Organizing Community Events in the Philippines: Where do I start?

Community members have been asking me this question as of late and I’ve been wondering about the sudden interest. A few assumptions came to mind: (1) that community members are starting to be proactive and are forming niche groups on their own, and (2) are now either motivated or frustrated enough of the state of existing opportunities and decided “F*ck it, we’ll get up our asses and make our own.” – both of which are possibilities that I find beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of well-articulated, informative guides out there on event organizing (and if you have any you especially like,  please comment the links below as I’d love to have a look) but I think the cause of distress among aspiring organizers is that not many guides relate to us in the local [Philippine] setting. I’d like to say I’m making this to “contribute to the health and growth of our local startup ecosystem” but really it’s so that I won’t have to repeat this every time someone asks me that question.

Know you’re sh*tty at reading long articles? I can take you to the good stuff.

1) Network is key – be they your direct friend circle, family, or annoying neighbor that sings bad karaoke at the crack of dawn

Chances are, you’ve already expressed an interest in forming this meetup group to your friends or old classmates. And most likely, this group of people share the same mindset and industry as you (well, at least some of them do). Like that neighbor: you’re pretty sure he’d crash and burn in the entertainment industry, but he has helped you figure out a few lines of code on the off days you see him out during human hours.

Reach out to the people that you know and, if they have other ideas about what you can do, hear them out. Sometimes, it just takes a conversation with an open mind to start something great. Even something as simple posting a Facebook status post saying “I’m thinking about putting together a meetup group for designers. Anyone in?” will go a long way. You’d be surprised; your sponsors, participants, and speakers just might come from this PSA. Trust me, it’s happened!

Startup Weekend Bohol 2 Organizers and Supporters

Startup Weekend Bohol 2 Organizers and Supporters

2) No man is an island – find an organizing team, your efforts won’t be sustainable otherwise

Form a group with people you’re sure you trust and who are as passionate as you. It doesn’t even have to be a perfect mix of experienced organizers, graphic artists, and social media people (although that would surely help).

An ideal number for a starting team is three people, though that number varies depending on the commitment level of each team member. It is preferred that the group have an equal level of interest and drive as you will be the founding team of your planned efforts. Not only will it make the organization scale in the future by having a stable foundation, but it’ll keep you – yes you, the reader – sane when things go to sh*t (but they pick right back up in due time, don’t worry!). A usually good indicator that someone falls under this category is someone who has reached out to you and expressed interest to help out via the post that you made if you did tip number 1.

Having such a dedicated group is also a validation of the next point which is…

3) Interest – if no one wants it, why bother? (Unless it’s like, a cause against something that endangers humanity like climate change and a zombie apocalypse)

Gauging interest is one of the points I’ve learned to prioritize in spearheading events and efforts. I used to just go through the last half of this list, blindly struggling forward only realizing that what I was working so hard on was something the community didn’t need nor want. It’s wasted effort, wasted time, and just a lot of stress for nothing.

This is why numbers 1 and 2 were so important because the outcome of the sections above help break things down for your decision in this tip. What I normally do for small events is, much like that public post, post a poll in a related social media group that has the audience you want to reach and have them vote on what topics should be discussed and who would be willing to sponsor or become a resource speaker. It’s initial interaction from that outreach that will help give you a preview on the community’s engagement with your efforts if you ever decide to push through.

On a side note, I know this tip may sound a bit harsh but be kind to yourself. We are often doing this on a volunteer basis, with nothing in exchange. We give and invest a lot of ourselves in what we do, and we love it! – but it’s just so painful to see great people burn out. I’ll write about this separately as I feel it’s a conversation we need to have for the community.

Measuring Interest for SWB2

Me measuring interest for an event for the first time

4) Date and Time

Now we start to get a bit more generic. This one goes hand-in-hand with number 5 but I’ve noticed that a lot of people consider this first so I’m just adding it as number 4. This doesn’t mean though that the event’s date and time should be put on top of where, when, and who; you should be flexible enough to adjust to make everything ideal as best as you can.

