Melissa Yeung Yap wears many hats. First and foremost, she is the CEO of Greenstone Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer most well known for Katinko Oil and Ointments. She is also the founder of The Bunny Project PH, which employs local tailors in Tarlac to make PPEs. These were donated at the height of the pandemic when many hospitals were experiencing a shortage. Aside from that, Yap is also the founder and executive director of Got Heart Foundation, a social enterprise that includes Got Heart Shop, which sells products from micro-entrepreneurs, and Earth Kitchen, which is a restaurant that sources its ingredients straight from the local farmers.
Not only did Yap manage to help her companies weather through the pandemic, but she was also able to lend a helping hand to many communities, not just by donating but by addressing the grassroot problems. For this reason, she has been recognized as one of the top 8 Modern Tao Kes of 2021.
Yap clearly has a lot on her plate, but her businesses have always revolved around helping people, and that’s one of the main things that motivates her to work every day. “It’s really important to take care of people around us and the community around us. The values of our company are really centered around people. With Greenstone, it’s the people working with us, with Earth Kitchen, it’s the people we’re working for, which are the farmers and the communities, and with Katinko, it’s the customers.”
The pandemic has made this more complicated, with the numerous lockdowns and health protocols impeding the operations of Greenstone and Earth Kitchen.
“With Greenstone, thankfully it’s been a stable business during the pandemic. The challenge that I encountered here is how to keep people safe. Since it’s a factory, people are in close proximity with each other. Even before the pandemic, they’ve been wearing PPEs, so they’re very protected, but we had to make changes with the shifting. We did regular testing, and it’s super expensive, so some friends were asking me why I’m spending so much on testing, but I’d rather spend on testing than getting my people sick,” Yap says.
“For Earth Kitchen, this one was extra challenging with the lockdowns. It didn’t do very well during the pandemic, but we still had to take care of our people, so some of them I absorbed temporarily in Greenstone. We’re still trying to plow through because our employees are really passionate about this food industry–when I brought some of them back from Katinko to Earth Kitchen, they were like ‘thank you for giving back the job that we really love’, so I really can’t close it. [It might be a small business,] but it’s still really relevant to the communities that we’re serving, to the people working with us, so that’s what’s motivating me to continue,” Yap states.
When asked what is the most important quality of a Modern Tao Ke, Yap believes that Modern Tao Kes should be determined to make a change, and the first step to achieving that is by having a business that has a bigger purpose. “Having a purposeful business might not be completely out of the box. It might not be revolutionary and everything, but if it has a certain purpose, you would be resilient because you’re trying to work for something that’s more important than money. It’s tough, but really if it was just for the money, I would have closed Earth Kitchen because it’s not [profitable]. Everything we saved up, we spent on saving the jobs of people during lockdown. We had to continue paying for people’s salaries because it’s gonna be hard to just let them go just like that when they’ve worked with us for 8 years, so we really pushed to keep jobs as much as we can.”
Yap further adds that Modern Tao Kes should be empowering to their employees as well. “Now, I’m in the process of looking into the next line of leaders, so we’re investing in our training for the next leaders. The way we’re promoting people, mostly they come from the ranks, so we don’t get superstars from outside. Our goal is really to raise people from the ranks, even if they’re hesitant at first, it’s so nice to see them shine,” Yap shares.
Technology also plays a vital role in the operations of Yap’s company, but given the sectors that she is working with, which are the farmers and the rural community, the continued modernization of technology also poses a challenge.
“Technology has been really helpful, especially with social media because it was able to provide an affordable platform. For Greenstone/Katinko, we’ve done a lot of social media campaigns, and during the pandemic, we were able to work on our ecommerce sites. With regards to Earth Kitchen and the Got Heart Group, it’s the same thing. Those are small businesses, so we can’t afford traditional media like TV [commercials] and ads, so [social media] was to help us advertise to a broader market in a very affordable way.”
“[With regards to the farmers], I’m based in Tarlac, and what I see [is that] there’s a lot of mechanism with farming, so people are losing their jobs, but since it’s so hard to fight mechanization–or it’s not really practical, one thing we’re doing now with Greenstone and Got Heart is to create manufacturing factories, so that the farmers can have alternative jobs. For Modern Tao Kes, you can create more jobs for the farmers or help them develop their existing products and turn them into more marketable or higher value products. For the ones who don’t really have the money to create factories, you can at least give suggestions to the farmers on what would sell better or even help them sell. During the pandemic, there were a lot of people helping farmers sell their products, so that’s really good, and hopefully we can continue that even beyond the pandemic,” Yap says.
This all might seem very daunting for many Modern Tao Kes, especially those who are starting out with their businesses, but Yap has the following advice to offer if you ever feel like giving up. “Don’t be afraid to fail and tweak and just keep on improving. It can get tiring if you have these grand plans and grand visions, but just do it one step at a time and if something doesn’t work, be forgiving to yourself and take care of yourself. When you’re tired, rest, because if you’re sick or depressed, all the more you won’t be productive. Don’t try to compare yourself to other people. Focus on what you need to do and just blur out everything else. You can get inspiration from good people, but not to the point where you feel so pressured because not everything is the way they look, with social media and everything, so be nice to yourself.”