Facebook Stories team on location in Layag-Layag

As most of you already know, Facebook Stories released the video of the Yellow Boat project last week.

Yesterday, they posted pictures of their team on location in Layag-Layag, Zamboanga City.

Check them out on Facebook at On Location: Beyond the Yellow Boat.

Photo courtesy of Facebook Stories

This is one of my favorite pictures on that visit which shows Skip, Peter and Everett getting dirty on the mud and they never minded it.

Social media allows us to build these offline relationships and learn more about the communities we are helping.  Social media is a tool, it shouldn’t be the only way to connect.

“A single Facebook status can make a difference.”

New York 2012

It has taken me more than 2 months to write about my recent experience in New York – September-November 2012. As many of you already know, I was chosen as one of the 10 Global Fellows for 2013 by Acumen Fund last May 2012 and I’m currently in Lahore, Pakistan working with Pharmagen Water as part of the 12-month program.

New York

Arriving in New York last September was truly exciting. It was my second trip to both the United States and New York City. I was in the US last May 2011 as well along with Alex Lacson, Tony Meloto, Efren Penaflorida and many others for the WeAreOneFilipino (WAOF) event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I didn’t really know what to expect upon arriving in New York. I guess every child dreams of one day coming to New York City. Given the dominance of Western influences in Asia, more so in the Philippines, I have always dreamed while I was growing up in Cotabato City to one day visit places like New York City, Los Angeles, Rome and Paris.  And today, I have visited all four. Up until four years ago, I never really thought I would be here one day.

All this changed when I boarded the yellow boat of hope more than 2 years ago.

It has been an amazing ride ever since and it brought me to New York City last September 2012.


The Global Fellows Program includes a 2-month training in New York followed by a 9-month placement in one of Acumen’s investees (the reason I’m in Pakistan) and then the fellowship culminates with a mini-graduation in New York (for me that’s around September 2013). I’m excited about this since my birthday falls on September 13, 2013 (9/13/13).

The goal of the program is to develop emerging leaders so that they see this new way of tackling global poverty. Acumen is driving change in the fields of both philanthropy and impact investing by calling for new innovative approaches at tackling poverty where aid and markets have failed. For me, this is an exciting time to be in the social sector. Indeed, given the challenges that the US itself is facing along with Europe, Japan and the rest of the Western world, it is time to re-imagine a new way of doing business.

Back to Acumen

The 2 months of training in New York was nothing short of extraordinary. In a span of 60 days, I have met a NASA astronaut, popular book authors, Muhammud Yunus, met with Filipinos working in the United Nations, and of course I met the amazing 9 other fellows and most importantly, the people working with Acumen. It has been many years since I started following the work by Acumen and it is only after being able to co-found the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation that I felt compelled to become “part” of it. I wanted to learn more about this new field called social entrepreneurship and I wanted to learn more about how they do it and most importantly, why they do it.

Part of the challenges we are facing in the Yellow Boat is how to ensure our support to these communities is sustainable and empowering.

And that is what I set out to learn with Acumen and the investee that I was assigned to (more on that later).

Some of the highlights of the 2 months:

Meeting the team behind LitWorld (on my birthday, September 13)
First day at Acumen Fund’s office with Shahd AlShehail and Michael Craig (September 17)
2012 Fellows graduation night with Junko Tashiro and Jacqueline Novogratz (September 19)
NASA astronaut Ron Garan in Acumen (September 20)
Meeting Muhammad Yunus at the Social Good Summit (September 23)
Leadership retreat at the Berkshires (September 24-28)
The whole gang in Yellow Boat Tshirts before we left the Berkshires (September 28)
Meeting Batman (September 29)
Venture capitalist Jim Hornthal at Acumen (October 5)
Learning Human Centered Design at IDEO (October 13)
Good Society discussions with Jacqueline at Wallkill, New York (October 15-18)
Gangnam style in Yellow Boat Tshirts at Wallkill, New York (October 18)
Manhattan from Williamsburg, Brooklyn (October 20)
Storytelling workshop with The Ariel Group before the Investors’ Gathering (November 7)
Visiting the United Nations (November 12)

New York 2012 was a blast and I look forward to coming back again in September 2013. On November 15, I flew to Lahore, Pakistan, where I am going to spend my next 8 months.

