I'm sitting here in my room at the Eugenio Lopez Conference center in the outskirts of MetroManila, on a hilltop to be exact, looking down at the poolside and the whole city, respectively from the french windows (pix later). The disparity of difference between this former mansion and my recent residence in the barangay is obvious and unmistakable. The energy of the conversations with the iBoP Asia Project team – Jean Caleda, James Kho, Mary Grace Santos et al has been truly uplifting when we met earlier at the Ateneo de Manila University campus. Now I'm sitting here musing on what early insights could I possibly share with some of the other project partners attending a conference on climate change adaptations by the BoP tomorrow. I've been requested to share some insights that could help other projects start to deal with the very real challenge that sometimes their much needed and valuable solutions can be out of reach for the pockets for whom they are meant.
What I've decided is that while its far too early after completing the fieldwork to have any particular insights on payment strategies themselves, I can however share some "tools" that could help other teams discover information that would help them conceivably to come up with their own ideas for their particular regions and challenges. After all, what may be the case in one region (say a rice growing one like Iloilo) may not necessarily apply elsewhere.
The first pattern to look for is that of the natural ebb and flow of income over the course of the natural year. This is particularly obvious in rural regions, although it strikes me that its something that I'd like to start checking out among the urban BoP as well. How does this help your business model or pricing strategy? Well, for example, in the area where I was doing my observations, January to April/May (or when the rains begin) is considered "summer" – unless a farm is very lucky to have access to sufficient water for rice growing regardless of rain, the farmers can only start planting when the rains arrive and are dependent on it for a second harvest as well. So overall, whether its tiny 'sari sari' shops supplying everyday essentials, snacks and cold drinks or some other business, even necessities like food, all earners consider this a lean period. Those who work as labour helping farmers plant the rice have little work, everyone else spends much less but along with the rains all of this changes and the pattern of spending increases until Christmas peak. For some, who are wholly dependent on their daily income (and receive no remittences from abroad) this can mean a difference in weekly earnings being slashed in half. Whatever the reasons in any particular region, when evaluating the purchasing power of those who manage with irregular and unpredictable income, the first question to ask is if there is such an ebb and flow for them. I am finding that the answers can be extremely enlightening.
I'll stop right here for now because I'm not confident yet of any other particular types of patterns to look for, I'm hoping to have more conversations that will provide me with the energy exchange I need to develop my observations further.