Aug 4, 2014

More that Solving Poverty

I was catching up with a friend last week who share the same opinions that constantly checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with friends is so bastos and posting everything on social media, and heavens, selfies, are signs of mental illness. A warm cup of coffee led us to talk about what we love in our jobs despite the many frustrations. As I was explaining how loans help the poor, he plainly asked me, "how do you solve poverty?"

Well, uhm, I wasn't able to speak for like ten seconds. It's as if my brain got short circuit. With the question coming from an electrical engineer, I wasn't sure about the best way to answer. I tried to think of his motivation in asking. Does he want to help? Maybe I should start defining the different types of poverty, its characteristics, the multidisciplinary approaches to lessen it and how the government, civil society groups and the private sector contribute to its reduction. I even remembered a school of thought saying that zeroing out poverty will take a toll on our environment as consumption will go overboard. Is he really interested in an answer or is it one of those questions that you throw to keep a conversation going?

To keep it simple, I just said, it's complicated.

But he insisted, so I shared the stories of individuals, advocacy groups and corporations who make a dent in the lives of the less marginalized. Then I added that not everyone is "called" to solve poverty, which reminded me of a quote often used my one of my mentors, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I think the more important question to ask ourselves is, how can I contribute to nation building? Regardless of our occupations, whether you're an engineer, call center agent, banker, domestic helper, priest or a sari-sari store owner, putting our daily tasks in the context of how one contributes to his country is something that more people can relate to and something that will keep us going "despite the many frustrations." More than solving poverty, we are called to continue building the nation. How often do you meet a computer programmer, a doctor or a security guard who is still passionate about his country?

I observed that a good part of our conversations with friends revolve around the frustrations we have at work - impossible deadlines, long working hours, impractical bosses, work politics - but if you put those challenges in the context of a bigger picture, struggles to build the Philippines, then it seems more bearable. I guess then that a perspective like that solves our own psycho-career-emotional poverty.

Mar 13, 2014

A High School Student or A Housewife

I was stuck in traffic on my way to work along Ortigas avenue earlier, barely moving in front of the LSGH campus for like 20 minutes to forever. There were students going out of the school, sans drivers waiting for their sundo, so I figured, maybe it's their exam day cause it was only around 11:00am

Boredom got me and I started to think of the time when we were still in high school. Maybe the only major concerns that we had, apart from grades, were the level of coolness of the music that we listened to, how I'll be able to get more Starbucks stickers for my planner, or what to wear on the next barkada lakad (cause I don't repeat clothes kuno).

We didn't have to think of audits, key performance indicators or monthly reports. There weren't any dream yet of reducing poverty by empowering the poor with technology, or saving mother nature through interactive art installations. Yes, there was that plan of throwing the biggest soiree for the school or organizing a fund raising party for the library, but there was so much fun involved that it outweighs the "actual work."

I started to think of going back to high school - heck, I can't do that. Though I'm about to submit my application to graduate school next week and I'm kinda excited about it.

Still stuck in traffic, I stared further and saw this woman waiting inside her car for probably her son. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to be a housewife, married to a rich businessman? You don't have to think of work. All you have to do is take care of the kids, have desserts with your amigas, get the latest issue of a showbiz magazine, and spend the hard earned money of your husband to projects that can benefit the marginalized.

You can just attend cooking or art classes and schedule visits to your nutritionist and yoga teacher. Your most pressing concern would be on preserving your aging body or how to convince your husband to allow you to go on a Caribbean cruise with your girl friends.

Maybe if I were to be asked now what I want to become when I "grow up," I'd say I want to be a high school student, or at least a housewife, regardless of the limitations of those options. Or a monk.

Mar 9, 2014

With Every Five Peso Coin

I was riding a jeep on my way to work the other day when a kid entered, distributing white envelopes to each passenger. Apart from the telltale makeshift drum that he’s carrying, I learned that he’s a Badjao because it was written in his envelope, “Tulungan niyo ako. Kami ay Badjao.” Most people will pretend that they didn’t see or hear anything. A few will give the spare change they have, but I think this is not a good intervention because it will only aggravate begging on the streets.

