Culture. Sustainability. Market Access.
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Programs



Designing for Development

The ECHOdesign Lab (EdL) is one of the CSR Programs of ECHOstore. This was launched to try to support the retail store’s product supply chain with new products.  EdL also helps connect community groups in a more persona level closer with the owners so their stories could be told better.

Design as a Driver for Development

The EdL is ECHOstore’s mentoring program covering skills training for enhanced livelihood productivity and community empowerment. EdL Program focuses on sustainable design, product development, packaging innovation and branding. This program helps to add to community products visual appeal for the fair trade global market while indigenous people’s cultural expressions are kept intact without corrupting their local cultures. One other direction of EdL Program is opening and linking these products to specific markets.

How it began

In September 2008, the ECHOtrio (Chit Juan, Jeannie Javelosa and Reena Francisco) started ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle, a social enterprise with a pioneering green retail store selling natural and community-made fair trade products in an upscale mall. Community groups came to show their goods but the ECHOtrio were rejecting majority of the products due to lack of design and visual appeal. Soon, national NGO funding organizations, groups and associations working with poor communities were approaching the ECHOtrio to give critique workshop sessions for product planning, design and packaging. Schools, universities and companies were likewise inviting for talk about the green, sustainable lifestyle and topics on social enterprise development. The ECHOtrio volunteered their time, talent, and expertise to mentor. Within six months of opening ECHOstore, the two CSR Programs called ECHOdesign Lab and ECHOteach launch.

Key Issues

Sustainability has never been the priority of many community organizations. The NGOs initially do the first steps: Community Organization, Institution and Capacity Building. There are limited groups that teach Business Development Services and Market Access. Products are made but markets are not defined. Products are not properly packaged, designed and branded. There is a need to develop livelihood by diversifying products and refining design to make them more attractive to mainstream retail and the global markets. Marginalized communities do not have the means to access, not only markets for their products, but also creative branding expertise resulting in inferior quality products and lack of design innovation. Independent specialists and experts who have the knowledge to share charge expensive professional fees, or should they volunteer, they need to be organized and managed. NGOs and communities cannot afford the professional rates of these experts. EdL offered these services on a volunteer basis given by the ECHOtrio and some selected volunteers.

Program’s Objectives

EdL is a core program of ECHOstore that addresses the sustainability of the product supply chain. The Program studies existing products of the communities, level/value these up by refining them or suggesting new designs; helps them with visual identity development and new packaging; highlights their unique stories; helps create more products for a niche, green, fair trade, specialty, high-end, global and lifestyle market. Materials and their sources are also studied, as well as new product variants that could be developed from the existing products.

On the first year, so many communities were inviting the ECHOtrio who tried to make time for all of them. Some groups would come to the store and bring their products for critique sessions.  Other invitations included gatherings where communities would show us their products. The ECHOtrio decided to run EdL in a more organized way by working with organized groups such as the Peace and Equity Foundation’s (PEF) Partnership Access Centers (PACs), and the PinoyME (microenterprise) Foundation. The PEF’s PACCI is a consortium of NGO networks from the north to the south of the country. Each PAC group gathers their communities in one place, asking each community to bring samples of their products. The groups covered for travel costs and lodging while he ECHOtrio gave time and expertise on a volunteer basis. The workshops include the giving of new design or material directions, working drawings and ideas for development, critique workshops and strategic product development planning. In some cases, the communities return with samples or actual finished products, the product results of which ECHOstore are happy with and try to sell these.

Sustainability for both communities (livelihood) and ECHOstore’s (supply of products) are given focus through this program in an institutionalized and organized manner where clear documented output and data can be collected to see the developmental and integrated manner of key problem areas we want to focus on. It also addresses business development services support for marginalized groups, NGOs and communities offering professional design, creative and technical services given voluntarily or at subsidized rates.  At some point when there is some funding for a secretariat, EdL can become the hub to gather the best of Filipino creative talents towards designing for development to help marginalized groups. The EdL Program is also culturally-sensitive with special focus on poor and marginalized indigenous communities (such as the Schools of Living Traditions of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts) whose local cultures are slowly dying.

Defining Metrics

EdL as a mentoring programs have resulted in partnerships that have inspired and rallied partner communities to work towards making their products better which result in more products at ECHOstore, and better sales. Partnerships are not only seen towards community groups but also through partnerships with companies to rally them to help in any way they can (purchase of the community products, gathering of recyclable materials which are sent to the communities to use etc).

One example of a partnership is what ECHOstore had with SM Kultural in 2010. SM Kultura approached ECHOstore to supply its adopted communities’ products for the launch of their ECHO-like CSR program called Crafts for a Cause. ECHOstore became a supplier of several of its NGO networks to SM Kultura. These NGOs that ECHOstore introduced to SM Kultura now get regular orders from SM and are also paid in a record 7-15 days in cash as opposed to regular SM terms of 60 days or consignment. What ECHOstore needed to do was to conduct “pre-delivery inspection” of the goods, quality control, tagging and packing compliant with SM’s standards. The NGOs could not comply with SM’s requirements as some of them did not have paperwork or licenses. ECHOstore then represented them to SM so that Purchase Orders could be issued and the proper documentation could be complied with. This is a record for the NGOs who never had bulk orders before SM Kultura and ECHOstore joined hands to buy their products.

Globe Bridgecom also aligned with ECHOstore by choosing eight community partners of ECHOstore who had availed of the the EdL Program. Each community was give a grant of Php 30,000 to continue developing products.

Progress is also measured by the number of organized communities who can make their livelihood into small sustainable businesses, by the new product variants that we can bring to ECHOstore, and more generate more sales.

In 2010, the second year of ECHOstore’s retail operations, the EdL Program has helped 25 organizations (communities, foundations, cooperatives) impacting approximately 35,420 beneficiaries.  In the process of documentation of new product variants and sales, a clearer financial picture or cash equivalent on the real impact of EDL can be produced.

The Loop of Sustainability

Other groups offer skills training and livelihood to community groups. What is unique about the EdL Program is that it develops products for the specialty market (where design is key), as well as try to open markets for them. To date, all mentoring help has been done through volunteer basis. To sustain the EdL Program (and other CSR initiatives of ECHOstore), the ECHOtrio have put up a foundation called ECHOSI (Environment Community Hope Organization Sustainability Initiative) Foundation which will be the vehicle for the strategic and organized creation, running and funding sustainability of the program. ECHOSI will close the loop of sustainability. An alignment with an Angel Funder and a micro-financing group will produced capital for materials and labor for the communities. The EdL Program will focus on teaching design and packaging, and ECHOstore brings products to markets.

These alliances for collaboration integrate all partnerships in a “value chain” that creates focused convergence (design and product intervention, financing, markets, human resources) and synergy of benefits for communities. This is the completed “Loop of Sustainability” that has been missing in the Philippine scene and which the EdL is trying to answer.




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