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Empowering Filipino At-risk Young Adults while Caring for the Environment

Messy Bessy Cleaners, Inc.

1. No Poverty 4. Quality Education 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 10. Reduced Inequalities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview

The company not only produces environment-friendly products but also, as a social enterprise, provides education, employment, and empowerment to at-risk young adults.

Messy Bessy, through its partnership with Empathways, an organization in Boston, USA which used neuroscience to study the effects of poverty, created a system to empower at-risk youth - those who were abused, trafficked, incarcerated, impoverished, and out-of-school, and employ them for a part-time job and help them complete their education. The company created a rubric which can tell the youth where they are. Milestones related to savings, family stability, academics and work ethics are in the rubric and each accomplishment are given a reward which is as simple as giving them ice cream. The system or process is then easier to measure since the rubric can give a view of what was done and what else needs to be done.

Authors

Chelley Sharleene Pecajas

Chelley Sharleene Pecajas

Stephanie Anne Añonuevo

Stephanie Anne Añonuevo

School

TIAS School for Business and Society

TIAS School for Business and Society

Professor

Mirjam Minderman

Mirjam Minderman

Innovation

Messy Bessy was one of the few local companies who pioneered the production of sustainable and green cleaners in the Philippines. The products that they offer range from all-purpose cleaners to hand and body wash as well as toy and surface cleaners which are safe for babies. These products are made from natural, biodegradable, and non-toxic ingredients which are safe even as they go down the drains and into the water streams. Back in 2007, locally made green cleaners were not popular because for Filipinos, having “green” products generally mean spending more since they are more known for imported products.

As Krie, the founder, mentioned, “It’s a risk [which] might be too sophisticated for the market – the thought of green cleaners; but we were thinking that if it works, then we will be the pioneer, right? So that’s how we felt about it.” Other than the use of natural ingredients, Messy Bessy also puts focus on sustainable packaging. The company created a program where customers can return the empty containers in exchange for a discount on the new product.

More than just caring for the environment, the biggest innovation which Messy Bessy is little known for is its goal of empowering at-risk young adults. Messy Bessy developed a replicable, neuroscience-backed initiative called the Helping Ourselves Program (HOP) (Business Call to Action). Through HOP, Messy Bessy employs at-risk youth, those who were abused, trafficked, incarcerated, impoverished, and out-of-school, for a part-time job and help them complete their education. The jobs made available for the youth are functional roles in office administration, technology, sales, customer service, finance, and supply chain.

The model of the program involves a strong partnership between the school and businesses to make sure that the at-risk youths are supported and accommodated. Another feature of Messy Bessy’s HOP is the recognition of the psychological setbacks of the affected youth (Business Call to Action). The company addresses this by providing learning modules as well as interventions on trauma care, self-awareness, wellbeing, and positive psychology (Business Call to Action).

Messy Bessy was not a one-time planned business. For the founder, the current success of the business can be attributed to their design thinking approach. They never thought of what the problem is or the solution. They continuously kept on iterating. As Krie further shared, “…one of those major iterations we made is when we partnered with Empathways which is an organization in Boston. They used neuroscience to study the effects of poverty, so they have done MRIs on the brain of the people who experienced trauma and poverty.

Based on those findings, they found out that [one of the effects of poverty is the] underdeveloped physiology [of] the pre-frontal cortex of the brain which is [responsible for] critical thinking. But the good news is you can rewire it. The brain has plasticity and muscle so you can actually rewire it. So, when we found that out, we contextualized the tools they have developed to our kids to our local context.” It was then that they realized that the counselling sessions were just too much for the youth and that to make it more effective, a gradual approach is needed. For this reason, they created a rubric which can tell the youth where they are.

Milestones related to savings, family stability, academics and work ethics are in the rubric and each accomplishment are given a reward which is as simple as giving them ice cream. The system or process is then easier to measure since the rubric can give a view of what was done and what else needs to be done. Over-all, this process for the youth makes Messy Bessy’s system unique.

Empowering Filipino At-risk Young Adults while Caring for the Environment

Inspiration

When Messy Bessy was founded by Krie, she left her almost 8-year corporate journey wherein her last job was the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). According to Krie, she already thought it was her dream job. She then mentioned that: “I realized that it just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be in development, to help solve problems but I felt like in CSR it is quite restricting, at least that’s how I experienced it, you know you’re really answerable to the directives of the company, which is not a bad thing, but, for me, I wanted something different, something more sustainable, something not donor-driven.”

