Growth in a time of (climate) extremes: Can the Philippines get its act together? (Part 1)

by Lawrence Ang

Yes. You’ve read a lot about it recently. You’ve probably even had a couple of intense, curious, or at the least “interesting” conversations about the Philippines with your family, friends, and colleagues. But, alas, the Philippines isn’t just about its President or its notorious traffic. Right? Right.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the Philippines.

Annual GDP growth?—excellent at 6-7%. Demographics?—over 52% of the population are of working age, and all fluent English speakers (now that’s a workforce!). A high income country by 2040?—looks like it’s destined to happen. The gears of growth running Asia’s favorite beach destination is so well-oiled that its credit ratings were upgraded to investment grade and above over the last 3 years alone. Not even the recent downturn in the US and Asia markets made this economy flinch. No wonder, it feels unstoppable.

But let’s talk about climate change for a second. Or to paraphrase, the way nature is pulling the rug on emerging economies. The Philippines is, if not the most, vulnerable nation in Asia when it comes to extreme weather events. An average of 20 typhoons ravage the country annually, with droughts interspersed in between. Typhoon Haiyan, recorded history’s strongest supertyphoon ever, claimed at least 10,000 lives in 2013 and resulted in over $225 million of damage across major cities, coastal areas, and agricultural towns—with several communities still recovering 3 years on. It comes as no surprise then that the Philippines has a reputation of being one of most vocal champions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the recently signed Paris Agreement—a product of decades’ worth of global negotiations that limits greenhouse gas emissions to “safe levels” and sets the framework for how the international community will assist developing countries, institutionally and financially, adapt to the new norm of a hotter, more unpredictable, and extreme world.

But here’s the rub. As the Philippines experiences phenomenal growth on one hand, and an uncertain climate future on the other, what does the future hold for Asia’s new tiger economy? Well, it seems, more uncertainty. The country is yet to ratify the Paris Agreement, as of this article’s writing, putting into jeopardy opportunities to receive much needed financial resources from the international community to help the country cope with the effects of climate change. Furthermore, current domestic capacities to implement climate adaptation measures have been left wanting, despite the nation holding the record for having passed some of the most progressive climate laws and policies in the region. A budget issue? Perhaps. A case of a new administration still gauging the benefits of “owning” the problem? Many believe so.

Add to that, there’s the other big elephant in the room—the country’s energy mix. In the nation’s quest to fulfill its ambition of becoming a high income economy by 2040 (with average per capita income expected to reach $14,000), powering the country’s industrialization has become an absolute priority. So much so that the cheapest options on the table, which today are perceived to be coal-fire powered plants, have been deemed as the most convenient and expedient to address the country’s energy woes, notwithstanding the country’s rich renewable energy resources, which admittedly are variable and “peaky”.

But should this be the case? Is a coal-dependent future the smartest way forward? What of natural gas, the world’s emerging “transition fuel”; or solar micro-grids, the energy of the future according to Silicon Valley? Is there a way for the Philippines to stay flexible, enough to take advantage of rapidly innovating energy technologies like cheaper solar and batteries? How much will it cost and who pays? How does all of this affect the country’s ability to compete with its neighbors?

The debate rages on.

In partnership with the Ateneo School of Government, SSG Advisors is developing a policy roadmap for the Philippine government and the nation’s power industry under the “Getting Our Act Together” Project—a multi-sectoral initiative focused on developing concrete policy recommendations towards accelerating an optimal energy mix, climate action, and private sector collaboration. Since the project’s launch in August 2016, several expert workshops and policy dialogues have been held with leaders from the public and private sectors, altogether crystallizing practical policy measures that can immediately be adopted to balance climate and energy in the midst of a rapidly developing Philippines.

The holy grail of an optimal energy mix capable of delivering secure, affordable and sustainable power to all now dominates talks within executive and legislative circles, as it is likely to affect the major decision making processes of jeepney drivers to blue chip investors alike and, at the same time, mirror the country’s seriousness in tackling carbon emissions in solidarity with the rest of the world, small as its footprint may be.

