#TawidCOVID: Innovation for a Better Normal

By Juan Daray, Social Innovation Analyst, and Francis Capistrano, Impact and Advisory Team OIC

September 30, 2022


It has been more than two years since the onset of the pandemic, but the profound effects on the poor and vulnerable continue to linger. The COVID-19 pandemic has continued its deadly march across the globe, causing an unprecedented crisis in human development. How can nations transition toward a new normal—rather, a better normal—when this unprecedented crisis has rendered most of the typical tools of development irrelevant?


The Suffering of the Poor in Figures

In the Philippines, the pandemic has caused an unfortunate but expected increase in the ranks of the poor by about 2.3 million individuals (to 19.9 million) or 500,000 families (to 3.5 million) in 2021. The latest numbers seem muted—at least compared to the worse-case projections presented at the start of the pandemic (as much as 5.5 million new poor individuals)—although these do not explicitly reflect the suffering experienced by the poor over the last two-and-a-half years.  


The Philippines in Red. UNDP’s visualization of the latest poverty data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows the provinces whose poverty incidences are worse than the national rate (red) and have worsened from 2018 (red arrow upward). Check out the infographic here.

The COVID Pulse PH Survey of 2021 found that the incomes of 75% of low-income households have decreased during the pandemic. Those working in the informal sector were affected more, particularly seasonal and casual workers (81%) and ambulant vendors (80%). Those without access to government social protection also tended to recover more slowly.

These highlight the precarious situation of poor households and the growing risks to the country’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and improvement of human development outcomes. The recently released Human Development Report (HDR) 2021/22 shows that the Philippines is falling behind as it now ranks 116th out of 191 countries, from 113rd of 191 in 2020.

Rank (2021/2022)


2021/2022 Human Development Index (HDI)

2019/2022 Human Development Index (HDI)

Difference between Current and Previous HDI
































South Sudan




World Average





Sure, the headwinds towards growth are starting to be stronger again, with gross domestic product (GDP) growth expected to recover from a recession of -9.6% in 2020 to a projected 6.5% in 2022. How can this macroeconomic recovery be translated into tangible improvements for those who suffered the most: the poor, informal workers, women, youth, and other marginalized sectors?


An Innovation Challenge

In November 2020, as an effort to respond to the global call to help lessen the adverse effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable, the UNDP Philippines, supported by the Government of Japan and in collaboration with the Zero Extreme Poverty PH 2030 (ZEP 2030) coalition, launched the #TawidCOVID Challenge.

This innovation challenge focused on finding, improving, testing, and scaling novel solutions for socio-economic recovery for the sectors most in need. Under the Leave No One Behind principle, the challenge sought to rally innovators and push for the role of creativity and innovation in providing out-of-the-box solutions for new and evolving problems. Innovative solutions—especially existing grassroots solutions—that address sustainable livelihoods, promote social accountability, and mobilize new resources for development were sought by the challenge.

Four winning solutions were identified from 45 applications and kicked off their work in 2021.

IP Assets Database. One of the solutions was an online repository of indigenous peoples’ (IP) assets and conserved areas (https://icca.ph/database/iccas/). Initiated by the Bukluran ng mga Katutubo para sa Pangangalaga ng Kalikasan (Bukluran)—a coalition of organizations and advocates promoting IP and community conserved areas and territories (ICCAs)—this online portal presents profiles, maps, and data of key ICCAs. The online portal also sought to help create economic opportunities for the IP communities, building on early efforts by Bukluran and partners to promote IP-produced goods to address the loss of IP livelihoods during the pandemic. The portal features an online marketplace and knowledge resources for entrepreneurs.

Community Savings Groups. International Care Ministries (ICM), Inc.—an international Christian-based organization—has been working to serve the ultra-poor especially in Visayas and Mindanao through community-based savings groups and livelihood skill-up delivered alongside their ministerial work. Through the #TawidCOVID challenge, ICM implemented the Transform2R, which reactivated savings groups in 161 communities in Western Visayas that went dormant under the pandemic. ICM also explored how it can tap into digital financial tools for its work. ICM also pursued skills training and partnerships building to enable sustainable livelihood for the ultra-poor.  

Bamboo Activated Charcoal. Bambuhay was another organization—this time, a private social enterprise—that actively helped IPs. A social enterprise that was incubated and accelerated through various UNDP projects, Bambuhay implemented the scaling up of the sustainable local production of sustainable bamboo activated charcoal for commercial supply. In the process, vulnerable communities and IPs were included in their value chain as workers and planters.

SMS Nudges for Vaccination. A group of young innovators under the name CareGo ERM pursued the full development of a prototype platform for immunization management and included a feature for SMS nudge reminders to parents. In the context of decreasing rates for pediatric vaccinations, CareGo partnered with San Pascual municipality in Batangas to prototype, test, and deploy the vaccination management and nudge reminders system, which helped to increase vaccination rates. CareGo is now scaling this system as a service offering to other local government units.