Krie describes herself as someone who is passionate about trying to address poverty and inequality in the Philippines. For her, ignoring this problem is not something that she can do because she carries with her the responsibility gene. She couldn’t make herself live in a bubble, which is not wrong, but uncomfortable for her. Her willingness to help others combined with her love for solving problems creatively and thinking outside the box – a skill which she developed from her Management Engineering degree, Krie then started her journey with Messy Bessy with full support coming from her family.

Overall impact

Messy Bessy is a social enterprise which was built to hit two birds in one stone. First, the company offers personal and home care products that are environment friendly. Compared to the popular commercial brands in the Philippines, the company use more natural ingredients, plant- and earth-derived. This ensured that their products are not harmful, biodegradable and does not put toxic substances particularly in the waters. To emphasize on the overall impact of the business, Krie states that “As a business, I am really proud to say we are really one of the first strong green brands locally. I’d like to think that hopefully we helped grow that industry. It’s still very baby in the Philippines but [we are] getting there.”

Messy Bessy was initially established to empower sexually abused girls. The company, since its inception in 2007, has been quietly doing social work and these efforts were only shared if they were given the opportunity to be interviewed. The company started out with 10 students but only 2 students made it until the end. Even with this high drop-out rate (80%), Krie optimistically thought, “we must be doing something right.” As the years go by, Messy Bessy welcomed Filipino at-risk youth – the young adults who grew up in the streets, trafficked, imprisoned, abused, and impoverished.

This wider scope and with continuous efforts encouraged Krie to establish Messy Bessy’s social arm, the Helping Ourselves through Sustainable Enterprises (HOUSE) Foundation, in 2016. Krie adds that, “Just because you want to help, does not mean you are really helping. And just because you are trying to help, does not mean you are [still] helping pa rin. As engineers, you want results, right? And a process that works. At first, we were doing many things wrong.”

HOUSE Foundation championed and pioneered systemic change for these at-risk youth. Krie believes education is a way to get out of poverty, but there are very limited opportunities. There are scholarships but this is limited only to the academically excellent candidates. Krie emphasizes that, “So, chicken or egg. You are not smart because you are malnourished, and all that. So, how?”

HOUSE Foundation not only focuses on the student’s development, but also encourages businesses to open-up employment for working students. The students who joined the program were guided to complete their education and empowered them by giving part-time work at Messy Bessy (through HOP), its main business partner, and other companies such as Rustan’s Coffee Corp., the official licensee of Starbucks Coffee in the Philippines. Through this, the students can earn enough money to sustain their education as well as help them gain work experience which makes these students more competitive in the job market.

Krie adds that, “The biggest thing is, we are really trying to continue to prove to society that you can run a business that is inclusive, meaning not just as a CSR with a program that donates to a certain cause, but actually hiring these kids and developing them. It’s really recognizing also that we were, [and] we are the reason why there is inequality. By recognizing that, we take the responsibility differently. You know it is so easy for business to say that ‘...you know we are growing; we are creating jobs.’ But if you think about it, you are doing all that while excluding all these people, right? How can they be ever, be like all of us right now? And I personally think I cannot think of a better way than how we are doing it now, which is hiring the kids part time, making them pay for their own schooling, empowering them that way, and then graduating them and next. And my challenge always, to the big businesses who we always to talk to now, is tell them, you know, if you don’t think this is a good solution, then challenge us with a better one. Because we are so small, all we are saying is, look we were able to do it, we are 14 years old, we are still alive. Even half of us are kids in the program. It’s a bit exaggerated but look it works, it can be done.”

Business benefit

Messy Bessy worked to position local brands alongside international brands. Part of the Filipino culture is the inclination to patronize products which looked “imported and sophisticated” which is rooted from the country’s history. Thus, Krie gave a lot of attention in giving Messy Bessy an imported and sophisticated look. The logo of Messy Bessy is a painting made by Krie which also contributed to the vintage feel of the packaging. Thus, the packaging of all Messy Bessy products is combination of hip, vintage-inspired, and used a color palette that is pleasing to the consumers. She further says that “More than anything, I think it really makes our local products be more worthy to stand alongside global brands.”