Facebook and the Yellow Boat of Hope

Facebook released the much anticipated video about the Yellow Boat Project last night.

You can find the Facebook Stories feature story here:


[vimeo clip_id=”54999049″ width=”500″ height=”325″]

I would like to personally thank Peter Jordan, Skip Bronkie and Everett Katigbak for creating this video and for coming to Zamboanga City last July 2011 to film our Yellow Boat Community in Layag-Layag.

I also like this post by Click Dominique about the video, [Video] Act local, share global: Facebook user shares localized solutions to Philippine poverty.  Indeed, it’s time we highlight how social media can be used for social good esp. on the largest social network today.

You can also read the coverage on Social News Daily and WebProNews.

To donate to the foundation, please use the donation page on http://www.yellowboat.org. Thank you in advance!


As my first day in Lahore, Pakistan drew to a close last night, I cannot shake off the feeling of being fooled.

Fooled by countless news reports depicting Pakistan to be a country of security threats and terrorism.

We owe it to the future, we owe it to ourselves to see people and countries as they are — how can we really know a country without visiting it? And how can we truly know a person without talking to them?

4 days without power

I escaped two typhoons that ravaged Manila in the last 3 years since I was out of town (Ondoy 2009 and Reming 2012) but I couldn’t escape Superstorm Sandy in New York.

In the 4 days that power was out, I re-discovered my love for everything old school — boiling water to mix with very cold water so I can take a bath, reading in candle light, and carrying 3-gallon drinking water jugs 11 floors up. The first two I experienced while I was growing up. It made me feel human again.

It also made me remember the millions around the world today who still don’t have access to clean & affordable water, access to primary & secondary education, access to public libraries and electricity. These are moments that bring us back to the ground. Humbled and refreshed, I remembered why I am in New York in the first place – to find new ideas and solutions to these global challenges. I have never felt so alive.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle

Earlier this morning I was upset when I interviewed a homeless man in Union Square and he was ridiculing my English pronunciation. I just thought to myself that he was having a hard day.

Tonight, I find out that life was harsh to him. It’s hard to be both a stranger or considered an outsider to your home country and your adopted country. I hope one day the US government gets to resolve his case.

This is the story of Saravuth Inn.

28th Sundance Film Festival (USA)

Street Stories: Saravuth Inn – Chess

Changing the world, one boat at a time

The Little Dream

We all dream of helping make a difference in people’s lives. In much the same way that a pebble creates ripples when thrown in water.

In 2006, I met one such ‘pebble’ who changed my perspective on life, his name was Alex Lacson.  In 2005, he wrote a wonderful book entitled the 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.

It became a national best-seller and it allowed him to test his idea that every Filipino can become part of the solution to the problems that our country is facing.

Over the last 6 years, we have heard of wonderful stories inspired by the book. There was a high school class in Muntinlupa City that adopted a scholar, there were families who bought more local products and supported local industries, and there were organizations and companies that adopted their own 12 Little Things that their employees can do to help the country.

While I was growing up, I thought heroes were people who had to die for the country. But there is another aspect of heroism that we are failing to notice – the side of heroism that is in the everyday Filipino.

And this is what this little story of a yellow boat, built in the south, in Zamboanga City, is all about.

I remember vividly the story of the kid who picks up and throws every starfish on the beach back to the sea indifferent to the fact that there are miles and miles of beach with starfishes.

Asked that he couldn’t possibly think he could make a difference, he replied that to those starfishes that he threw back, he surely made a difference.

The “Little” Fund

Last October 30, 2010, I had the opportunity to discuss the role of New Media in Nation-Building to almost 100 bloggers from all over Mindanao for the 4th Mindanao Blogging Summit.  Little did I know then that I was about to become part of the solution to one problem in Zamboanga City.

