pursue in life 


I got incredibly fortunate to find this in R2R (Rags2Riches, Inc.) almost right after college, while working as Program Assistant for the Ateneo School of Government’s Youth Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program. I stuck to one thing for 8 years. And I love it! BUT. That is not what this article is about (I’ll write about that in the future). This article is about identity and about how doing what you love (or having your own pink area in your Venn diagram) is not equal to finding or defining yourself. I wish I knew this earlier. I mean, I knew this conceptually, but concepts are easy, living them is harder (guess the Hamilton song reference). 

Note to self: Your passion and the company/business/activity that manifests it, are parts of you. Do not get lost in it.

For the first few years (and until now), the company was growing, surviving, and learning. It needed my focus and dedication. I thought I could not afford to do anything else. I mean, sure, I went on vacations, watched a lot of TV, watched TED talks, joined some workshops and events. But mindshare-wise, I did not allow anything else in. No side hustles and no unrelated intellectual curiosities. And to a certain extent, that was okay. I deeply believe in the company’s mission after all and we were trying to solve a social problem that we were passionate about. It truly deserved focus and dedication.

But this is what happened to me: I focused on my work in R2R and unintentionally made it define me. I never allowed myself to feel that I deserved credit for anything in R2R but at the same time, I did not know what I was good at (or good for) without it.

After a few years of this kind of mindset, my Venn diagram looked like this:

The Venn Diagram of Getting Lost


It was incredibly lonely to be that little dot lost in that big wonderful thing. And yes, it looks like a pimple too (haha). For good reason. My situation was not helping the big wonderful thing that I love.

I stopped learning, listening, and growing outside of the work I’m passionate about. And that did not help the work I’m passionate about.

How did I realize all these? Well, for one, I was no longer curious and could not remember the last time when I was. I was no longer fascinated or impressed with anything. I would travel for work but won’t have that wide-eyed wonder anymore. I would meet really interesting people but I won’t be interested.

Because I got too caught up with what I love doing, I forgot how to appreciate it or anything outside of it. I became almost like a snob who thought that I knew it all, and I have been there and done that. Yet strangely enough, at the same time, I felt inadequate and undeserving. What a weirdo.

It all caught up with me about a few months ago (or maybe creeping up since a few years ago) when we had to go through the biggest challenge that we have ever faced in R2R (another story for another time). At the same time, I got pregnant. These two huge milestones shook me. This combination was new to me. Because I lived inside my own mental solitary confinement for so long, I suddenly did not know how to move forward. I was not able to practice the mental and emotional agility that comes with opening up to the world. So the feelings of inadequacy came back. I repeated the vicious cycle.

But instead of drowning in it this time, I decided to get out of it. I am going to be a mom (thank you mommy hormones too, I think you helped)! And R2R’s challenge is about to become its biggest breakthrough! I could feel overwhelmed, but I should not drown, and I must not stop.

So recently, I started opening my world again to the different areas in my life that needed to grow. Instead of being a little dot (or pimple) within my passion, I am my own person with a bigger purpose and my passion has a life of its own too. I am part of it and it is a part of me. And this kind of relationship enriches us both (come to think of it, same principle applies for other kinds of relationships). It kind of looks like this now:


I think doing what you love is still important. It is one of the best ways to live. Yes, still look for that pink area in your own Venn diagram. It will be challenging, and it will be worth it.

But your personal WHY is bigger than that area and even bigger than your passion – so find a WHY that transcends the roles and encourages you to express and manifest your purpose in every aspect of your life.

Yup, I’m ending this with a cheesy video that relates to this whole article.. 😉 If you have not watched the movie yet, you should! OR, just watch this clip. No spoilers here (I think).