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THE POWER OF GIVING: SM Foundation’s Operation Tulong Express

Vernon Velasco

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Kalinga packs distribution in Bulacan.

This year has been a tumultuous one, to say the least for the Philippines. In 2020, the country was struck by various disasters such as the volcanic eruption of Taal Volcano, the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted to lockdowns, economic turmoil and loss of lives. And in the last quarter of 2020, the three most powerful tropical cyclones entered the Philippines – which triggered massive flooding across the country.

But during these trying times, solidarity and care are more important than ever among Filipinos. This was clearly exhibited by several groups and organizations that came together to make sure that no person is left behind.

One of them is SM Foundation, the Social Good Arm of one of the country’s largest conglomerate, SM. Through its Operation Tulong Express (OPTE), the corporate foundation has been executing various relief and support – from the explosion of the taal volcano, the COVID-19 pandemic and up to the current onslaught of typhoons.

Led by SM Foundation AVP for Livelihood and Outreach Programs Cristie Angeles, she narrated to Tribune some of her insights in relation to SM’s disaster response program for 2020.

“As embodied in the company’s mantra of spreading social good, the spirit of volunteeriSM is very much exhibited by our employees – specially during disasters.

They see it as a vehicle to show how they care, support and connect deeper with others, specifically to those living in our host communities. I still vividly remember when we established an OPTE satellite in Cauayan to service the areas of Isabela and Cagayan.

During that time, we recruited employees from SM to help us in executing our relief operations.

We know that they are tired since they still came from work. But despite of their exhaustion, they are very passionate to volunteer.

Goldilocks meals distribution in Marikina.

They see the program as a vehicle for them to help others, their fellow kababayans. They even went to the community to do consultations before executing our relief operations” Angeles said.

“I think the secret in igniting the passion of our employees in volunteering is for them to understand why we are doing our social good programs specially during disasters.

We believe that our contribution is not limited in business investments but also through relevant community programs that will impact the community specially in times of crisis.

And of course, the culture of giving is embedded in our company’s values – and is championed by our leaders” Angeles added.

Uniqlo face masks distribution in San Mateo, Rizal..

Angeles said that even though the COVID-19 pandemic added some challenge in deploying humanitarian aid during disasters, it also opened the spirit of giving in the hearts of people.

“Our partner-schools for our Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (SMFI’s Program on Sustainable Agriculture) and their students, for instance.

They themselves are reaching out and volunteer too” she said. “On a general level, the neighbors who used to be stranger to you is now your friend.

And then you share.

We are more compassionate now to others” Angeles added.

With an increased social capital built during the crisis, SM Foundation is also nurturing these collaborative relationships with local governments and partners, especially now that it has established localized Relief Response Teams in order for the organization to act swiftly when a disaster strikes.

“Aside from the nomination and assessment of local SM Employees, the awareness strategy employed by SM Foundation during a disaster is to go directly to the affected area to conduct consultations.

This way, it is ensured that interventions are suited to the needs of the community. Through this strategy, we are also given an opportunity to fully understand the community’s priority areas of concern so that our interventions are localized and relevant and will address their needs.

The community leader, say the mayor or the barangay captain usually joins our relief opps to pinpoint what is needed, and who need it most.

This makes the relief goods or Kalinga packs to be equally appropriated. The LGU process is more streamlined and transparent now” Angeles said.

When asked about her outlook post COVID-19 “I see a post-coronavirus world where people are more eager to help each other – where the culture and power of giving is stronger than any pandemic” Angeles said.

Through its Operation Tulong Express (OPTE) program, SM Foundation distributed a total of 60,470 Kalinga packs worth Php 23.5 million as of December 10, 2020 to families displaced by the recent typhoons that hit the country.

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