“Animal welfare should not be an afterthought. There are connections amongst human development, animal protection and our ecosystems to build longer-term resilience,” Barrio Beterinaryo Co-founder Maria Angela Flores shares.
PAWS estimates there are around 12 million stray cats and dogs in the Philippines. In many local governments, animals captured by the pound are euthanised after three days if they are not claimed by their owners. Crazy right?This became Maria and her partner’s “why” in setting up Barrio Beterinaryo in 2021.
In this week’s #WednesdayVoices, we talked to Maria Angela Flores, co-founder of Barrio Beterinaryo, about the things she’s passionate about, Barrio Beterinaryo, and her advice to young women who wants to launch project like hers.
Please give us a background on what you do and the different things you're passionate about.
I have been working as a humanitarian and development worker in the past decade in peacebuilding, justice, disaster risk reduction and management, and social enterprise. I spent my last decade with the United Nations World Food Programme and the British Council implementing community-based and community-driven programs and introduced various innovations. I received my Development Communication degree (cum laude) from UPLB in 2005. I was awarded a scholarship from the Asian Development Bank in 2011 to pursue a master's degree in Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management.
Currently, I am based in Mindanao as Donor Coordination and Communications Adviser of the Australian Government's Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao. Before this role, I led programs on social entrepreneurship with the British Council, contributing to building a more vital ecosystem for these unique breeds of entrepreneurs who would want to create lasting and sustainable solutions to broken systems in our society. In that role and under my leadership, two pioneering landscape studies were produced to help inform policy and generate more awareness and support for social enterprises. Since then, I have always thought that someday I too would start my own social enterprise. I wondered how I can bring together all of that track record, experience, and values to respond to neglected issues in my community. In 2019, I also met so many beautiful leaders through Obama Leaders: Asia Pacific (including Lynn ), President Obama and Mrs Obama, and the energy, the shared vision for a better society was so infectious and inspiring that compelled me to think more about that dream of leading my own social enterprise.
Fast forward to 2020, when many plans were disrupted due to the pandemic. I supported various causes, such as providing gadgets to public elementary schools and the production of PPEs for healthcare workers. The pandemic also allowed my partner, a veterinarian, to reflect and ask ourselves what our joint mission was as a couple. It was a moment for us to think about how we can reinvent ourselves, to bring our very best as individuals in one venture. We volunteered at a local animal welfare organization. We saw the many issues that are often unseen in the halls of development conversations. Every day, we would get messages from owners wanting to surrender their pets because they can't pay for medical expenses, food or that they can’t simply take care of them anymore.
Can you tell us more about Barrio Beterinaryo?
Barrio Beterinaryo is on a mission to provide high quality and accessible preventive veterinary care for all. In the Philippines, many pets are not getting the veterinary care they need due to various challenges, including financial, geographical, or simply a lack of awareness and education. Because of this, some pets fall through the cracks and end up as strays, neglected, or in need of rescuing. We believe that this situation needs to change by delivering veterinary services to every pet possible through a preventive care model. From the time pet owners welcome a new pet into their home, whether adopted, bought or rescued, we will accompany them by educating them what responsible pet ownership is, providing incremental care that meets the capacity of the owners, and assisting families to maintain the human – animal bond.
Investing in preventive care is the easiest and most effective way to keep pets healthy and happy. Many diseases, just like with us humans, are preventable. Still, without access to preventive care, many diseases can quickly become difficult and expensive to treat. This makes it difficult for pet owners to get treatment and give their pets up or abandon them. This is why at Barrio Beterinaryo we strongly encourage every pet owner to take a proactive approach to preventive care. With Barrio Bet, we can help those needing financial support by waiving some fees or promoting a paid one get one model if a paying client wants to sponsor another neglected or needy pet's vaccine for example.
What is your advice to women who want to launch projects like this?
Don't be afraid to pursue an unexpected path. If you ever find yourself in a situation wherein you're considering reinventing yourself, go for it. At first, I wondered how I'd fare from being a trainer, mentor to social entrepreneurs to being the one who now needs support and going through an incredible learning journey. I had doubts and hesitations. I'm new in the animal welfare world. I have not managed my own business before (apart from an eBay store in my 20s), and so on. Many barriers can distract you. Focus on your social mission and your "why". You'll never go wrong. All experts and leaders were once newbies and first-timers.
Second, I think it's about choosing a partner who will continue to support your biggest dreams, including significant moments of reinvention. It's important that you have a partner who can change and grow with you or a support system like your family to keep you anchored, motivated, and grounded.
Find a mentor. This is still an ongoing search for me. Still, I have thoroughly benefited from connecting with other female leaders in this field. I messaged one fellow woman leader on Linkedin based in the US who founded a startup focusing on accessible and affordable veterinary care. She now leads a nonprofit that continues to make a difference in the animal welfare world. She was very accommodating and approachable. She connected me with resources and platforms where I can learn more and network. That has been a great foundational step. For us women, we need to network with fellow women entrepreneurs. I'm looking forward to meeting my future mentor.
Learn more about Barrio Beterinaryo by visiting their Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/barriobet