Stephanie Velasco-Orlino counts herself lucky to have discovered her true passion and a fulfilling career path. With over 22 years of experience in the development sector, her deep-rooted love for agriculture shines through her work as the Head of the Stakeholder Management Team at PLDT and Smart Communications. In her role, she harnesses the transformative potential of technology to bring about positive change in the agriculture sector. Working in a technology-focused company provides her with the opportunity to drive innovation and empower various sectors.
Stephanie finds fulfillment in seeing the impact of their work in other people’s lives. Whether it's their digital literacy app improving a student’s reading skills, their e-commerce platform increasing a farmer’s income, or their mobile services connecting people to their families especially during natural disasters—these moments are truly priceless to her.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your work making an impact on people’s lives. What I cherish the most about this role is the constant dynamism. It keeps you on your toes, demanding speed, resourcefulness, and creativity. There's ample space for innovation, and our team is deeply empowered by the company's support.”
AN ENABLER OF POSITIVE CHANGE
Stephanie firmly believes that technology is more than just a conduit for connectivity; it's a powerful instrument to enable change in the agriculture sector. Timely, precise, and relevant information is the key to enhancing the efficiency and productivity of smallholder farmers, ultimately leading to increased yields and revenues. Technology also acts as the bridge that connects farmers with the right markets, effectively addressing supply chain challenges.
Together with the Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI) and its regional offices, the DFP provides digital literacy training to smallholder farmers. DA-ATI partnered with PLDT/Smart to create educational modules covering essential smartphone and internet usage, as well as the benefits of e-commerce platforms. These modules are designed for dissemination among local government units (LGUs), farmer associations, farm field schools, and cooperatives across the country. The project hopes to extend more livelihood opportunities to farmers through technology, highlighting the tangible benefits it can provide and how it can increase profits over time.
“Technology is not easy to navigate for everyone, especially for our aging farmers since majority of them are technology averse. It becomes more difficult when you’re doing it alone, but if you’re with a community it becomes easier and more enjoyable.”
Photo credit: Smart.com.ph
To encourage farmers to put their newfound knowledge into practice and become comfortable with technology, PLDT and Smart used social media and created an online community on Facebook, as a reinforcement tool. The DFP conducts regular online activities such as gamified Q&A sessions, photo contests, and other engaging initiatives to foster discussions, and keep farmers invested in technology. It also nurtured a sense of community, motivating farmers to support each other as they embraced the role of digital farmers.
Meanwhile, during the pandemic, farmers were faced with challenges in selling their produce. Transporting harvests from the farm to the communities became a problem. With food businesses and markets in limited operations, farmers were left with few people to sell their harvest to, leaving fresh produce going to waste. PLDT and Smart saw this as an excellent opportunity to turn their "Buy Local" farm-to-market program into an employee engagement program. PLDT and Smart employees were able to order agricultural products online and have them delivered to their locations. This shift not only addressed the accessibility issue but also expanded the reach of farmers to a broader audience.
Photo credit: Smart.com.ph
PLDT and Smart also partnered with Cropital to establish a "sustainability fund." This fund was designed to support multiple batches of farmers through affordable loans.
“Technology can make financial services more accessible and more affordable for them. It can also enable sustainable and climate-smart farming since we are a disaster-stricken country. When they are supported in these aspects it can make them more resilient to the many challenges that confront the sector.”
Through these programs, PLDT and Smart have assisted over 4,500 local farmers get better access to markets.
A POWERFUL FORCE FOR GOOD
For Stephanie, seeing farmers thrive inspires her to think of ways on how PLDT and Smart can create more impact through technology. She recalls how the Planza High-Value Crops Planters Association in San Fernando, Camarines Sur effectively managed a surplus of vegetables resulting from supply and demand gaps. During an agricultural summit, the farmer leader of the association – Maria Paloma – shared how they creatively turned this surplus into vegetable chips, creating an additional revenue stream. Thanks to its quality and taste, consumers began to take notice, and the product gained momentum.
"Nanay Maria made a lasting impression because she demonstrated a commitment to maximizing the full potential of her products. During the Bicol Agricultural Summit in Camarines Sur, we engaged in discussions about e-commerce and TikTok. She displayed a keen interest in using digital technology to expand the reach of her products to a wider audience and broader market. She's ready to dip her toes into the digital realm."
For Stephanie, these experiences provide opportunities to reinforce the core purpose of PLDT/Smart: creating meaningful impact through technology.
"We fully understand our role as technology providers in promoting digital inclusion, particularly among marginalized communities. We firmly believe that technology can be a powerful force for good. With this power comes great responsibility, and that's why we are dedicated to these initiatives. We are excited to witness how our programs and solutions can continue to benefit farmers and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) like Nanay Maria."
THE URGENT CALL FOR TRANSFORMATION
At the heart of all her endeavors, Stephanie's motivation centers on the importance of our farmers to our survival. She hopes that one day, farming and agriculture will be seen as viable career options like other high-tech industries. But to achieve this transformation, Stephanie believes that farmers must learn to see themselves not as laborers but as entrepreneurs. Together, we can collectively help in fostering this mindset that will further empower farmers.
“Farmers are highly critical to our survival because they provide the food that we eat satisfying one of our most fundamental human needs. Farmers must believe that they are important. We need to work together to make the sector more lucrative for the next generation and then there will be more investments in improving the sector.”
Stephanie places great emphasis on the value of partnerships and their potential to generate substantial impact, serving communities. She is most excited in seeking synergies with the right organizations to further enhance the viability and dynamism of the agricultural sector. Through these collaborative endeavors, she envisions elevating the entire industry and capturing the attention and interest of the youth.
"I am particularly thrilled about our upcoming project—the Smart Agricultural Competition with PPSA and Metro Pacific Agro Ventures, one of our sister companies. We want to engage farmers, academia, and farming organizations with the objective of identifying the best corn variety, optimizing corn farming practices, and formulating the finest corn silage to enhance both quality and yield in corn silage production. This initiative also aims to uplift the entire dairy farm industry, as corn silage plays a pivotal role in supporting dairy farming."
THE MAKINGS OF A SUPERSTAR
Stephanie attributes her best qualities to the women who led by example and mentored her throughout her life. She draws inspiration from her mother who instilled in her the principles of having a strong work ethic, resilience, perseverance, and the importance of holding oneself to the highest standards.
Her mentors in the development sector have played a pivotal role in shaping her character. Their wisdom and guidance have been instrumental in her personal and professional growth. Stephanie holds these women in high regard, describing them as strong, intelligent women with compassionate hearts who possess a profound love for their country.
“I always push myself to be better and I also push the people around me to be better because I feel that I am doing my team a disservice if I allow them to be mediocre. I believe we are all capable of becoming superstars so I want that for everyone that I work with.”