iVolunteer Partners Summit: Facing the #NewNormal Together

The #newnormal carries a ton of uncertainties for NGOs. While some organizations are able rethink their strategies and rise above their respective challenges, there are also those who continue to struggle as they weave their way into the post-pandemic era.

Such is the reason why iVolunteer Philippines held its first ever Partners Summit: Bridging Communities Toward the New Normal last November 7, 2020. The event, which was attended by 42 of our partner NGOs, paved the way for advocacy partners to reconnect and learn valuable insights from each other’s experiences throughout the first 10 months of 2020.

iVolunteer, who was among the first to adapt to the #newnormal, took advantage of the digital set-up to host an interactive 3-hour program that included key breakout sessions led by Dan Bercasio of Gawad Kalinga, Naida Pasion of Save the Children Philippines, Claire Linatoc of AHA Learning, Fr. Firmo Bargayo Jr. of Philippine Jesuit Prison Service, and Geomel Jetonzo of World Vision Philippines who shared how their respective organizations were able to overcome the early pitfalls brought on by the pandemic. If you missed the event, here’s a rundown of what went down during the Partners Summit:

Community Development Hub: Creating and Sustaining Hope

The first breakout room featured guest speaker Dan Bercasio, Executive Director of Gawad Kalinga, who led the session by acknowledging how the “big monster” that is COVID-19 left everyone, including them, searching for answers early on. Bercasio however, optimistically posited that ultimately, it will be us who are going to decide how 2020 will be remembered despite the life-altering calamities that rocked us all year round.

He encouraged everyone to work together so they can amplify each other’s strengths and passion, while also sharing Gawad Kalinga’s three anchors in building hope for its communities, namely: collective compassion, community culture, and committed connection.

“Anong kwento ang gusto nating maitala sa kasaysayan, despite of the pandemic. Now for us in Gawad Kalinga, we want to help in creating and sustaining hope.”

Dan Bercasio, Gawad Kalinga

During the discussion, Bercasio also shared a key component of their #newnormal strategy: the Barangay Walang Iwanan (BWI) website and application. Through BWI, local communities were given the chance to pool for situational volunteers and even trade resources efficiently without compromising health and safety.

After the session, the attending NGOs who initially shared struggles with mobility restriction, limited funding, as well as lack of physical volunteering activities collectively supported the drive to push for more fruitful partnerships with the private sector and a more active approach on creating virtual volunteering opportunities as they prepare for a more hopeful 2021.

The Community Development hub also included representatives from ATD Fourth World, Bark Mission, Bike for Philippines, Feeding Change, Citizen’s Disaster Response Center, Kids Who Farm, Rotary International, and Food for Frontliners.

Health/Marginalized Sector Hub: Sharing Our Blessings

The Health/Marginalized Sector hub of the Partners Summit meanwhile, was spearheaded by none other than Fr. Firmo Bargayo Jr., Chaplain/Treasurer of Philippine Jesuit Prison Service (PJPS). Also joining this session was iVolunteer Philippines’ Bel Padlan as moderator with representatives from Autism Strong PH, Grain Foundation, Heart Warrior Philippines, Keep Going! Baguio, Madre de Amor Hospice Foundation, 100% Attitude Project, and Yellow Warriors.

PJPS was one of the organizations who saw plenty of success this year in raising funds via its BilibID: Bilib sa Inyong Donasyon program, which was according to Fr. Bargayo himself was not among its flagship projects (scholarship and socio-pastural advocacy). As a matter of fact, he shared that the organization initially saw a decline on their traditional donorship before help started pouring in unexpectedly for their scholars.

During the lockdown, BilibID was able to distribute PHP 14.5 million worth of donations coming from corporations and private benefactors, as well as nonprofit partners including iVolunteer Philippines via our Treasure Volunteer platform. Sans the hesitation, PJPS eventually set up BilibID to better utilize and share the abundant blessings coming its way.

These donations, in the form of food packs, medicines, PPEs, and cash grant were then handed over to vulnerable families and frontliners, among other new beneficiaries . According to Fr. Bargayo, they learned that adapting to the #newnormal also meant serving the greater community and using their own platform to the benefit of those most-affected by the threat of a pandemic, while working around the restrictions that came with it.

Outside of donations, Fr. Bargayo persuaded the attendees to build more meaningful alliances that would carry over past the this challenging year as well as to remain flexible for what awaits us all in 2021.

Virtual Learning Hub: Getting Everyone Involved

Claire Linatoc of AHA! Learning Center, an award-winning after-school program that provides support for low-performing but high potential public school students, featured on the virtual learning hub to talk about how the organization was able to swiftly make changes to move most of its projects and resources online. The session was rounded up by our partners from Education Under the Bridge, Kwentuhan Series, La Liga Marquina, National PTA Philippines, PJPS, Project Assistance Canada, S.M.I.L.E., The Storytelling Project, and Youth Action for Development PH with Chum Espinas moderating the session.