The company pioneered in introducing “green cleaning” which later became appealing and well appreciated by middle- to upper-classes in the Philippines. Its first kiosks were strategically located in the central business district of Manila. Messy Bessy started with around 1000€ capital, and through years of hard work, the company was able to set up 13 mall kiosks and was able to put its products on supermarket shelves of around 73 stores, and 35 specialty stores. With the continuous growth even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Messy Bessy, together with HOUSE, has pledged to 50 organizations in providing additional trainings and employment opportunities to date. Messy Bessy and HOUSE Foundation targets inclusion of 12 micro-SME’s by 2024.

In 2015, Messy Bessy has been chosen by the British Council in its Global Social Enterprise Programme. During this time, Messy Bessy is one of the only two social enterprises chosen by the British Council.

Social and environmental benefit

1. No Poverty, 4. Quality Education, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 10. Reduce Inequalities

Every term, more students joined Messy Bessy and HOUSE Foundation program. From the 80% dropout rate of its first batch, it incredibly went down to 5% as of 2020. (The Philippines’ national dropout rate is 80%.) The year 2020 has been challenging but this did not stop Messy Bessy and HOUSE Foundation to have breakthroughs. The program was able to have 56 learners who are enrolled in colleges in Metro Manila for the academic year 2020-2021. There was a total of 500 hours of mentoring, and they have facilitated 700 hours of synchronous classes. For those who have limited capacity for online learning, HOUSE provided a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning so that no learner is left behind. The total graduates have been 72 since the start of the initiative. HOUSE Foundation believes every graduate gives a chance for one family to be freed from generational cycle of poverty.

Krie strongly believes that business inclusion and viable business are the core of the enterprise that can make it further help and bring light to society. Messy Bessy’s employees mainly consist of the learners working part-time of the HOP program they collaborated with HOUSE Foundation. They have helped these learners by allowing them to work part-time. By working for 100 hours in 15 days, the students would have enough money to pay for tuition fee, rent, and other needs to sustain their education.

In the long term, Messy Bessy aims to have its business model become the norm for businesses. They are now focused on the replication of the model, which they have already started to work on, for other companies to copy. They are a living proof that “business inclusion is a viable, replicable way out of poverty.” To further reiterate, Krie pointed out that “It is really at our core, at least Messy Bessy is trying to improve [how] business inclusion works. Not just for our brand but also as a viable solution to inequality and poverty. It is inclusion, the simple term, [which] is giving opportunities [to those] who are typically deemed as unemployable. The corporations are usually scared about the idea whenever I talk to them, but I believe it is okay (it will work out).”

12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Messy Bessy offers a safe, non-toxic, and biodegradable personal and home care product. The Philippines is known for its rich marine biodiversity. A lot of Filipinos have their livelihoods dependent on aquaculture. By buying Messy Bessy products, every consumer can create a positive impact to the marine life and help fishermen to have sustainable livelihood.

From raw materials to production, Messy Bessy practices Fair Trade. As most of its employees are the part-time students from HOP, these people render work hours enough to balance with their studies. These students are paid per hour, and yet earn enough to sustain their needs. The production site is clean and safe for employees to work comfortably and efficiently

Interview

Kristine Reyes-Lopez, Founder

Photo of interviewee

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Messy Bessy Cleaners, Inc.

Makati City, PH

Business Website: https://messybessy.com/

Year Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 51 to 200

Founded in 2007 by Kristine Reyes-Lopez (Krie), Messy Bessy Cleaners, Inc. (Messy Bessy) is producing “green” home and personal care products. Green products, which were then unpopular to the Philippine market when the company was founded, were made available by Messy Bessy in an affordable price without compromising the quality of the cleaning agents coming from plant-derived, earth-friendly ingredients. The company not only produces environment-friendly products but also, as a social enterprise, provides education, employment, and empowerment to at-risk young adults.

Messy Bessy's business has been proven to be profitable such that it was able to put up a 300 m2 warehouse in 2019 which supplies to its 22 mall kiosks and more than 100 partner retailers in the Philippines. In 2015, it further expanded in hiring new scholars and Krie established its social arm - HOUSE Foundation, INC. The foundation is a pioneer in promoting systemic change for at-risk youth through encouraging business to hire the scholars from its foundation. This can help further empower these at-risk youth and lift their family out of poverty. To date, HOUSE foundation was able to produce 72 graduates and have partnered to businesses such as Starbucks Coffee Philippines, licensed to Rustan Coffee Corp in the Philippines, to hire its scholars.