One thing’s for sure, though. As the next global climate conference is just around the corner (November 2016 to be exact), the Philippine government is expected to make major decisions around its ratification of the Paris Agreement and its long-term strategy to power the Philippines. So between now and then, the buzz is likely to enter a crescendo. So let’s keep talking. Until Part 2!



Lawrence Ang is Director for Asia for SSG Advisors. He brings nearly ten years’ experience at the nexus of sustainable development and private sector engagement in the region. Aside from leading SSG’s partnership building and impact investment advisory work in Asia, Lawrence is currently leading SSG’s efforts, in partnership with the Ateneo School of Government, to develop policy pathways towards establishing a climate-smart development agenda, an optimal energy mix, and an enabling environment for private sector investment in the Philippines.




SSG’s Partnership to Advance Internet Connectivity Promotes Sustainable Fishing, Saves Lives, and Wins Prestigious Award

SSG Advisors P3 Award

New York, NY – Current and former heads of state, Fortune 500 CEOs, and other global leaders gathered in New York on Friday at the Concordia Summit to celebrate this year’s winner of the Public-Private Partnership (P3) Impact Award. This year, the award was given to the TV White Space Partnership, an innovative partnership between Microsoft, the Government of the Philippines and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), facilitated by SSG Advisors. Vice President Joseph Biden attended the Summit, and Secretary of State John Kerry offered his congratulations to Microsoft, USAID, and the Philippine Government for their tremendous impact in improving livelihoods and the management of coastal fisheries in the Philippines.

“That’s the very definition of paying it forward, and it is giving new life to the old saying ‘teach a person to fish,’” said Kerry, as he announced the winning partnership.

The TVWS Partnership improved the lives of fisherfolk and the management of coastal fisheries in the Philippines by extending Internet access to remote and underserved coastal communities, reaching over 20,000 people. The Partnership deployed Microsoft’s TVWS technology, which generates a long-range wireless Internet connection by riding empty television UHF and VHF broadcast channels. Together, the partners connected schools and community centers in six remote municipalities to the Internet via TVWS.

TVWS helped support a new mobile online system to register fisherfolk in hundreds of rural communities, improving fisheries management. This system enables the government to better understand who is fishing where and, as a result, to better manage precious and threatened fish stocks. Thanks to this project, the Government of the Philippines has now incorporated TVWS as a key element of its universal broadband access strategy.

The TVWS hubs also saved lives: when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the pilot region in October 2013, TV White Space was the only means of Internet connection and communication for relief workers and communities. It helped coordinate the relief effort, and it allowed victims to contact loved ones.

SSG Advisors, through its Sustainable Transparent Effective Partnerships (STEP) methodology, developed the TVWS partnership concept, brought the partners together, and facilitated the partnership during implementation.

“This partnership demonstrates the power of collaboration for solving some of the world’s most complex problems,” said Nazgul Abdrazakova, founder and President of SSG. “By forging connections between companies, governments, and communities, and by promoting innovative applications of existing technologies, we can deliver tremendous benefit to communities across the world.”

The award was announced at the Concordia Summit in New York City on October 2.

About SSG Advisors:

Founded in 2005, SSG Advisors LLC is an international development consulting firm based in Vermont with a global presence. This firm of innovative professionals is focused on harnessing the power of collaboration among companies, communities, and governments to address development challenges. SSG Advisors offers solutions that leverage the combined power of private investments and public initiatives to change lives. Since its founding, SSG has helped clients build and manage effective collaborations in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, where it has worked to tackle development challenges related to citizen security, economic growth in conflict-affected regions, enterprise development, workforce development, ICT, and climate-smart development.

About the P3 Impact Award:

Concordia, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Institute for Business in Society, and the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships created the P3 Impact Award to recognize public-private partnerships (P3s) that are changing our world in innovative and impactful ways.

Innovative TV White Space Public-Private Partnership Nominated for the P3 Impact Award

SSG Advisors is pleased to announce that the TV White Space (TVWS) Partnership in the Philippines has been nominated for the P3 Impact Award. This prestigious award – a joint effort of Concordia, the State Department, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business – is announced each year in the beginning of October at the Concordia Summit in New York City.