Giving them food might be a better option. I know of someone who carries a pack of biscuits in his car specifically for street children. But really, how often does one carry a spare snack?

Here’s another alternative. Starting last January, at the end of every day, I gather all the five peso coins that I have and save them in a jar. Come December 31st, I’ll donate everything that I saved to a credible NGO or foundation that supports migrant youth. I got this idea from another friend who’s also a development worker.

Even though the first quarter of the year is about to end, you can still start this practice. Think of an advocacy that you’re willing to support because it will motivate you to consciously gather as many five peso coins during the day. Let’s say on a daily average, you save fifteen pesos. That’s already 5,475 after a year. Now imagine giving that amount to one street kid (through a credible foundation).

Everyday alms giving as support for these kids is detrimental to their development cause they might only buy cigarettes, drugs or unhealthy snacks with the money they get. Worse, these kids might be objects to funnel “charity” into the hands of criminal syndicates. If given in bulk to credible NGOs, there’s a brighter possibility that the money will be used to support education or health related projects to support their needs. Every five peso coin can be a humble contribution to having one less Badjao kid in the streets of Manila.

Mar 6, 2014

Contributing to the Bayanihan Economy

I just read a paper written by the economist Cielito Habito on the "Solidarity Economy Movement" which started in North and Latin America. It talks about a system that creates inclusive growth for participants in the market economy whether you're a consumer, firm owner, laborer or a capitalist. One element in this system - the Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) - caught my interest because it's an easy avenue for people, especially those with money, to contribute to nation building.

It's a challenge to make people understand social development. I remember giving a talk to one of the biggest universities in Manila on Social Entrepreneurship. The emcee gave an introduction on social entrepreneurship as if the subject is on merging business principles with social media - creating enterprises that maximize the use of Facebook and Twitter. Que horror! If the majority finds difficulty in learning social development, there must be another way to "capitalize" on our population.

One of the current trends is the increasing number of people who want to invest - mostly OFWs and young professionals. I have lots of friends who are not yet 100% sure where to put their money - stocks? mutual funds? in the bank? foreign exchange?

I am averse to putting my money in stocks, mutual funds and even time deposits because these just fuel the machinery of capitalism. Yes, there's a possibility of a higher yield, but wouldn't it be more worthwhile to have your investments fund micro lending for the poor, capital for social enterprises, or finance operations of an agricultural cooperative? SRI is another alternative.

SRI involves investors who invest not solely on the basic financial returns, but also on their commitment to social development. On a macro level, these are people who orient their investments toward ethically responsible productive firms, cooperatives, ethical banks, savings & loans solidarity funds, and the like. If you scan the market for these kinds of investments, you won't easily find available options.

Yet, I know of a corporation that mobilizes resources from commercial banks, international agencies and SRIs (6.0% fixed annual return of investment) to combat poverty in the country. I also personally know founders of three groups who advocate financial freedom through investing (in stocks, mutual funds, foreign exchange, gold trading). Now if those groups can just integrate SRI from the corporation that I mentioned as an alternative investment vehicle in their program, that can be a big contribution to a more inclusive growth - or what we can call the Bayanihan Economy, as what Habito proposed.

It's one thing for the students/members of those groups to be financially independent, but through SRI, the investor earns and the poor are also uplifted. Bayanihan happens when the weaker members of the society are helped by those who have the capacity to share the weight of the task. It's ingrained in our culture, and I hope it transcends even in the financial markets.

Maybe a day will come when we can all pull out our investments from the stock market and allocate it to genuine companies and organizations that adhere to the Bayanihan Economy. I think SRI is the perfect alternative for those without the brains and time for development, but with the heart and money (and want to earn more money) to contribute to nation building.

Mar 2, 2014

On Desires and Frustrations

Was in three meetings last Friday after work. The first one was for our online magazine, the second was for a youth ministry then the last one was a debriefing, or should I say de-beer-fing, for our colleagues who went on a month long expedition/research in the provinces damaged by typhoons Yolanda and Pablo - Samar, Leyte, Panay Islands, Compostela Valley. 