For example, your venue is booked within the city, but the date falls on a national long holiday: good news is that the speaker is available and the venue is accessible, bad news is that there might be a chance your audience will be going home to the provinces and most of them won’t likely be able to attend your event. Weigh your options if this is the case and adjust accordingly. You could ask the speaker when he is next available, communicate with the community about the situation, get feedback, and iterate.

I’ve found that weekday nights after 7PM are perfect for short get-togethers. It’s a few hours after 5PM when people get off work, and it gives them at least an hour to fight through traffic to get to the venue on time (well, as “on time” us Filipinos can be). It could be different for each community so learn to listen and reach out.

5) Venue

It helps if your area has a co-working space that is open to host community events. Often times the arrangement will be that they handle venue and internet and all you have to think about is food, participants, and content. If you aren’t so lucky to have a community space, look for small function rooms in your area that aren’t to pricey or a small cafe you can rent out.

If I can use Bohol as an example: We don’t have a local co-working space but we do have a lot of homey cafes. We partner with them and ask them if we can book the place for the duration of the event. In exchange, we have to buy everyone at least a drink; or people can pay for a drink themselves via adding a small registration fee that covers that cost. We sometimes also rent out a small function room that’s good for 30 people for a small fee. Again, costs covered by the registration fee. If you’re fortunate, you could have a sponsor cover for all that instead.

There are a lot of ways you could get “free venue” like partnering with schools (although that involves too much paperwork for a small meetup), borrowing a section of a friend’s company’s office for a night, or sometimes even meeting at someone’s house (yeah, we’ve tried it!); it’s all about creativity, working together and tapping your network. We’re from Asia, bootstrap is our way of life.

Dribbble Cebu Meetup 2 at iioffice CEBU

Dribbble Cebu Meetup 2 at iioffice CEBU

6) Resource Speakers

I often say “local is the way to go” but the most common challenge we see small communities face is when we need to look for speakers on the 3rd or 5th event where we find out that there’s just not that many “experts” that live here.

Other ways of getting a resource, if they aren’t already in your community, are: (1) making your voices louder and tapping networks of networks (maybe your classmate’s brother’s neighbor’s ex-girlfriend’s sister is a world-class Android developer – maybe she’d like to share her knowledge), (2) provide alternative means of sharing the speaker’s resources – you could set up a Skype session with them and the audience (though that would mean having a venue with reliable internet), or you could ask the speaker to make a video of them talking about their topic, project that during the meetup, and entertain questions online via Twitter or Facebook for participant engagement, (3) if all else fails, maybe taking an online course or watching a YouTube tutorial together then discussing your thoughts after would be an interesting activity to experience with the community.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways for you to get together and learn from each other as long as you’re creative.

I'm not Skyping with them; pre-recorded my

I’m not Skyping with them; pre-recorded my “talk” and sent the file over

7) Sponsors

For a long time, this has always been a challenge for me. I’d always find myself second-guessing and being intimidated, eventually asking Tina, TechTalks.ph’s founder, “How do you get sponsors?” and she’d laugh at me saying “You’ll never get what you want unless you ask for it, so ask for it.” Imagine how dumbstruck I looked a few years later when I realized that she meant it literally.

And I mean literally! I thought it was the “you’ll get it when you’re older” kind of advice your parents give you – but what she really meant was to literally tap your network, find a friend that you think would be interested in the event you’re putting together, and ASK if they’d be interested to sponsor.

I did just that and guess what happened? PLDT SME Nation becoming a Premier Sponsor for Startup Weekend Bohol 2. Yeah, PLDT! It probably isn’t much to more seasoned event organizers but when we got that sponsorship, I was ecstatic! It all started when Ideaspace had a bootcamp in Bohol. They just announced that they wouldn’t be getting equity from the startups that go through their accelerator program and we were also still in the planning stages of SWB2. I asked Brenda, their Associate for Startup Services, if Ideaspace would be interested in supporting our efforts as a sponsor. Long story short, I got endorsed to PLDT-SMART, got the sponsorship with their help after a long but very worth it process, and got to thank Fro and Robbie, PLDT’s Head of Community Partners and Community Consultant respectively, in person at Geeks On A Beach that same year.