The TVWS partnership is a unique collaboration between Microsoft, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ECOFISH project, and the Government of the Philippines to improve the lives of fisherfolk and the management of coastal fisheries in the Philippines by extending Internet access to remote and underserved coastal communities. The partnership deployed Microsoft’s TVWS technology, which generates an amplified wireless Internet connection by riding empty television UHF and VHF broadcast channels. Together, the partners connected schools and community centers in six remote municipalities to the Internet via TVWS, extending free Internet to over 20,000 people. The TVWS Untitledpartnership was also designed specifically to improve fisheries management: TVWS helped support a new mobile, online system to register fisherfolk in hundreds of rural communities. This system enables the government to better understand who is fishing where and, as a result, to better manage precious and threatened fish stocks. Importantly, the Government of the Philippines has now incorporated TVWS as a key element of its universal broadband access strategy.

SSG Advisors, through its Sustainable Transparent Effective Partnerships (STEP) methodology, developed the TVWS partnership concept, brought the partners together, and facilitated the partnership during implementation.

Today, the TVWS partnership has been recognized as one of five finalists for the P3 Impact Award. The award honors outstanding examples of public-private partnerships that have improved lives and communities around the world, and it recognizes best practices in the public-private partnership arena.

The winner will be announced at the Concordia Summit on October 1-2. Keep your fingers crossed for SSG Advisors, the TVWS partnership, and our partners!


SSG Advisors Media Contact:
Tess Zakaras, 802-735-1169
[email protected]

Scaling Pilots through Partnership

By Steve Schmida

At a recent press conference, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) of the Philippines announced its plans to scale upTWS BOOTH 2mx2m_final[1] the use of TV White Space (TVWS) Technology to deliver free broadband access via municipalities across the archipelago nation of 94 million. The $31 million initiative comes as a direct result of the TVWS public-private partnership (PPP) between DOST, Microsoft, and the USAID ECOFISH project, which piloted the technology over the last 18 months in several remote coastal communities. How did a PPP of a total dollar value of less than $1 million achieve such scale?

Scale is a buzzword in international development today, but few understand how to achieve it. At SSG, we see partnerships as a key tool in achieving scale and we often design our partnerships with scale in mind. Because PPPs share risks, they often allow partners to experiment and pilot new technologies and methodologies that partners could not attempt on their own.

What are the attributes of a good scaling PPP?

  • Institutional capability and mandate in at least one partner. Whether it is public sector or private sector, there needs to be at least one partner in the PPP that has the capacity and the will to scale the partnership. Here, DOST has the role of leveraging technology for development across the Philippines.
  • Strong incentives. These can be market-based or even political. In the case of the Philippines, DOST is in charge of the government pledge to deliver broadband across the nation. Thus, it had a very strong incentive to move forward in scaling. In other cases, such as our Non-Revenue Water PPP, it is the private sector partner that has the incentive to scale into a new market segment.
  • The right pilot gathering the right data. To borrow the old tech database adage, ‘Garbage in = Garbage out.’ Thus, it is critical that pilot efforts are selected carefully, so that they can make a clear case for scaling. In addition, gathering the right data from those pilots is equally critical. In the case of the TVWS partnership, the team was able to demonstrate how broadband access in remote municipalities dramatically improved government service delivery.

In the case of the Philippines, the partners invested considerable time on the front end of the partnership sorting out these issues, rather than rushing forward without a solid foundation on how the partnership could eventually scale. By embedding partnerships with strong fundamentals, partners can leverage small scale PPPs to achieve that most illusive of results: scale.

Community Partnerships: Unlocking the Sustainability of CSOs through Private Sector Collaboration

By Thomas Buck

Since the collapse of communism and the rise of the “Third Wave” of democratization, many donors including USAID, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) have invested significant resources in strengthening new democracies by building the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to bridge the gap between citizens and government. Through grants and other mechanisms, programs have focused on bolstering the technical and institutional capacity of community associations, advocacy organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other types of CSOs on issues ranging from operational systems strengthening to activity implementation. Capacity building and financial support for CSOs have remained core to projects across the development continuum from improving health services, food security, and climate resiliency to countering violent extremism and strengthening local governance. Recently, the US Government has specifically promoted organizational strengthening in its USAID Forward policy as a pillar in preparing local implementers to work directly with USAID Missions across the developing world.