There are two common denominators in the topics that were discussed in those meetings. The first is the desire for something greater. In the online magazine that we’re about to revive, the desire is to inspire the youth to act on their passions/idealism and to give them examples of people who have embraced causes bigger than their own. In the youth ministry, it’s about sustaining the fire that was ignited when the participants experienced the retreat. For our officemates who went on the one month project, it’s their desire to address the needs of the typhoon survivors in the most efficient and appropriate way possible.

The second common denominator is frustration. All have operational inefficiencies, but more importantly, it’s the frustration of seemingly being alone while taking on a task that is so daunting, in the face of darkness that is crippling the little “desire for something greater” that you have.

I remember giving a talk a few weeks ago to a group of young people who were about to embark on the steep journey of an IT startup. After being involved in at least 3 startups myself and being a curator of stories involving “successful” Filipinos under 25 years old, I want to cushion them on the frustrations I mentioned earlier.

Part of my talk was on what our philosophy teacher – Sir Calasanz - mentioned in his lecture about hope. “What we know always surpasses what we can say, and what we desire, what we can commit ourselves to, always surpasses what we know… We can do more than what we can know. We can commit ourselves, we can desire more than what we can know.”

I guess that’s what I want to say to the three groups that I had a meeting with last Friday, especially to our colleague who got so emotional brought by her anger towards the government. Frustrations will always be there, but it’s the extra-ordinary desire and commitment for something greater, which transcends even the boundaries of one’s consciousness, that will sustain the projects that we want to push through.

And if you’re frustrated that you’re limited by what you can do at this current moment, put you actions in the context of a bigger picture. Think of your work as a humble contribution to something that can last a lifetime. And just do good in the best possible way you can.

Jul 23, 2013

What I've Been Doing Recently

A lot has happened since I published the my last post in this blog. I was rereading that post and I realized that I turned down that job mentioned - to be a trainer of marginalized youth who want to pursue entrepreneurship. It's not that I don't believe in the power of entrepreneurship to change the course of their lives. I supposed that the task might prove to be too frustrating since only close to 1% of entrepreneurs can sustain their startups for more than 5 years. And we're talking about marginalized young people as the main students of the classes here. So, yeah.

Another job that I turned down is a post for a business development coordinator for a consulting firm on social enterprises. I'm not sure why I turned it down as the pioneer of the firm herself was the one who talked to me. Maybe I'm on a career shift phase now. The lack of motivation to continue I'mABosco (now on it's 4th year of operations) and letting go Hundred Saints (for St. Bridget) are signals that maybe it's time to move on.

Speaking of phases, it's the first time that I felt unemployed since I resigned from BDO last January . This feeling has compelled me to check on the FB page of Development Sector Jobs to look for openings every 3 hours, and to turn on again the notifications from JobsDB and JobStreet. As much as possible, I don't want to use the connections of relatives and friends. I'm also looking for a job in the government or an NGO because I've been really hungry for significance. I want to feel excited and alive once more, like when we were still planning for Manila Kid.

This means that I also have a lot of free time, most of which is dedicated to our movement DB DWTL. We just had a retreat last month that left the members of our organization with the feeling of ignited-ness. It's like a fire consuming and propelling us to do these activities that can sustain the "high" of the retreat. From recording our group's first music album, monthly series of talks ala The Feast and expanding the reach to other communities. It's an exciting time that I wish I can just work full time for our org (and get paid, of course).

The activities that you may look forward to include (1) Living the 4th - community mass and talk on July 27, Saturday, at 2pm-4pm in RCBC Chapel, with Fr. Dennis Paez SDB to celebrate mass and give a one-hour talk on Healing our Brokenness; (2) Adoration organized by the High School Student Council Batch 2007 in DBTC Small Chapel on August 2, Friday, from 6pm-7pm; and (3) Launch of our first album on August 16, Friday at 6pm.

Most recently, I got invited to give a talk once again, this time on volunteerism. It will be held in Mapua College at the end of this month from 1pm to 4pm. There are a lot of things to be said between me and volunteerism so I'm not really sure what to talk about. We'll be given 30 to 45 minutes each to talk about our experiences. I remember Steve Jobs' commencement address to the students of Stanford several years ago. He talked for only around 15 minutes but there was so much substance and wisdom packed in every sentence that he gave. I hope I can do the same.