During the sidelines of the summit, I met with some of our campaign volunteers in the city and one volunteer, Juljimar Gonzales, told me of a story that during the presidential campaign last 2010 their team came across a group of children who were swimming just to be able to go to school.

The story really moved me. I have heard of stories about elementary students having to walk 4, 5 or even 8 kilometers daily just to be able to go to school. But have never heard of children who have to swim or wade through the waters just to go to school.

I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, I went back to Manila and I felt compelled to share the story on my Facebook status.

I know the story will move people but I didn’t realize it will open their pockets. My good friend, marketing guru, Josiah Go, saw my status update, and we were able to start an online fundraising campaign among his friends (and my friends).

I was surprised because friends and friends of friends excitedly re-posted our call for donations. In less than 7 days, the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids (as the fundraising campaign came to be known then) raised almost Php70,000.

During this period, I also asked Doc Anton Lim, another volunteer of the President in Zamboanga City, to check the story.

In the middle of November 2010, I called up Anton if we can already look for a boat. We had a hard time finding the right boat for the children so we decided to build it.  Anton Lim, in behalf of the Tzu Chi Foundation, agreed to accept the funds we have raised, and he also raised additional funds from local donors.

It was a difficult journey though. At first, we couldn’t find any boat-maker. We found one but he lived in a far-away community; until finally Doc Anton through Kagawad Jesse Jamolod found a boat-maker (Abraham Mawadi) who came from the village of Layag-Layag itself in Brgy. Talon-Talon in Zamboanga City where the children who swam to school lived. I thought the boat-building would start right away but again we hit another challenge – finding the log to be used.

Fortunately, DENR was listening and CENRO Region IX donated the logs to the project through Tito Gadon.  In January 2011, the boat-building started.

And last March 27, 2011, I joined Tzu Chi Zamboanga for the turn-over of the boat in Layag-Layag, Brgy. Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City.

It took us 5 months to finish the project but nothing can be compared to the joy you feel in your heart when you realize you’ve helped make a difference in people’s lives, no matter how small.

I slept well that night – it was as if I saw God smile back at me.

Nation-building is a difficult project. It requires the participation of each and every one among us. And for the country’s leadership, it is about telling stories that inspire our people to act on the problems they are facing themselves.

The boat we turned over was christened ‘Bagong Pag-asa’ (New Hope) – it is a symbol of change that finally a group is finally noticing this particular community’s problems and challenges.

But more importantly, it is also a symbol of people power in action. It is about ordinary Filipinos helping other ordinary Filipinos.

I believe it is time we extend the meaning of People Power, one that not only changes governments and leaders, but one that also truly empowers our people – a people power that calls on every Filipino to become an active nation-builder.

The Little Heroes

The real heroes in this story are those brave kids in the village of Layag-Layag who crossed the waters just to be able to go to school. Whether by boat or by swimming to school, they have conquered the challenges of water and distance.

The boat is a symbol that serves as a vehicle for knowledge and learning. We hear of stories about affluent kids in Manila who skip school to go swimming but these kids in Layag-Layag go swimming to go to school.

Changing the world is difficult but with the right attitude and with the community working together, we can make things happen, even with just one boat at a time.

I suggest we remember the story of how the barangay came about. During the pre-Spanish era in Philippine history, the term balangay referred to both the boat and the basic political unit in the country, the barangay.

This came about because the nature of building the balangay (boat) requires unity among members of the community. And that is how the barangay was born – members of the community working together to build something, whether it is a boat, a city or a nation.

I am sharing this story because it is my belief that each one of us can be part of the solution and you can start creating solutions to challenges in the communities where you live or work.

It is my fervent hope that this story has touched you in one way or another and that you won’t stop at just reading this – I hope you will you will start creating ripples of your own.

These little things create ripples across the country and sometimes with no end in sight. These small acts of heroism can deliver an impact bigger than originally intended.