Partnerships have proved extremely successful in the ECOFISH project in the Philippines.

Community partnership planning in the Philippines.

Despite great progress over the last two decades of this type of investment, donors and development implementers have struggled with the question of CSO financial sustainability. Many local organizations, dependent on program grants, have weakened or even collapsed without access to donor funding. One innovative way to solve this issue of grant dependency is by building organizations’ ability to identify and develop partnerships with companies and other resource partners. Recognizing the necessity of long-term sustainability and local ownership in development, SSG has developed a tailored capacity building approach as part of its Sustainable Transparent and Effect Partnership (STEP) methodology and has successfully utilized this method in contexts throughout the world. Through the STEP Community Partnership module, local CSOs learn to apply a “shared value” lens to identify specific opportunities for partnership in which they bring valuable resources, services, or products to a local market.

The benefits of this type of partnership for both the CSO and the public or private partner become quickly evident. In Kenya, for example, one youth organization formed a partnership with the Kenya Forest Service, which provides seedlings to the Forest Service and an entrepreneurship opportunity and much-needed income to the youth organization. This partnership came out of the USAID-funded Yes Youth Can! Western project focused on political enfranchisement and enhanced civic engagement of Kenyan youth. During this project, SSG catalyzed over 100 community-level, youth-led partnerships on a wide range of issues from agricultural commercialization and business training to conservation, ecotourism, and waste management, working with partners as varied as local agribusinesses, municipal governments, and ICT firms. For the Kenyan youth organizations, these partnerships served to unlock their own potential, not just for employment and economic gain, but also in contributing to society and the self-awareness that they actually have a seat at the table.

These community partnerships reinforce the social and economic empowerment of grassroots
organizations focused on marginalized communities. For example, under the ECOFISH project in the Philippines, SSG has facilitated partnerships between fisherfolk associations and a range of private and public sector resource partners to develop enterprises and lessen the dependency on subsistence fishing. Partnerships have ranged from mangrove reforestation and ecotourism development to crab fattening and sea ranching enterprises. These partnerships provide entrepreneurship opportunities to the fisherfolk villages, but also critically lessen community dependency on fishing for survival, thereby reducing pressure on fish stocks and improving environmental resiliency.

Community partnerships offer obvious benefits to the CSOs and the local or multinational partner. By building the capacity of CSOs to form locally driven public-private partnerships that align with their missions and provide financial and other resources, the benefits and progress that development projects bring to a community can continue on long after a single project has ended.

Using Mobile Technology for Marine Biodiversity Conservation

As Secretary of State John Kerry implores world leaders to focus attention on the plight of the world’s oceans, a unique partnership on a remote island in the Philippines is demonstrating the power of public-private collaboration in preserving marine habitats.

Tawi-Tawi is a distant island in the Philippines archipelago, not far from Malaysia. The waters surrounding the island are pristine and rich with marine life. This rich natural resource is under increasing threat as illegal fishing and smuggling are on the rise due to the rapidly growing demand for fresh seafood across southeast Asia and beyond. “Dynamite and cyanide fishing are rampant,” says Tawi-Tawi’s governor. These illegal practices destroy delicate marine ecosystems, threatening the livelihoods of the island’s fishing communities.

Thanks to a new partnership between USAID/Philippines, mobile operator SMART, and the local government in Tawi-Tawi, that situation may be about to change. The 700-DALOY partnership is designed to provide community fisherfolk, enforcement agencies, and local governments with a new tool to report illegal fishing activity and expedite enforcement. SSG facilitated this partnership in support of the USAID ECOFISH project.