Our guest speaker, who is also AHA!’s Marketing and Partnerships Manager, grounded the session by reminding everyone of their common challenges, before highlighting one of the most basic and accessible digital platforms available to us Filipinos: FREE Facebook. By taking advantage of an existing structure, AHA! was able to continue most of its programs online via social media while simultaneously building its wealth of COVID-19 resources on its official website. Aside from looking after its students, AHA! also made sure to keep teachers and parents involved in their discussions via the Tulong Eskwela! and Eskwela Pamilya Live (on radio). Thus, mitigating the barriers that many learners and educators face during virtual learning sessions.

“Always remember that you are not alone in the process of co-creating better futures.”

Claire Linatoc, AHA! Learning Center

In her talk, Linatoc also encouraged NGOs to reinvent some of their volunteer opportunities so they can continue to drive volunteer engagement and deliver that type of invaluable support across their communities. She advised the NGOs to identify high-potential volunteers right away and keep the engaged, especially at this time when continuity doesn’t come in spades.

Child Welfare: Maximize Our Digital Footprint

Nadia Pasion, Chief Business Development Officer of Save the Children thoroughly empowered her advocacy partners to explore new strategies to help them deal with the looming uncertainty in the post-pandemic era. At a time when many children’s safety and well-being are possibly at risk, she encouraged the attendees to expand their modules to educate prospective first responders as well as parents on how they can protect the children online or even in any other setting.

Pasion also reminded our partners to maintain a strong presence online and look for collaborative opportunities whenever possible. “Maximize our digital footprint,” she said, calling on everyone to be quick and bold in using digital platforms to reach as many children as possible. She then shared Project Aral, one of their key initiatives during the pandemic, that aims to ensure that children between 3-12 years old can continue to study and learn effectively even at home.

The attending NGO representatives, meanwhile, agreed on creating more digital content that are readily accessible to multiple platforms and on different formats. They also collectively acknowledged the importance of influencing communities to provide more safe havens to children who are most vulnerable to abuse and isolation.

Along with iVolunteer’s Joie Balaong and Paolo Llagunilla, our resident partners Child Hope Philippines, Kythe Foundation, C.R.I.B.S., Pink Women on Fire, Agape, Project Pearls, and U! Happy rounded up the Child Welfare Hub.

Education: Ang Mga Batang Marunong Bumasa ay Malaya

Last but certainly no the least, World Vision’s Brigada Pagbasa Program Director, Geomel Jetonzo led the education hub discussion by sharing two of World Vision’s main projects that adapted well into 2020: Brigada Pagbasa and Abutin Na10, which respectively supplement DepEd’s reading programs instead of trying to replicate or offset them to no avail.

Jetonzo highlighted the role that education advocates play in nation-building, sharing how their success is primarily fueled by their ability to complement existing government projects and that of other institutions, as well as encourage involvement amongst community members in improving literacy and readership. He praised the NGOs who are doing extra work to build a culture of reading in their respective communities by actively pursuing parents and community leaders to take a more active role in leading children to a healthy reading habit.

With the new normal, Jetonzo motivated the attendees to look into webinars and other online platforms as enablers for them to continue reaching out to their communities and volunteers. He also invited the advocacy partners to strengthen their support and partnership with DepEd so their collective effort will reach new heights and become more sustainable.

Joining Jasmine Salem of iVolunteer in this hub, meanwhile, are 2KK, Aral Pinoy, Binhi, Comradeship Philippines, The Brigada e-skwela Project, and Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.

Bridging Communities Toward the New Normal

Partners Summit was organized by Abigail Reyes, iVolunteer Philippines’ Director for Community Relations with help from staff Noralyne Daylo. Our Executive Director, JB Tan opened the program and welcomed our partners home while Judith Apolinario hosted the proceedings and facilitated the discussions in the plenary. Meanwhile, Anna Penullar, Regina Rafael, Jaymeeray Estarez, and Jaypee Cruz assisted in facilitating the session from the backend.

In closing, Abigail motivated our partners to not be afraid of exploring novel solutions to the new challenges that we are facing right now. She put forward health and safety as an adaptive value for nonprofits in the #newnormal and encouraged attendees to update their safety measures in preparation for post-pandemic volunteer engagements. There was also a much-needed reminder on looking out for each other and being mindful of everyone’s mental well-being amid these challenging times. In bridging the communities toward the new normal, Abigail emphasized the importance of communication, collaboration, and cooperation especially within this special community of nation-builders and changemakers.

For those who wish to be part of the iVolunteer Philippines community, just send an email to partnerships@ivolunteer.com.ph and share a little bit about your organization and advocacy.

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