All I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to reach out, even to the most conservative businesses. People surprise you!

8) Participants

If you’re making an event for the community then this should be the easy part, in my opinion. You’re already giving people something they want and are ready for. If you’ve already reached out and measured interest, it’s time to post and share away!

Word of mouth is the best form of marketing, so much so if the network you’re tapping has someone that understands your vision and is independently advocating your effort. Quality over quantity is what I always say. In my opinion, the only true measure of success for an event is what the people who attended it do after.

Foundations of UX Research and How to Bootstrap it with Ben Kim

Foundations of UX Research and How to Bootstrap It with Ben Kim at The TIDE Cebu

9) Just do it – sometimes, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission

And lastly, just go and do it. Sometimes all it takes is that one push for a community to move. Create a Facebook event page, set the date and time as TBD if it isn’t agreed upon yet, and publish it! I always wonder why community members think I’m joking when I tell them to do this. It does take a lot of b*lls (it took a while to get into this myself) but, if you think about it, what do you have to lose? If engagement with the announcement is strong, then great! You have a proven market for your event. If not, then it just means you have to rethink what you want to do and consult with the community again.

Being on the spot and throwing myself to the fire, so to speak, has always been a great way for me to be forced to learn. I do understand that not all people have grace under pressure (and even I doubt my own choices sometimes) but what’s life without a little risk?

Thanks for getting this far into the article. If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone that wants to engage (or is engaging) with the community. Good on you!

Where do I start if I want to organize a community event in the Philippines?

  1. Talk to your network – Reaching out to your immediate friend circle or community is always the first step. Talk to people about it, get their feedback, and maybe get them to join your cause.
  2. Work with a team – You won’t be sustainable if you go at it alone; find people you trust and who are as passionate as you and work together as a team.
  3. Measure interest – There’s no point in doing something nobody wants unless it’s for a cause against something that endangers humanity. Reach out, measure engagement, and see if the community is ready for what you want to do.
  4. Date & Time – Be flexible; not everyone is available on the same date or maybe weather isn’t too good. Look for a time where it’s most convenient for everyone and you.
  5. Venue – Always think of the participants and the purpose for your event. Look for a space that meets those needs and of course meets the budget.
  6. Resource Speakers – Tap as many local resources as you can. It boosts morale and helps the community realize that they can do it too. Running out of local resources? Be creative. There are many ways to find a reason to get a community together for something productive.
  7. Sponsors – Don’t be shy! If you need something, ask for it. Reach out to even the most conservative of businesses, don’t be shy. People always surprise you!
  8. Participants – If people want it, they can have it. Shout out into the world (with a good marketing plan) and get the participants you need for your event. If the community wants it, this part shouldn’t be too hard.
  9. Sometimes all it takes is a little push – or a shove! As Nike says, Just do it.
Startup Weekend PH Facilitators at Techstars APAC Summit 2016

Startup Weekend PH Facilitators at Techstars APAC Summit 2016

I’ve always wanted this blogpost to evolve over time as we learn from each other so let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you have any questions? Do you have some suggestions on how to handle certain points? Maybe you even have your own guide that the community can check out. If so, please leave the link in the comments! Let’s work together to build a more engaging ecosystem and give the talent in our country the support they deserve. Cheers!

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(1) This blogpost is written mostly in the perspective of the communities I am personally active in: startup, technology, and design. Click here to go back to where you were reading.

(2) I am by no means an expert at “Organizing Community Events in the Philippines” and have not received any formal education nor any official certifications on the topic. Everything here is just a record of how I’ve been doing events for the startup communities in Bohol and Cebu (and hopefully more provinces soon) for the past four years. In time, I’d like this blog to be more of a collaboration between community builders around the country as this blog post evolves over time. Click here to go back to where you were reading.

(3) I use Facebook a lot as an example (not that this blogpost is sponsored or anything but it would be awesome if it was) since it’s the Filipino’s favorite social network. Click here to go back to where you were reading.

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