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 real challenge of President Noynoy Aquino

Let me re-post something I wrote 2 weeks after the May 2010 elections.

In light of his upcoming 3rd State Of the Nation Address (SONA), he must remember what brought him to the presidency.

The real challenge of President Noynoy Aquino

Noynoy Aquino won due to popular support from many sectors and also because of ‘organized’ volunteer groups around the country. A lot of small businessmen and professionals like doctors, accountants and lawyers mined their own respective networks and started to campaign for Noy. The overwhelming mandate given to him by the people precisely reflects the overwhelming spirit of volunteerism that was shown during the campaign.

Many of our leaders miss the point – the real challenge of Noynoy is not eradicating corruption per se but how to keep the hope and the spirit of Good Citizenship alive.

Rarely does it happen that our national leader can galvanize enough support to carry him to the presidency. By this I mean active support where people truly invested not only time and effort but also their resources to help a good cause.

Let’s hope the people around Noy, and Noy himself will not lose sight of the opportunity to tap all these volunteers nationwide to bring about a cultural change that will pave the way to solve many of our country’s problems.

Corruption is a symptom of our real problem – ignorance and poverty.

There are too many people being left behind because they do not have access to the right education and to the basic services of our government as a whole.

This seems simplistic on an article but our main challenge is really cultural. We must develop a culture of having faith in the Filipino. Our leaders must invest not only in structural reforms but also cultural reforms.

When former President Nelson Mandela (as shown in the movie Invictus) won as the first black president of South Africa, his main priority was to unify a divided country. He succeeded despite a lot of opposition even among his party because he instituted a fundamental reform which targeted the soul of their nation – that since we are one family, it is obvious we must help each other.

We also need the same transformation today as a people.

President Noy needs to re-channel the efforts of many volunteer groups towards nation-building. The volunteer groups of Noynoy Aquino and other presidential candidates can be engaged to convert election campaigning to nation-building efforts.

It seems big but it’s really not – little things can change this country – ordinary citizens can bring about that change.

We need a leader who will capture this spirit of love for country and convert it to everyday ‘kabayanihan.’

PNoy must engage all of us to help build our nation and start having faith in the ability of the Filipino to be great.

If PNoy will do this, it would be the greatest legacy any president could leave behind.

Our time is now

I have never seen the international media cover much of the country since I started reading international publications when I was in high school in the late 1990s.  There is truly renewed interest in the country today and let us take note of these developments and build upon it.

This video captures where we are:

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Watch it and be inspired to become part of the solution, today!

PS – I played a small part in the video. 🙂

Catch me

I will be very busy the next 3 weeks starting this coming Tuesday, if you are where I am on a particular day, I’d like to meet!

July 17: Entrepreneurs & Leaders Conference & Expo at Tanghalang Pasigueno, Pasig City Hall Complex, Caruncho Ave., Pasig City

July 18: Globe Youth Summit – Legazpi City at the Albay Astrodome

July 20-26: Bacolod, Iloilo and Guimaras

July 27: St. Scholastica’s College (morning) and De La Salle University (afternoon)

August 1: LOG ON. Lead. Connect. Advocate seminar with Josiah Go and Anton Lim at SM City Cagayan de Oro

August 4: Winning Disciplines for Success seminar with Francis Kong in Cebu at the Radisson Blue Hotel, Cebu City

Thank you for the support and let me know if you want to meet. You can reach me at jay[at] or @jayjaboneta.

Training at Acumen Fund

Yesterday, July 13, 2012, the US Embassy in Manila approved my application for a J1 Exchange Visitor visa to the United States.  A J1 visa is required for an individual who is joining a training program in a US-based organization.

Some of you may remember that last May 3, 2012, Acumen Fund, announced its 2013 Global Fellows and I am honored to be one of them and the first Filipino to be chosen at that.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be part of these diverse and inspiring group of individuals who are making such a remarkable impact on poverty in their own respective countries and communities.

Becoming a Global Fellow involves being part of a one-year training program that combines two months of multi-disciplinary leadership training in New York City with a 10-month field placement in India, Pakistan, East Africa or West Africa where each Fellow provides on-the-ground management support to one of Acumen Fund’s investee companies on the front lines of tackling global poverty.

