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.