Taking Stock of SDG Impact

Where are they now since the culmination of the #TawidCOVID Challenge? We gathered the innovators last April in an online forum to share their stories, successes, and challenges; and to spur discussion among development actors on the importance of supporting grassroots innovations for COVID-19 recovery. Coinciding with World Creativity and Innovation Day, the webinar highlighted the role of creativity and innovation in achieving the SDGs.


From left to right (Ms. Calubaquib of UNDP, Mr. Daray of UNDP, Mr. Sultan of Bambuhay, Mr. Pilapil of CareGO EMR, Ms. Raya of ICM Inc., and Mr. Salomon of PAFID-BUKLURAN)



Mark Sultan, the CEO of Bambuhay, shared that they had been making good strides in poverty alleviation as they hired more than 30 additional manpower from IP communities, providing a green and sustainable livelihood, especially for those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic. Mr. Sultan noted that they have tackled issues on environmental protection as well. Through their innovations, mainly on bamboo activated charcoal production, they have campaigned against traditional slash and burn farming, and illegal logging, which continues to greatly contribute to deforestation. The production of sustainable and green bamboo products such as toothbrushes, straws, tumblers, and mugs also manifest their initiative to act against plastic pollution.

Ernest Troyss Pilapil, CEO of CareGO EMR noted that they wanted to tackle the factors behind the low pediatric vaccination rates through the creation of a vaccination-related SMS nudge reminder system. Focusing on SDG 3 – Good health and well-being, their innovation sought to improve pediatric vaccination rates and awareness of vaccination programs around their communities. A 7% increase in the vaccination participation rate has been seen in their project area. They pushed for the sustainability of these gains by introducing an automated tracking app that public health workers can use to monitor children’s vaccination incidence in the area. They are continuing to expand these systems so that they may be used by more LGUs and Rural Health Units as of writing.

Charis Raya, the Strategic Partnerships Director of ICM, Inc. shared ICM’s initiative on reviving household savings groups and building an ecosystem of networks aimed at supporting pandemic recovery. Their initiative zeroes in on SDG 1 – No Poverty, and SDG 2 – Zero Hunger. In their efforts toward the revival of savings groups, they used the grant to improve their previous savings groups systems by providing additional training and new financing methods, such as grants, to help sustain the savings groups. One important aspect of socioeconomic recovery that ICM brought to light was the role of building social capital. Through the creation of networks among the savings groups, the communities were able to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Timothy Salomon, Chief Secretariat from Bukluran, noted that their project addresses multiple SDGs including poverty, zero-hunger, life on land, and peace, security and strong institutions (SDGs 1, 2, 15, and 17). COVID-19 has heavily impacted the livelihood of IPs and has brought threats of encroachment into the ancestral domains of IP communities. To help the communities rise from the challenge, Bulkuran helped to facilitate co-created development plans by communities, powered by the 3D land use maps of IP ancestral domains. Beyond raising awareness on the role of these IP-managed conservation areas, the online portal sought to mainstream ICCAs towards their official recognition by public institutions and other stakeholders.


Creativity and Recovery

Undoubtedly, the “new normal” has placed societies in positions of greater vulnerability and uncertainty. While the pandemic has brought about rapid change in the country’s socioeconomic landscape, it also created an enabling environment for innovations to thrive. Indeed, crises could also pave the way for creative adaptability. And creativity will be crucial to solving emergent problems, or at the very least, to anticipating future risks.

As we navigate this new reality, we can tackle challenges through a more creative lens. In doing so, we could innovate beyond ‘single point’ product-based interventions, and shift towards solutions that integrate interlinking processes and paradigms. Put simply, the role of creativity in sustainable development is to push for anticipatory and adaptive innovations that have the potential to empower the poorest and the most marginalized. While creative thought can be done without much-needed resources, implementing creative action can be resource intensive. Thus, it is our categorical role to push for creativity as one of the cornerstones of collective and equitable development.

But how does one institutionalize creativity? Or is it an oxymoron? On the one hand, these innovations cannot thrive and scale without the necessary institutional support: not just from the government but also from the private sector and development community at large. On the other hand, mainstreaming has the effect of constraining creativity and subjecting innovations to the same rules, norms, terms, and conditions that these innovations revolt against.

We don’t have a clear answer, except perhaps to keep on creating ways to find the right balance, to open more spaces for varying stakeholders—from the government, civil society, academe, and private sector—to come together, co-conceive and co-implement diverse solutions that address various aspects of the same, wicked problems that they’ll have to face anyway.

In short, let’s just continue creating together.


“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
Edward de Bono