Advances in information technology changed not only the way we think of businesses, but also of the way we run them. With the rise of companies run by minimal office staff, there is a need for assistance in doing the nitty-gritty aspects of the business. The challenge is to do it without garnering additional costs and manpower. This is where Afortiva Virtual Solutions comes in.
Afortiva supplies ‘virtual assistants’, people who can do the kind of work that office secretaries and personal assistants used to do. The only difference is that you can access your VA anytime and anywhere there is an Internet connection. Founded by Gregory and Vanessa Misaghi, the company uses a very simple but highly beneficial concept.
While Gregory handles CEO duties, Vanessa, as Operations Director, oversees the daily operations and manages their working teams. Their VA teams provide administrative support and other specialized services to businesses, entrepreneurs, executives, business professionals, and others who have more work to do than the time to do it.
Vanessa explains, “Many clients realize that they are spending too much time taking care of busy-work that they can’t bill clients for, but still needs to be done, such as scheduling trips, planning meetings, researching the Internet for information, tracking expenses, paying bills and taxes, balancing the books, maintaining files, screening calls, and answering e-mails. A virtual assistant can save you time because you’ll be spending less time doing that work and more time growing your business, having quality time with the family, or just plain relaxing.”
Afortiva’s service is all about helping their clients, mostly business owners and managers, to concentrate on what they do best. Their clients have realized the importance of having someone outside the office handle all routine office tasks.
Gregory, or Greg as he’d like to be called, acknowledges that the VA concept is not that new. What makes their services different is that they have created their unique spin on the what a VA can do for their clients. He emphasizes that it is all about knowing what your clients need on a personal level.
He shares, “Afortiva is more of a ‘Mom and Pop’ shop. A small business for small businesses. In this model, we don’t want you to keep ‘returning products to the store’ if unhappy. We don’t want you to waste the time. Time that we have promised to give you. Have a business problem and need consulting? You need a service that you don’t see on our list? Let us solve that for you by finding solutions for your problems as if it were ours. We will constantly update you and call you instead of sending a generic email. Unlike big firms, we won’t let bureaucratic or arbitrary procedures limit us from helping you. You won’t have to talk to five people to solve one simple task. You don’t have to take two steps forward and one step back. These value added services are free and are included with the rate we charge you.”
In a Facebook conversation with Vanessa, she shares that just like a lot of businesses, they went through several transitions before becoming successful.
“I was into business development for six years. Greg was into training for three years. We met at a call center. When we became a couple, we realized our tandem is a good combo to start something out. I was contacted by one of my former clients from the US, and he asked if I can do projects for him. I took the job as a part-time thing. Greg became interested in it. And we both agreed, why not do this for good?”, she said.
At first, Vanessamade contact with all of the people she networked with from the US and found a way to secure clients. Most of the jobs theyreceived weretelemarketing-oriented.
She recalls, “We have only had two computers at home then. We did it ourselves. Andwe were able to hire oneyoung person to help us out. All of a sudden the number of clients increased instantly. They mostly came from referrals by my other contacts and current clients. Soon we had to move operations to Bacolod to accommodate those clients. Greg’s dad has an office there with six desktop computers. We borrowed their office at night.”
Sadly, the Bacolod move didnot work out well for the couple’s first venture together. Vanessa admits that labor costs are cheaper there but they had a hard time finding competent people to work for them. The telemarketing accounts also demanded too much from them and became too difficult to work with.
The couple flew back to Manila and resolved to reshape their business model and we discarded their telemarketing accounts. They eventually decided to focus more on the ‘virtual assistant’ market. This decision positively shaped Afortiva into what it is now.
One thing they learned from their previous work experiences is to identify what made both of them leave in the first place. “When we put up Afortiva, we made sure to recall whatever things we didn’t like from our previous companies, and ensure that we won’t do those things in our own company. We now operate in a culture and work atmosphere that our employees enjoy. They havethe freedom to be creative. They have discipline, and most importantly, they can learn alot from the online marketing industry, ” remarks Vanessa.
This is the talk I delivered at the 40th United Architects of the Philippines National Convention last Saturday, April 12, at the SMX, redacted to be read rather than be heard and seen as I had a lot of visual support.
On my 65th birthday in June this year, I plan to launch my own sensual photography book of women. I love taking pictures and I love women in a universal sense, so I thought I could combine the two loves by coming up with a third love, books. There are sixteen women featured in the book, from age 17 to 62. All of them are personal friends, including my wife. Except for one, none of them are professional models. These are strong, lovely independent-minded women who discovered more of their power through the exercise.