Acumen Fund is a global leader in venture philanthropy with extensive experience in Africa and Asia.

US Department of State Secretary Clinton called Acumen Fund one of the most innovative foundations “combining philanthropy and capitalism” in her January 6, 2011 remarks on development in the 21st Century and Forbes Magazine featured Acumen Fund in a cover article last December 2011.

Here’s my signed copy which I asked Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen’s founder, to sign during our final interview in Mumbai, India last January 2012.

I am so lucky that my co-founders and partners in the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc. (aka Yellow Boat Project) have allowed me to participate in this training program and that I hope to learn more about global best practices in the nonprofit and social sectors.  And to apply these learnings when I get back after the program to make our organization better.

Acumen Fund’s vision is that one day every human being will have access to the critical goods and services they need – including affordable health, water, housing, energy, agricultural inputs and services – so that they can make decisions and choices for themselves and unleash their full human potential. This is where dignity starts – not just for the poor but for everyone on earth. 

And one of my personal reasons why I chose to help in the education sector as well is to be able to help children in the Philippines unlock and unleash their full potential because that is what our youth needs today – to learn about life, about history, about culture and the need to understand the world around them in order to succeed in life.

It’s important we give hope to these children because that is what will make them dream to help us build a better future.

The program will start this September and I will be flying to New York then to join my soon-to-be new friends – Mustapha, Abbas, Shahd, Michael, Natalie, Nicole, Mohammed, Christina and Junko as we embark on this transformational journey.

We would be sharing our experience and insights on Acumen Fund’s blog so please take note of the site now:

Again, I want to thank everyone who have been and are still part of our Yellow Boat Journey and hopefully you will continue to support us at the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation (and me as we try to take ourselves into the next level in our fight to end poverty).

A year out of government

I left my government work last June 2011 when the Yellow Boat Project (officially known as the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc.) became an almost full-time work.  It was a hard decision as serving the President was also something you get excited about.

But the Yellow Boat Project required me to travel a lot and to share the story to places in and outside the country, and I just felt that I needed to focus on it for us to be able to really make an impact in the communities we are trying to help.  I was also fortunate to have met remarkable people along this journey who have supported me along the way.

If there was one thing that I knew I wanted to do then, it was creating my own dream job, which being the Chief Storyteller of the Yellow Boat Project is like.

Over the last 12 months since I left government, here are some of things I’ve learned:

Unilab Ideas Positive social marketing bootcamp

1. There are no accidents in life. For those who have seen me give a presentation, this is quite familiar as I always open my presentations with this quote. It came from the movie Kung Fu Panda where Master Oogway (the turtle kung fu master) repeated it thrice. I truly believe that we all come into this world for a reason and one of our goals in life is not necessarily to find that mission but to decide what it is. Believe in your dreams and pursue them. Life is about being open to what’s possible but it also means grabbing an opportunity when it presents itself.


Bagong Pag-asa 1

2. HOPE is real. Prior to becoming a Fire Starter – short for someone who has started something, I never really thought much about hope. I thought it was just a vague idea that we all believe in – something that makes us cope with life better. But because of the Yellow Boat Project, I learned that HOPE can be very real. When we were deciding what to name the first Yellow Boat that we were to turn-over to our community in Layag-Layag in Zamboanga City, we asked them what the boat stands for them and one of the community leaders answered that it meant a sort of new hope, that finally someone has finally noticed them and helping them. And so we christened the first Yellow Boat – Bagong Pag-asa (New Hope) and all succeeding boats bear the same name.


Yellow Boat Tshirts available for ordering (email us at

3. Make meaning. The “Yellow Boat” didn’t really mean anything before the project came along. Each day we should strive to create and make meaning. It took the many efforts of many individuals and organizations to create something out of the common boat. From the start, we tried our best to bring out the best in everyone and also to make sure that what we are building can be sustainable. The Yellow Boat has now become a bit iconic and it symbolizes hope as much as the heart symbol symbolizes love. It’s hard to make meaning but it is the most fulfilling endeavor in the world. (as you can see we now have these yellow boat tshirts)


The power of one

4. Any simple act can make a difference. In my case, it was a simple Facebook status. The boat we turned over was christened ‘Bagong Pag-asa’ (New Hope) – it is a symbol of change and hope for the communities we are helping. It has become a symbol of people power in action. People helping other people solve their problems. Nation-building is truly about ordinary people helping other ordinary people. Anyone can be part of the solution – YOU can be part of the solution. 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. One single Facebook status led to the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation Inc. with over 150 yellow boats in one year.