Through the partnership, SMART is creating an SMS-based platform that allows fisherfolk to report violations. Violations are captured in a database, processed and passed on immediately to local authorities, enabling a much more rapid and coordinated enforcement response. In addition, the data will allow the government to analyze violation patterns, strengthening prevention efforts. The ECOFISH project is working with fisherfolk, LGUs, and SMART to deploy the system in Tawi-Tawi. 700-DALOY will empower fishing communities to be partners with local governments and enforcement agencies in preventing the destruction of marine habitat. If this initial pilot is successful, the plan is to roll out the system nationwide in 2015.

According to ECOFISH project Chief of Party Gerry Sylvestre, “You can have all the good ordinance, all the good programs, but if we cannot implement them, then we are in trouble.”

By leveraging a proven technology, such as SMS, with a concerted effort to build the capacity of local stakeholders, the 700-DALOY partnership is providing the people of Tawi-Tawi with a powerful new mobile technology tool to strengthen coastal enforcement and preserve the island’s rich natural heritage.

Fishackathon Competition for Sustainable Fishing


For many of the world’s coastal communities, fisheries remain essential to overall economic livelihoods, in particular for small-scale fisherfolk and their families who depend on daily catches for overall food security. Worldwide, small-scale and artisanal fisherfolk catch half of the fish consumed by humans. At the same time, growing populations and excessive fishing have led to smaller average fish sizes, shifts in species, steep declines in fish abundance of valuable species, and lower catches/lower incomes for fishers. In the coming decades these threats will be buttressed by climate change and the rise in ocean acid levels – anomalous variations that will erode the fish habitat function of coral reefs and related ecosystems.

Playing a part to meet these challenges, SSG and the ECOFISH Project in the Philippines joined forces with the US Department of State and the GSM Foundation’s collaborative initiative – mFish: Empowering the Sustainable Fishery Ecosystem – to seek technological solutions, in particular innovative coding and applications, for sustainable fishing. This month SSG/ECOFISH participated in a multi-day “Fishackathon” competition held simultaneously in multiple cities throughout the US in which developers and coders worked continuously to design applications and technology tools to address specific challenges. The ECOFISH Project prepared a challenge designed to improve the quality and effectiveness of catch data measurement. In the Philippines currently, government officials and scientists struggle with antiquated systems to measure the number, type, and quality of fish being pulled out of the ocean. These catch data are essential in understanding declines or improvements in fisheries.

Coming together on Friday, June 13th in New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston, and other locales, hundreds of developers worked continuously through the weekend of June 14th to design innovative technology prototypes to address the ECOFISH challenge, along with other management problems provided by other researchers and fisheries experts throughout the world. US Secretary of State John Kerry was to announce a number of winning solutions several days later at the US Department of State Oceans Conference held in Washington, DC. Winning developers would receive a range of prizes, including cash and a sponsored trip to the Philippines.

As recognized by the US Department of State and the ECOFISH Project, the grand challenges facing fisheries management must be met through the application of technological solutions. The Fishackathon represented a bold step to leverage technological innovation and the information and communications technology sector to bolster the sustainability of fisheries crucial for human development.


Integrating Social Enterprises into High-Growth Value Chains in the Philippines

Despite multiple natural disasters in 2013, the Philippines had one of the highest rates of economic growth in the world last last year and its prospects in 2014 appear brighter still. Some investors have christened the country the lead member of the PINEs – Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ethiopia – a grouping of high growth frontier market economies, successors to the BRICs. With a young, increasingly educated population of 94 million and a reform-minded government, the country’s prospects appear promising.

While Philippine economic performance is impressive, major challenges remain.  The country’s growth is very uneven. Much of the country’s economic growth is focused in major cities and concentrated in a small number of sectors. Many coastal communities remain poor and heavily reliant on subsistence fishing, putting ever-greater strain on already dwindling coastal fish stocks.