Why Nude Women?
Now, if your question to me is how did I convince women friends to shed their inhibition and show some skin, you are out. I think the most essential question at this point is why am I coming out with this book at all. And I say to you: why not? It is a dream. It is a fantasy. So why not go for it?
Less than ten years ago, I was telling people, I would be okay just to live up to 60 years old. But then, I thought, that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, considering that when we visualize strongly enough, scenes do come true. So when I was about to reach 60, I said, Lord erase, erase, erase! I want to live up to 100.
Climb Your Mountain
I keep seeing and admiring photos of Mt. Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines. They show clouds dancing with the orange burst of dawn. I told myself, I’d want to take such photos myself. Of course, the only way was to climb Mt. Pulag. So I did. It was February and very cold, the air rarified. I was the oldest person in that horde that ascended that day. I wasn’t easy. I have asthma classified as COPD. I almost died. But I got one item on the list, checked.
The questions that beg to be asked are: how safe or how risky are those things-to-do in our list? How far would we dare venture out of our comfort zone? How much pain are we willing to take in for a moment of joy? Having built our career, would we raze it down and rebuild it? Could we be like children? We may patiently construct a Lego castle only for them to kick it down soon after, with laughter. We are born free, curious and expansive. Those of you who have small children or apos in their house will remember how we ourselves acted.
One of my grandchildren, named Jaiichi, is deeply fascinated by keys. He observes how a key is inserted into a knob and a panel opens. He observes how a key is inserted into a slot, and a car starts. It is magic. So he demands for a key and tries them in holes. We had to buy plastic outlet covers to prevent further accident. Because he got jolted by electricity before that and he just gave a sheepish smile. Only for him to try inserting the key again!
That is how we are as children, we explore. We are full of wonderment.
To Be A Child
But as we grow up, we get clamped down by norms and conventions. We start to create our bubble – to protect ourselves from the pain, the embarrassment, the rejection, the disappointments in life. Sometimes we measure our worth by how people rate us, or by the number of likes on Facebook. Sus ginoo. Can’t we be carefree or stupid sometimes? In the creative industry, brainstorming is one of the most liberating exercises. Here, there is no such thing as a stupid idea. A stupid idea could lead to a brilliant concept.
I asked the guests not give any gift but to donate cash instead to an advocacy that I was starting. In the same year, I was gripped by a vision, a vision that obsesses me up to now. And this is: the creative content industry could be a substantial contributor to our economic growth as well as to a robust culture.
Together with some colleagues in the comics and animation sectors, we planned a festival. We had exhibits, drawing competitions, workshops, foreign guests, recognition rights, talks and lectures, the works. But these cost a lot of money and we were working against negative factors. One, we represented two moribund sectors. There used to be a Golden Age of comics and the Philippines was the choice of animation producers. But now these are neglected, exploited sectors. Who would support losers like those?
Walk the Talk
I had to put my foot where my mouth is. So, with the consent and support of my wife, I borrowed money against my insurances. Plus, we mortgaged our property and borrowed from individuals. For something that was non-profit and non-stock – if you are a banker or a finance officer – that was pure madness. What makes the position of creative people in the Philippines difficult is the establishment bias and stereotyping, and not just apathy, against the arts.
We have forgotten that it is innate for man to draw. The caveman not only wanted to record his world and the events that occurred herein, but he needed to comprehend and even beautify his world. So, while he hunted for food and sought protection from the elements, he drew his apprehension and aspiration on the wall. He probably invented primitive pencils first way before the wheel.
But what do we hear? Hoy, ano ba yang pa-art arts mo dyan, makakain ba yan? Early on we curtail the natural tendency of our children to express, which is what art is all about. We try to subdue his right brain and impose the preference for logic over intuition even when management schools teach that when all approaches fail, use your intuition. Blink!
Defining Who We Are
These grown-ups become heads of government and custodians of institutions. That is why we do not have a Department of Culture or a Department of Creative Content, unlike other countries in the world. Our adults think that art is some esoteric pursuit, meant only for street dancing and external beautification, when art is a continuous process of defining who we are as a people. When nurturing art feeds our own rationale for being.
