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The Multiplier Effect of Communities: Spotlight on the Montalban Action Group | by Angelo Paolo Kalaw | The Celo Blog | Jul, 2021


Working as a community has always been the way things get done at Kasiglahan Village, a neighborhood located just six kilometers outside Metro Manila. “When the government first relocated us here in 1999, there was no stable electricity, no water, no health center — and we had to organize and rally for it,” said Analyn Borbe or Ate Ana as she is fondly called, Vice President of the Montalban Action Group. The group’s reliance on each other is the secret sauce that transformed their village, and it helped members surpass major setbacks over the years, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Montalban Action Group (MAG) is one of the communities here in the Philippines that recently started a decentralized anti-poverty program powered by impactMarket and Celo. With just their smartphones, 45 members of the community receive an unconditional basic income (UBI) from donors around the world to support their basic needs. Every member can claim $12 (roughly PhP575.00) every week in Celo Dollars (cUSD), a stablecoin that goes directly to a secure and user-friendly mobile payments wallet, Valora.

The weekly assistance from impactMarket goes a long way for the recipients: 29 out of the 45 members have an estimated weekly income below the national poverty threshold (PhP2,680 or $55), while the rest are only marginally above it. The average family size is 5 (3 children) and more than half of families (26 out of 45) rely on small businesses as their livelihood, making them particularly vulnerable to economic shocks. Indeed, many of them shared how the quarantine measures led to their incomes being decimated.

Community Profile: Montalban Action Group

Gender Distribution of Beneficiaries

Not surprisingly, 86% of the group’s members are unbanked. Here is where the use of Celo and Valora became key: beneficiaries only needed a simple smartphone and basic internet connection to participate in the program. For 93% of the group, this is also their first time using cryptocurrency. Using Valora and the Celo platform made the process of receiving and utilizing the UBI convenient: they do not need to go to ATMs, interact with bureaucracies or present complicated documentation to access the assistance. The technology allowed charitable individuals and organizations around the world to directly assist small communities like theirs.

Community as a Pillar, Entrepreneurship as a Multiplier

The Montalban Action Group’s strong sense of community proved to be a fertile ground for the technology to make a demonstrable impact. Indeed, impactMarket recognizes that a community-based approach is an important element of an effective poverty-reduction and sustainable development strategy as community leaders often know best what the specific needs are in each community.

When impactMarket was first introduced, Ate Ana quickly knew what to do: leverage trust within the community, educate members well, circulate and share the UBI.

Ana, Montalban Action Group’s community organizer

In her outreach to the first 20 members of the group, she tapped into the younger ones to become “onboarding assistants” who explained to their co-recipients how to download and use the impactMarket and Valora apps. They set up a group chat in Facebook as well, where they asked questions and resolved technical issues. In two days, the community was ready to receive the first UBI disbursement.

In particular, Diane, a public school teacher, served as their go-to for technical support. Diane is more tech savvy than the rest of the group. “At first we had doubts but after we saw that it works, all of our members became confident that it was legit.” She also helps in facilitating the cash out for members through BloomX, a Philippine cryptocurrency exchange offering local offramps.

Diane and her family

For the group, circulating the cUSD is also a means to maximize the benefits of the technology. They know that every type of support they receive should gear towards building resilience and sustainability. Thus, they targeted small business owners as recipients because they would circulate the cryptocurrency and make it grow. These businesses add vibrancy and provide crucial services to the village, and they were disrupted by the pandemic. The blockchain technology behind impactMarket, Celo and Valora presented them with a tool to adapt and cope.

For example, Elena, a sari-sari store owner, saved up her UBI to cover for her electricity bill, which she struggled to pay because of the reduced sales from her store. Nora, who owns a barbecue stand, and Mercy, who runs a small canteen, are also micro-entrepreneurs who were forced to close their businesses when the pandemic hit. They were very grateful that the assistance from impactMarket allowed them to restart.

Clockwise from top left: Elena in front of her sari-sari store; Mercy in her home; Adelaida and her water shop; and Nora grilling at her reopened barbecue business

The members also became each other’s customers. They started accepting cUSD as a means of payment. “Valora is very easy to use, and so we just pay each other using the app,” said Adelaida, another beneficiary who owns a water delivery business. They only needed to scan their QR code or send directly to someone’s mobile number. Soon, their group chat became a place to take orders and coordinate deliveries. New entrepreneurs such as Jelly, Elena’s daughter, also started a business offering various products.

Moreover, these beneficiaries always have the community in their minds. They knew that a small program like impactMarket’s cannot reach everyone in their community. After all, Kasiglahan Village has 10,000 households. It does not, however, deter sharing.

In their third week of receiving UBI, some recipients started donating to the Montalban Action Group’s Community Kitchen, a purely volunteer-operated endeavor that cooks free meals. Some beneficiaries shared their weekly UBI so that more hungry children and families can also enjoy it. Their group is able to make more than 100 breakfast meals every day.

Pictures from the Group’s Community Pantry

There is a lot of attention being given to crypto as an investment vehicle. On the other hand, projects like the one in the Philippines showcase how crypto, if it is made accessible and usable, has a bigger potential to unlock opportunity and create prosperity for all.

The Montalban Action Group beautifully illustrates how the intersection of community spirit and technology can generate change and harness resilience. The collective mindset to nurture and share can be reinforced by a technology that is open, free and knows no borders. There is a lot of attention being given to crypto as an investment vehicle. On the other hand, projects like the one in the Philippines showcase how crypto, if it is made accessible and usable, has a bigger potential to unlock opportunity and create prosperity for all.

If you want to directly support the Montalban Action Group, you may donate by sending funds to their community contract (QR code below) and checking their Community page.

If you are interested in setting up your own impactMarket community, learn more here.

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