To date, there are more than 150 yellow boats all over the Philippines and our group is now present in 8 communities.

Let us all become part of the solution!

Reflections on Money, Love and Life

It’s never easy to pursue your dreams in life. (I’m telling you believe me, it’s never easy!)

It’s quite easy to settle.  To just be contented where you are.  To wake up every morning, go to work, go back home then sleep.  The next day the cycle begins again.

It’s never easy to write about pursuing your dreams in life.  It’s quite hard because some of the things you’re going to share are about your failures.

A few times you succeed but most of the time you fail.

But you keep going… because you believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  (Don’t believe me yet but I can sense there’s really a light out there.)

The coming days are frightening me enough (since I’m leaving the Philippines soon, read it here) that I decided I’m going to share some things I’ve learned over the last year.  Life is never easy.

Life is short but it is never easy.

It’s as if life was designed to be a test.  A test of what, I do not know for sure yet.

But challenges and trials are what separates men from the boys as the popular cliche goes.

The Yellow Boat

Over the last 2 years, I have been part of an amazing journey called the Yellow Boat Project.  It has been one hell of a ride.

It started with a single Facebook status that pooled resources to build a yellow school boat for children who used to swim to school.  What then started as a fundraising campaign online to help one community spread to another and then to another and so on and so forth…

To date, we are present in 8 communities around the Philippines and exploring many more.

I feel so blessed to have been a party to the creation of the Yellow Boat of Hope.  As our boats came to symbolize a source of new hope to the communities we are helping.

Since I was a kid, I always dreamed of being able to start my own thing – whether it be a business, a charity, an organization, anything that I can be proud of.

And the Yellow Boat of Hope means that much to me, it is both a childhood and “adulthood” dream.  It has allowed me and my co-founders to build a brand – the Yellow Boat as a symbol of HOPE.

The Yellow Boat of Hope is no longer just an advocacy for me.  It is my life – a personal journey.

On Money

Probably the most common question to me these days is how are you earning?

Leaving my corporate job to join the presidential and senatorial campaign of 2010 was crazy enough but leaving my job at the presidential palace was even crazier.  Having a job there meant one had power or so they say.

Almost everyone I knew was against the idea but I felt like I was serving two masters.  And so I resigned.

I truly enjoyed my “work” in the Yellow Boat Project.  Every night I stayed up so late wondering about the possibilities and every morning I wake up excited to execute those ideas.

My “work” on board the Yellow Boat of Hope is like my way of making a dent in the Universe (ala Steve Jobs).

I had doubts as to my decision but I plunged anyway – encouraged by one donor who told me when God sends you on a mission, he sends provision.

The Yellow Boat of Hope truly feels like a mission.  It is a mission to help children who are struggling to get to school.  And it is helping in one way or another the country to fulfill one of our commitments to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which is to have universal primary education for all by 2015.

So how am I earning?

The simple answer is I’m not.

No single staff or volunteer of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is being paid or compensated including me.  We are all doing this on top of our regular jobs.  And so it puts a lot of pressures on our capabilities to execute our plans but we do it anyway because we believe that education is a right and getting these kids to school should be our priority.

And though it’s hard, I truly believe in this mission.  

I earn from my speaking engagements from time to time and that has partly been responsible for keeping me debt-free.

Also, I have saved some money during my 5 years in the corporate world and I have been dipping into it for the last 12 months.

Having said this, I cannot complain.

Because of the project, I have been to the US, Singapore, France, Italy, Spain, and India to share our story.

I have traveled in more cities and in more continents in the last 12 months than all my previous 29 years combined.

I have also met so many wonderful and amazing people along this journey.  Filipinos who make me proud to be one.  And people who inspire me that we can truly build a world beyond poverty.

And so I believe it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to figure out how to keep myself sustainable as the foundation is slowly reaching its own sustainability too through the help of my co-founders and friends.