It is a nagging thing. Today, I have called on a larger circle of friends, from television, film, animation, comics, fashion, graphic design, photography, the academe, and yes architecture, to form an organized, united constituency. The ASEAN Economic Integration remains a serious concern. More than the threat to livelihood, what to us is critical is the onslaught of cultural influences. For a nation with a rich reservoir of artists but uncaring supra structure, that is scary. We are in danger of losing our soul, because we have reduced our survival to just our stomach.
To me this is a battle worth waging. If we are given to have one last shot at life, what would be your choice? When said I almost died climbing Mount Pulag. I was not dramatizing. I think I was the first individual to head for the summit of Pulag that early morning. But the oxygen was so thin, My heart was pumping hard and my vision was getting dim. I was gasping for life, my lungs were not expanding, I defecated. It was sheer will that pushed me to reach the summit, the last guy to do so. I was thinking that if it was really time for me to go, it would be comforting that I went trying to realize one of my dreams.
“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”
~David Star Jordan (1851-1931)
Educator, Author, Peace Activist
A fulfilling and satisfying life means more than the usual office-home routine.
A university friend I haven’t seen or heard from in several years sent me a message in Facebook last month. He was asking for information on volunteer groups so that he, in his own words, “has something worthwhile to do in his life.” Though his desire to be part of a socio-civic group might have been driven by wanting to have a social life outside of work, he could easily fill that gap by NOT doing volunteer activities. Yet he chose to share his time with others with the hope that by helping improve the lives of others, he improves his too.
Young professionals like him have the resources – time and energy – to volunteer and to actually do something concrete to help improve lives. I salute him and the yuppies who are like him.
This article outlines some of the volunteer services and groups I suggested to him.
It’s that time of the year again when people go to places with cooler weather. Others choose to brave the heat and volunteer their time cleaning and preparing public schools for the coming school year. This yearly activity is called Brigada Eskwela.
Being a Brigada Eskwela volunteer means sweeping, dusting and wiping floors, windows, ceilings, and whatever surface there is. For the few days that you are part of a school’s Brigada Eskwela volunteer corps, you will do everything and anything with nary a complaint.
If you don’t know of a school looking for volunteers for its Brigada Eskwela project this summer, message me and I will get you in touch with school principals who are looking for able-bodied volunteers.
If going places is your passion, volunteering in the places you go visit will certainly enhance that experience.
Travelling becomes much more meaningful and worthwhile when it is spent enhancing our knowledge on how other people, cultures are. A growing trend is the “travel with a cause” where solo or group travellers go someplace to volunteer their time and expertise.
With the Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas still recovering from the devastation, kind-hearted Filipinos and foreigners have been organizing their vacation with the goal of helping the survivors recover. Maybe you and your friends may want to support the Yolanda survivors by going to the affected areas and physically help in the rebuilding process, say, by collecting and delivering books to public libraries.
Create Your Own
Now if the existing plethora of volunteer activities and groups don’t float your boat, don’t worry you can still volunteer by creating your own activity.
You only need to look at the needs of the less fortunate in your neighborhood, and then assess your skills and capabilities. For example, are there a lot of children who are below school age in your area? Why not create a regular reading group? You can partner with your neighborhood religious group in organizing this activity.
If reading to kids is not your thing, then why not organize a group to collect donations for care packages and deliver them to orphanages, halfway houses, etc.?
Truly when a person wants to do something worthwhile for others, only our imagination is the limit to what we can do.
As an opinion writer, I tend to shoot of my mouth with ideas on how the government and so and so elected official should do this and do that. This after all is the heart and soul of being an opinion writer. But an opinion writer who is so detached from reality is someone who is as dangerous to the society as a corrupt politician. To ground myself to the reality of the Filipino masses, I go out and volunteer. By immersing myself to what is happening on the streets, in the boondocks, I hope that my opinions are with soul.
The Gerry Roxas Foundation & Gerry Roxas Leadership Awardees, Inc. invite you to the Leader’s Forum on May 24 3PM at Balay, Araneta Center. GRLAs Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte and DILG Usec Austere A. Panadero will speak on leadership & nation building. The Leader’s Forum is part of GRF’s year-long celebration for its 55th anniversary.
To confirm your attendance, text your complete name, high school & year of graduation to Jose Francisco “Cholo” Kawada at 0917-8824656.
Liza fancies herself a writer, but what she wants to do is to actually spend all her time reading what others have written. In the meantime volunteers her time for the Gerry Roxas Leadership Awardees, Inc. and Rotary Club of Makati McKinley’s charitable activities. Visit her Web site at thegirlninja.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or engage her at http://www.facebook.com/annalizagaspar.