Filipino Shopkeepers Get Help Breaking Into Mobile Phone Market

BY Larisa Epatko  February 12, 2013 at 12:12 PM EST


Photo courtesy of Hapinoy.

Mark Ruiz, a young Filipino social entrepreneur we profiled last year in our Agents for Change series, is about to embark on the next chapter of his Hapinoy project by helping small shopkeepers in his home country adapt to the ever-growing mobile phone market.

In the spirit of our “State of Our Union” package, in which we update some of our stories of the past year, we decided to check back in with Ruiz.

Hapinoy helps supply shopkeepers in poor areas of the Philippines with products at a discount. When last we spoke to Ruiz, he and his team were planning to hand over the delivery of everyday goods such as coffee and shampoo to supplier Tao Corp., freeing them up to focus on another much-needed service: mobile phones.

This year, they’re on track to expand into another poor area of the Philippines — Bicol in the southeastern part of Luzon Island — to train shopkeepers in mobile phone technology starting in March. Besides the obvious use of the phones for staying in touch, the residents of Bicol will be able to receive money transfers from their relatives more easily via phone.

Ruiz said that in December they began to do a more studied approach to see which villages to enter with Hapinoy’s services, and the following month a field team began scoping out Bicol.

In Bicol, the small shopkeepers tend to be mothers, “who are not as technologically savvy as younger people,” he said. A large part of the new program will be training them in basic mobile phone literacy.

Ruiz said he has learned that his organization can have the largest impact — and do the greatest good — by focusing on what it does best, and “partnering out” the other necessary programs — including distribution of goods and microfinancing the storeowners — to other organizations and private firms that specialize in those areas.

“The biggest lesson is being able to identify what you’re really good at and focus on that,” he said. “For us it’s organizing and training the store owners.”

The NewsHour highlights individuals helping communities solve problems, build businesses and create jobs on its Social Entrepreneurship page. Tweet us @NewsHourWorld your ideas for more groups to profile.