I am reminded by a famous quote from Randy Komisar when he said “Only passion will get you through the tough times… It is the romance, not the finance, that makes business worth pursuing.”

So it’s very important to find work that you love because that’s the only way you can truly do great work (ala Steve Jobs again).

Which brings me to the topic of love…

On Love

This is probably the most difficult aspect in nation-building or advocacy work.  People like me don’t have regular weekends.  We work on Saturdays, on Sundays, and even at 2, 3 or 4AM and sometimes just get by with barely an hour of sleep.

At one point, I was out on the road for a consecutive 3 weeks.  It’s really tiring and keeping relationships is always a problem especially when the people close to you don’t understand what you’re doing.

Our parents might also not understand what we do.  They can’t understand why we can’t be just like them.  Things were simple before.  You go to school.  You graduate.  You work.  You start a family.  You work everyday for the rest of your life.  And then you die.

Our friends might also be thinking we’re just going through a phase in life.  And it’s also hard to go out with them since you’re always on the road and sometimes you’re too tired to go out at night.

This is for me the toughest challenge because FOCUS is one important success factor in any thing we do in life and it’s increasingly hard to focus on the person you love when your focus is on getting kids to school.

Balance is key but it is also a delicate balancing act.  I don’t know if that makes sense but there are certainly trade-offs.

I also believe that timing is everything.  Right now, my focus is on helping build the model that will sustain the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation and then also building the right model for myself to sustain my efforts and still be able to start my own family.

I am hoping though that one day I will find her on board the Yellow Boat of Hope.

On Life

In my presentations and talks, I always start it with my favorite quote from the movie “Kung Fu Panda” where Master Oogway (the turtle kung fu master) repeats it three times:

“There are no accidents in life.”

And it is my belief that it is not an accident either that we were able to build the Yellow Boat of Hope.  I don’t like to sound biblical but there are many similarities between our yellow boat and Noah’s ark especially at a time when floods are threatening our way of life and that the sea level is rising.

Boats have always been our primary mode of transportation and up to this day, it is estimated that there are more boats in the Philippines than there are cars or jeepneys.  Just imagine that there are 7,107 islands and the primary mode of transportation between these islands are really boats or ferries.

What I’m simply saying is that I am amazed at how the Yellow Boat of Hope has touched the lives of so many children and families and I never imagined when I was growing up in Cotabato City in Mindanao that I would one day be a part of something like this.

Life may hand us lemons but we can surely make lemonades or even lemonade stands out of it.

Enjoy life!

“The Need For Change” by Typhoon Ondoy

I am re-posting a letter from Typhoon Ondoy which I wrote 3 years ago. It rings true to this day.

Tzu Chi volunteers plant mangrove seedlings in Zamboanga City

I am not bad.

Typhoons come and go in almost every part of the globe. I am part of the larger scheme of things. I clean the land and bring forth new water into areas that have dried up.

Over the last few years, humans have polluted and abused the planet. Typhoons are inherently good. We provide water for plants and trees and animals as well. We clean clogged water systems and hydrate dry lands.

But now, we have encountered difficulties. The water we bring get trapped in clogged drainage and canal systems due to too much garbage. There are no more trees and forest systems that hold up water. There are no more natural waterways that help the water we bring navigate the lands better. The planet as well is warming up melting the ice caps in both the North Pole and South Pole.

I believe YOU have the answer to these “problems.”

We cannot stop going to your countries. It is in our nature to clean the world, to provide and redistribute water all over the world. And we believe humans are inherently good. You know the answers.

Clean up your act.

Help the environment.

Save more trees. Plant more trees. Save the rainforest.

Don’t throw candy wrappers on the street.

Segregate your garbage.

Recycle and reuse.

Build better houses. Plan better housing projects.

Build better drainage and canal systems.

Reduce your carbon footprint.

But please don’t just sit there.

We are all inherently good.

We all play a part in this great scheme of things.

If you get this right, sooner or later, you’ll welcome us to your lands as we bring fresh water and rehydrate the lands so that your crops can take root.