Going solo or getting an apartment are milestones in a young person’s life, a declaration of independence from family and all its comforts. The reality is often less rosy, especially for the segment of the population in blue-collar jobs.
Accommodations are usually bare-bones bed-spacers offering few conveniences and located in unsafe neighborhoods. Moreover, such dormitories start out being mixed-gender, but women eventually start leaving because they prefer the privacy and safety of all-female accommodations.
“Near industrial parks, it’s expensive and undignified to be a migrant worker. For manufacturers, it’s also expensive to employ migrant workers,” says Daniel Lopez Layug.
Layug had looked into the situation of factory workers in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) area, talking to hundreds of women over several months. Migrants, he says, comprise 30% of workers in the industrial parks in Batangas as “everybody in Batangas who wants to be a factory worker is already a factory worker.” In neighboring Laguna, the number is a bit higher at 40%. These workers, who mostly come from Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) and the Visayas, leave their homes and families in search of better wages and, to some extent, take their first step towards independence.
More often than not, the small towns bordering the parks lack the infrastructure, including housing, to support the influx of migrants.
“The employers noticed that it’s hard to employ migrant labor due to high absenteeism or tardiness, because the migrants live maybe an hour away and they get stuck in traffic, or they get sick because of their poor living conditions,” Layug notes.
Workers are also lured by higher pay or employment closer to where they live, forcing companies to continually hire and train replacement staff.
“If they find a job that pays a hundred pesos more or is closer to where they live, they move. But if there’s adequate housing that’s dignified, safe and clean, they’ll stay,” Layug adds.
This is where PeoplePods Philippines, cofounded by Layug and his wife Anacelle in 2018, comes in.
“We believe that a company becomes successful because of the loyalty and hard work of the employees. That’s why PeoplePods engages with employers of minimum wage workers, we want to help employers take care of their people.”
Kellogg and INSEAD competition funding
Layug was taking his MBA at INSEAD in 2017 when he and his teammates conceptualized PeoplePods for the Kellogg Real Estate Venture Competition (Chicago, USA).
“My teammates were from Thailand and the US. Having family business backgrounds, we all share the belief that businesses thrive through generations because of the diligence and loyalty of employees,” Layug says of their entry. “We developed it in about six weeks, but it was still very conceptual then."
The trio went on to win the contest, beating out teams from the world’s top MBA schools and receiving the $100,000 prize.
In December 2017, PeoplePods also won the €40,000 prize for 1st Place and the Social Impact Award at the INSEAD Venture Competition (France and Singapore) against start-up ideas around the world.
The life savings of Layug and his wife, complemented by the prizes, were invested in developing the pilot—a 130-bed community in Malvar, Batangas. “We decided on this area because Lipa-Malvar is where my wife’s family is from and that’s where the market is.”
PeoplePods provides professionally managed dormitory communities which are safer and have more amenities, including cooking and laundry areas and unlimited WiFi. Cleaning staff and female guards further ensure the cleanliness and security of the community. Residents also have access to affordable meals, clinics, banks and public transportation.
A community manager ensures that PeoplePods works like a community instead of just a group of strangers living together.
Adds Layug: “Our mission is to increase quality of life for the female factory workers without increasing the costs that they spend.
“Knowledge Channel videos on health and wellness, financial literacy, values formation, and more, provide opportunities for future self-development. Our intention, whether in this generation or the generation of the kids of the migrant workers, is for them to be able to uplift themselves. When you have independence, you dream bigger. Once they can take care of basic needs—which they can, because they remit money home to their families—I think they should be able to dream for themselves and for generations to come.”
Designed by sustainability experts
For their second dorm community, in Calamba, PeoplePods worked with Filipino architect J+A and a LEED-certified sustainability specialist at global architectural firm Gensler.
The PeoplePods buildings eschew the traditional concrete hollow blocks or CHB construction method because cement production is the highest CO2-emitting process today. Instead, the team opted to go with a newer, faster and more environmentally-sustainable method utilizing insulated panels and steel frames.
“This is actually one of the reasons the architects came on, because they saw we were using more sustainable materials and it was innovative.
“Our design is crafted specifically to suit the industrial market and provincial built-environment. You can get all this great wind flow and green, open space,” Layug explains.
More than the materials used for the structure and the aesthetics, PeoplePods took into consideration livability, the way the tenants use and interact with the structure.
Because of its green design, PeoplePods won the UN Sustainable Development Goals Award at the 2018 Nudge Global Impact Challenge (Netherlands) and was a Final 10 competitor at the 2018 Liveability Challenge of World Cities Summit (Singapore).
For now, the PeoplePods team wants to focus on Laguna and Batangas before bringing their concept to the industrial parks north of Manila, then maybe even crossing over to the Visayas. The team will be complemented by management consultants from INSEAD MBA this summer who will help scale PeoplePods’ impact in these focus provinces.
“The need is there, and we have the ability to serve that need. Our mission is really to be able to provide thousands of female workers a better life and this is just our first step,” Layug concludes.
PeoplePods is continuously seeking manufacturers who need workers accommodations. For inquiries, email contact@ peoplepods.co.