directing Kaya Collaborative’s fellowship program for young Filipino diaspora leaders
“We couldn’t feel comfortable teaching something we at first didn’t even know ourselves.” – 2014 Kaya Co. Fellow
This work plays through many dimensions and intersections, involving immersion within the Philippines, while simultaneously thinking of how to bring the experience back to the fellows’ communities at home. Already, graduates of our first fellowship cohort have found themselves conducting research on Philippine social innovation, assembling workshops on identity politics, and holding discussions on disaster resilience. The avenues of engagement are endless and boundless, attributed to the individuals or communities who put their minds together.
There’s difficulty in finding common threads tied through the hard politics of properly equipping disaster-prone areas or seeing through K-12 education reform, with fuzzy concepts of ‘systems change’ and ‘social entrepreneurship’. At the outset, it has much less to do with being able to flowchart your way toward a concrete solution, for there may be none. Rather, it comes at a basic level from intentionality: developing awareness of a context, a problem, and imbuing the subsequent approach with the ideas, resources, and people who matter. Kaya Collaborative begins that process within our fellows, immersing them in diverse environments – from indigenous communities to government offices; from business executive meetings to coffee farms in the mountains – and afterward, finding the common threads that tie them all together, using a critical lens.
Not everyone has the opportunity to come to the Philippines on their own, nor does everyone want to. One question then becomes: ‘how do we affect hearts and minds from here?’ Once outside of the Philippine context, how do we inspire, educate, mobilize; how do we create a catalyst; transform a mind?
“People don’t realize they have a story to tell until you ask them.” – 2015 Kaya Co. Fellow
Experience tells that the easiest way to learn a language is to immerse ourselves in a community that speaks it; the easiest way to adapt to an environment is to live within it. If our work is to help others understand the Philippines, we should either bring them across the Pacific – or bring the Philippines a little closer to home. The country has 7,107 islands’ worth of stories, and that’s only scratching the surface. We’re sharing the narrative through stories never before shared, because they are new to the country itself. In such an untrodden environment, it’s easy for one to find their niche, in that way facilitating what may have previously seemed vast or unattainable into a personalized, understandable level.
One vastly important aspect is our work alongside Filipino changemakers, ensuring truly collaborative outcomes and products. There are a myriad of Filipinos for whom education means more than just graduating to find a well-paying job. The social entrepreneurship scene in the Philippines is burgeoning, replete with co-founders, ideators, and co-workers who are filled with initiative to create something of their own, and the energy to sustain their ideas. More than that, they realize their work is not only a means for subsistence, but meant for meaningful contributions to society. They wish to create a Philippines known for its educational innovation, for its leading agribusiness models, for its strength in governance. We wish them to succeed, and to make their work known.
“This country is changing because Filipinos decided to change it.” – Tony Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga
Kaya Collaborative’s partner ventures represent just a handful of the Philippines’ most dedicated changemakers, across a variety of fields and advocacies. We are proud and privileged to count ourselves among their friends and supporters. A few, even since a year ago, have grown by leaps and bounds:
Government in the Philippines has long been associated with corruption and stagnation; not just locally, but regionally and internationally as well. It takes immense courage to fight the tides of Filipinos who passively accept corruption as part of their life. Bantay.ph has done just that, starting at an attainable level: the citizen. Meaning ‘watch over’ in Filipino, Bantay recruited youth volunteers to visit local government offices while legally monitoring their practices, noting their procedures and collecting feedback from patrons. The data they’ve come up with has formed the basis of a crowdsourced tool for good governance, which includes compliance rates and transparency scores. This will provide a platform to directly address government units toward a collaborative forum where officials can adopt best practices and shed antiquated practices. In the meantime, with a grant from USAID, Bantay just finished their nationwide ‘Integrity School’, visiting high schools across the archipelago and conducting workshops where students adopt a very basic concept when it comes to government corruption: it doesn’t have to be this way.
In 1909, over a century ago, Filipino coffee beans were available in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a hub for international trade showcasing novelties from around the globe. After the first wave of mass-produced instant coffee (think Folgers), and a second wave of espresso-based individual drinks (think Starbucks), a third wave of specialty coffee has arisen, a ‘back to basics’ if you will, where people appreciate coffee for its intricacies and origin. Kalsada Coffee Roasters dedicated themselves to source Philippine coffee, working all the way through the value chain with farmers, producers, and roasters; their aim to once more bring Filipino coffee to the international scene. Beginning with intermittent contact to a group of farmers in the mountain province of Benguet, they have since consistently showed up, proving their commitment to the farming communities. This past season saw the resounding success of a crowdfunding campaign, which surpassed their financial goal to build a processing station for the farmers, who do most of their painstaking work by hand. Kalsada is currently expanding their partners to include coffee farmers in the southern island of Mindanao, and they have a team building foundations for international export, where their journey began – Seattle, Washington, USA.
‘Education is power’, some have said, but relatively recently some have begun to realize the importance of participatory learning. ‘Design thinking’, pushed forward by the likes of IDEO and Stanford’s d.school, has become a trend around the world, emphasizing empathy, ideation, and innovation. HABI Education Lab takes it another step by contextualizing design for a Filipino audience. Their team is made up of full-time educators, developers, and researchers, who all cultivate a mindset of openness, intentionality, and learning fast through failure. Starting from humble visiting workshops, they have expanded to fully-fledged ‘open labs’, which bring dozens of educators, youth, and those interested together for intensive orientation and design thinking sessions. HABI’s work has touched many individuals and inspired even more collaborators, who just can’t go back after their thoughts have been shown the way out of the box.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to truly call someplace home... what do you do after you discover your home?” – 2015 Kaya Co. Fellow
My stays in the Philippines have awakened a passion, not only for our work with Philippine changemakers, but for the powerful experience of community immersion. They have solidified in me a desire for international travel and service. In Manila, I’m at home – I know my way around the city at 3:00a, five places to order quality specialty coffee, at least three families whose door I could knock on to spend the night. Every time I’m in country, I have dozens of people to meet with, and countless more to meet for the first time. In my not-so-distant career I hope to replicate this experience and find the places and people that are home to me. As for the search, it becomes easier once you follow your passion and allow yourself to fall in the way of opportunity