As always, I hope to update this blog more often.

May 15, 2013

Going Full Time

Haven't blogged as often as I wanted to even though I relatively have more time now. The scenario may change in two months in the event that I accept the sort of job offer to be a coach/trainer for an organization promulgating entrepreneurship to underprivileged youth. 

It's always inspiring to hear someone who traded a high paying corporate job to work full time in the developmental sector. Bam Aquino, or should I say Senator Aquino, is the first person that comes to my mind. But actually being in that situation is more difficult that how it sounds.

For one, the salary is lower compared to my work in the bank. Before, there is up to a 16th month salary, clothing & grocery allowance and paid vacation & sick leaves which I avail as often as every other week. The hours are a bit longer in this new job but I guess the pressure is lower - no P5.0M loan releases every other day where my neck is on the line. And hooray for flexi time!

But maybe the main reasons why I'm inclined to go full time on this is because it's aligned with the trends that are starting to shape our country this decade. Filipinos are natural entrepreneurs, we just need an extra boost to scale up our novel ideas. The underprivileged kids will really benefit on the program since even if they don't go as full time entrepreneurs, it will challenge them to see things in a fresh perspective and dare them to dream a little more.

I observed one of their classes earlier and got to know about the students' stories. Quite confidential. Those stories would never be published in Manila Kid a year ago, but nevertheless, are worth hearing. And I hope these stories will have a happily ever after ending. 

May 6, 2013

A Different Kind of Birthday

I'm back in the Philippines. Back in my acrylic stained desk thinking of where to begin the series of blog posts about my 7 week trip in Saigon, Siem Reap and Siam. I'd like to think of it as a trip similar to what Elizabeth Gilbert did to find pleasure, spiritual connection and balance when she went to Italy, India and Indonesia. I feel refreshed. Maybe it's fitting then to start this with my birthday trip in Cambodia. 

It started off with a thirteen hour bus ride from Vietnam going to the heart of Khmer Empire (circa 9th to 13th Century), to Angkor Wat. Survival tip: pop one capsule of Benadryl and you're good to go for long bus rides.

I arrived at around 8pm and was surprised when I saw a Cambodian raising a placard with my misspelled name. It was provided by the bus company (payment not included) so he took me to my hostel and insisted that I take him as my Tuktuk (tricycle in style) for my Angkor Wat tour two days from then.

I rented a bicycle the next day and had a tour around the city. Bought some souvenirs (wrong move as you'll see later), ate some traditional food, and at around 5:00pm, cycled for 7 kilometers to buy an entrance ticket to Angkor Wat. Validity of my pass was from that afternoon up to the next full day.

At 5:30am the next day, my Tuktuk driver picked me up from my hotel to watch the famed sunrise against the silhouette of Angkor's temples. Since it rained the night before, the view wasn't as spectacular as advertised by the brochure. Nevertheless, there was something very enigmatic about the place: two old monks meditating, a lone white horse grazing and the stillness of the place begging to tell it's harrowing story to its busy observers.

Angkor Wat, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm. After around 8 hours of wandering around the ruins - getting lost within the stone skeletons of a once great empire - I asked the Tuktuk driver to take me back to the hotel. I was tired and a bit dehydrated.

I internally freaked out - still poised under pressure - when I learned that the hotel doesn't accept credit cards. I checked my wallet and figured that I have enough money to pay for my room, but not enough to buy food! Solution: I walked for 1.5kms (verified via google maps) to the nearest gas station to buy my birthday dinner.

I was able to return to the hotel just in time to watch the sunset. I drained a can of beer and floated over the pool while watching a flock of birds flying across the orange tainted sky, with the rest of the world drowned as half of my head is submerged in water.

I've had a lot of memorable birthdays - from staying up for the sunset in one of the best beaches in the world, to spending an afternoon in an almost deserted islands. But for now, this will be the most unforgettable. I've made some new friends, had some realizations. Refreshed and inspired, I took a bus at 6:00am to Saigon the next day to continue my Eat, Pray, Love adventure.