Social Enterprise Photo

A key goal of the USAID/Philippines ECOFISH project is to identify and nurture opportunities for outlying and economically deprived coastal communities to participate and benefit from the country’s growth in ways that reduce pressure on the country’s coastal marine natural capital. In that regard, SSG Advisors is developing and piloting an innovative approach to mobilize investment into social enterprises based on integrating those social enterprises into high-growth value chains. Working in conjunction with communities, NGOs, companies, local government units (LGUs), and leading Philippine business schools, the new model has several components:

  • Community Asset Mapping. As a very first step, SSG worked with community leaders to conduct asset mapping – a participatory process by which the community itself identifies its natural, human, and capital assets.
  • Value Chain Analysis. The ECOFISH team is conducting an analysis of various high growth value chains that align with community assets. The team is then engaging with companies along the value chain to identify ways social enterprises can integrate into those value chains, creating jobs and livelihood opportunities. One example is in furniture manufacturing where demand for mother-of-pearl is growing rapidly – a great opportunity for a sustainable product from coastal communities.
  • Social Enterprise Business Plan Development. Having developed opportunities, community-based social enterprises will develop business plans with mentoring support from Philippine MBA students. These business plans will forecast not only the financial returns, but also the social and environmental impacts of the social enterprises.
  • Mentoring. With a business plan in place, social enterprises will have access to support from volunteer mentors who can assist them in strengthening the organizational and operational development.
  • Impact Investment Mobilization. Once the business plans are developed, SSG will work with national and international impact investors to mobilize financing for the social enterprises.

While it is still early days, this new model appears promising. By combining the principles of social entrepreneurship with a value-chain approach, SSG is catalyzing investment into marginalized communities, enabling outlying communities to be full participants in the economic resurgence in the Philippines.

SSG Launches Partnership for Local Government Public-Private Partnerships Training in Coastal Philippine Communities

USAID and the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for training of local government unit (LGU) officials in the 8 Marine Key Biodiversity Areas (MKBAs) of the project. The MOU represents the latest development in SSG’s partnership building activities in the ECOFISH project in the Philippines.

DAP is a government owned entity whose goal is to increase effective collaboration among individuals and development stakeholder organizations in government, the private sector, civil society, academia, and international organizations. Central to these goals is capacity building training around public private partnerships.

Through its partnership with USAID through the ECOFISH project, DAP will review its existing PPP training curriculum, design a customized training module in consultation with the ECOFISH project, and facilitate PPP training for local government officials from ECOFISH sites.

DAP will tailor the trainings around sustainable fisheries management and governance for the development of customized training modules on public-private partnerships. The trainings will reach LGU officials in numerous coastal fishing communities, furthering collaboration between the project and local government and increasing the sustainability of project activities beyond the life of the project.

ECOFISH Project Kicks Off Partnership for Sustainable Blue Swimming Crab Fishing Assessment in the Philippines

On January 30, ECOFISH staff kicked-off a partnership to conduct the first ever species-specific assessment in the Philippines for blue swimming crab (BSC) in the Danajon Reef. The assessment comes as part of a larger partnership among the Philippines Bureau for Fishery and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), industry representative Philippine Association of Crab Processors, Inc. (PACPI), US-based National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and USAID through the ECOFISH project.


The blue swimming crab is the fourth most important fishery export of the Philippines. An increase in demand has led to unsustainable fishing of the crab, significantly decreasing incomes for fisherfolk who rely on the crab for their livelihoods. Declining trends in volume and crab size can be attributed to the drastic depletion of BSC breeding stocks since the 1990s.

The partnership among BFAR, PACPI, NFI, and USAID is based on common objectives to increase the sustainability of blue swimming crab fishing, specifically through management of the BSC stock and marketing of the commodity.

Utilizing a grassroots-based tool designed to measure fishery stock, the assessment will evaluate the current state of blue swimming crab fisheries in the Danajon Reef hand-in hand with fisherfolk communities and local government units. The approach will employ simply trained, human-focused “barefoot ecologists,” to measure fishery stock at a local level using the “Spawning Potential Ratio” (SPR) method, a new cost-effective technique for generically assessing coastal fish stock and will allow the partnership to effectively address sustainability challenges facing blue swimming crab fisherfolk.

The SPR approach will address the difficulty of tracking BSC stock in a high number of coastal fishing communities – a current gap in capacity to assess and manage small-scale resources leaves government bodies and universities under resourced to assess and manage fishery stocks on a large scale.

The planned assessment comes in the wake of last October’s earthquake in Bohol, which devastated coastal communities, making fishery initiatives such as this all the more salient.