Imagine how much more we can achieve if more people take up the task of nation-building?

School children in Layag-Layag (Zamboanga City) use their yellow boat to school

5. Leadership is a platform. Leadership in this day and age should function more like a platform – leaders must become enablers for both personal and professional growth. The ultimate goals of leadership are two-pronged: influence and reproduction. Success without succession is a failure. Success without inspiring others to do the same is also a failure. For me, it’s very important that leaders today not only train but see to it that the people they are leading are empowered and trained to succeed them. Leaders should also know when their time is up and allow younger leaders to take the helm. The Yellow Boat is like a figurative “boat” that ferries people from one place to a better place – leadership is a lot like that too.

6. The only reason why poverty continues to exist is because we expect it to. I came to believe that one of the biggest obstacles to poverty eradication is that most people assume it’s a fact of everyday life and so many of us including those government give up hope that we can create a world beyond poverty. It takes moral imagination to pursue a world beyond poverty but it’s possible.

HOPE Theory

7. Lastly, because of my experience, I came up with my theory of HOPE.

H stands for Harnessing your potential, it’s important that you find your passion in life. O stands for Opening your mind and your heart, it’s important that you are open to new lessons and also failures. A lot of times, O stands for Opening your wallet too.

P stands for Perspiring, it’s important for you to go out there and make things happen. Don’t forget Nike: Just do it! E stands for Empowering others, and it’s equally important that you share your experiences and the lessons you gained so that others may learn from it.

Personally, I have become thinner and younger because of the project, as the photo below illustrates:

One year difference (April 2011 vs June 2012)

Though I got darker because of the travels, I have never felt healthier in my life.

Apparently, it’s good to do good.

What do you think of my 12-month experience?


Open Invitations

I invite everyone who have the time and the means to attend the following events where I will be sharing the story of the Yellow Boat Project and the lessons on social media and leadership that I have learned over the last 20 months.

JULY 17: Leadership and Entrepreneurship Conference (Pasig City)

Together with Alex Lacson, author the bestselling book, 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do  To Help Our Country, we will be in Pasig on July 17, 2012 (Tuesday).  I will be speaking from 10:00AM to 12 noon.

You can find more information here.

 AUGUST 1: LOG-ON (Cagayan de Oro City)

On August 1, 2012, I am honored to share the stage with my Co-Founder Anton Mari H. Lim (from Zamboanga City) and our country’s foremost marketing guru, Josiah Go, as we share our experience in Advocacy Marketing, Grassroots Implementation and Using Social Media in Creating Awareness in SM City Cagayan de Oro.

I am truly grateful to our local partner, Happy Soles: CDO Funds for Little Kids, for bringing us in one forum to share the story of the Yellow Boat Project.

AUGUST 4: Winning Disciplines for Success (Cebu City)

Together with the country’s top motivational speaker, Francis Kong, and WeAreSoleSisters’ Founder Lois Yasay, we will be bringing the highly successful 2012 Winning Disciplines for Success seminar of OneAwesomeCompany to Cebu City.

Thank you for reading and hope you can join us in one of these events.  For details, please read the fine print in the posters. 🙂

Or reach out to me on Twitter – @jayjaboneta.

Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur

Last June 23, 2012, at last, I was able to visit our 3rd community in Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur where 45 yellow boats were distributed late last year to several households where kids have to walk 3 hours around the lake just to get to school.  With the yellow boats, they just need to row 30 minutes to school.

Many thanks to I CAN make a difference for bringing us to Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur during the inauguration of their half-way house.

Here are some pictures I took during the inauguration:

The half-way house in Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur which will house expectant mothers so that they will be near the hospital
The Lakewood Half-way house was built with softdrink plastic bottles
Certificate of appreciation from the community
The yellow boats of Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur
The motorized boat in Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur still carrying our former name Philippine Funds for Little Kids