How to Change the World in 2013

Last year, I shared how to change the world in this post.

I focused on three items for 2012.

Our #1 priority was to officially register what was then called the Philippine Funds for Little Kids with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission).  And last May 23, 2012, my Co-Founder, Dr. Anton Mari Lim of Zamboanga City, was able to secure our papers in Zamboanga City.  We were officially registered as the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.  We did this because there were already a number of other nonprofit organizations that started their name with the word “Philippine” so we chose the Yellow Boat since most people already referred to us in that name and also no other organization sounds like it.

Our #2 priority was to share our story to as many individuals and organizations as possible.

Collaboration is so much better than competition. We believe that leadership needs to be shared – because at the end of the day, we are all leaders of our own destinies. It is our individual and collective responsibility to help make the world better especially for children.

We believe that leadership is about sharing powerful stories that will empower and inspire even more leaders.

We believe that leadership has two key responsibilities: one of inspiration and another of reproduction. For leadership to be truly shared, a leader must empower others – empower them to do something about the things they are passionate about.

We believe that for leadership to last, a leader must cultivate more leaders and not just followers.

Over the last 12 months, I have been able to share our story to thousands of individuals and around 50 different seminars, workshops, events and conferences.  I have also shared our story in France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Singapore, India, and of course all around the Philippines.

Our #3 priority was to help empower more change makers in the Philippines and even beyond our borders.  We have partnered with 8 distinct individuals and organizations around the Philippines and started local chapters of the Yellow Boat in their localities.  We have also received support from friends, partners and donors from Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Canada, France, the Middle East and the United States.

The Yellow Boat has become my life mission.  

I know we are just getting started so early last year I also applied to the Global Fellows Program of Acumen Fund.  It is a one-year training program on social entrepreneurship and that is the reason why I am currently in Lahore, Pakistan working with Pharmagen Water – a social enterprise delivering affordable, clean and safe drinking water to the underprivileged here.

In the next 8 months, I will be working with the management team of Pharmagen Water to help them market the service they are providing better.  After which, I will be flying back to New York then hopefully back to the Philippines around November 2013.

I have learned a lot from my 2 months in New York last year and also learning a lot from Pakistan and Pharmagen Water.

So for 2013, this is how I hope to change the world:

1) Continue to share the story of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation (I will be sharing it in TEDxKinnaird next month)

2) Help build the Marketing team of Pharmagen Water

Since I will be in Pakistan for the next 8 months, I believe its best to limit my focus on these two projects.

I am fortunate that social media allows me to connect back with my Co-Founders in the Philippines.

That’s it for now, Happy New Year! And assalamu ‘alaikum 2013!

Let’s spread more HOPE!

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 countdown

There’s a month left before I leave for New York to start my fellowship with Acumen Fund.  As some of you may remember, I was chosen last May 2012 to be one of the 10 Global Fellows of Acumen Fund.

Acumen, for me, is one of the best social entrepreneurship incubators you can find in the world, if not the best out there.

They offer the most exciting approaches and solutions at tackling global poverty and I intend to learn more from them and their partners around the world so that I can bring back these best practices to the Philippines and hopefully start to influence the social sector in the country too.

Being the Chief Storyteller of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation has its perks but one thing that clearly keeps me up at night is the issue of our sustainability.  I believe entrepreneurship coupled with a social mission just like a few others who have gone before us is the best way to go at empowering low-income communities.

I believe that if we truly want to empower people who are financially-challenged, we must start by equipping them with the right dose of confidence and skills.

For me, it really starts with getting an education.  Hopefully all the way up to college.  I have met so many people in our communities who could have gone farther in life if only they have been given the education they rightly deserve.  It all starts with that.  It is not necessarily the knowledge and skills they gain while in school but it is the confidence and the feeling of empowerment that then translates into dignity and allows them to dream for a better life.

I also believe that we need to challenge them, that they can dream, that they can have a better life.  And that starts by slowly empowering them and later on, they would be able to help themselves.  It is a lot like parenthood.  Many of us may hate our parents but we just don’t realize it that they are part of our success or failures.  And that’s why it’s important that as we help these communities; we should also be slowly building them up, just like our parents.  There are a few exceptions to this rule but so many of us have parents who have guided us from childhood and even to adulthood.

30 days

I have a little over 30 days to wrap up my current affairs where together with the board members of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc., I have decided to take on this exciting challenge which will take me to the US particularly in New York for an intensive two-month training in Acumen Fund’s headquarters and then to a 10-month field assignment in Asia (more on that on my next post).

I will surely miss a lot of people who have made this Yellow Boat Journey with me and with all of us a very fruitful and fulfilling endeavor.

I hope you will continue to follow us as we take the Yellow Boat global. 🙂 Dream big, right?

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).

Success without succession is a failure

I recently read the document that Acumen Fund released entitled “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty,” and the one thing that really struck me to be very important was Lesson #4:

We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities.

The biggest challenge that any organization faces is sustainability. And for me (esp. for the nonprofit world), what particularly drive sustainability are three things: leadership, resources, and community involvement. Leadership not only provides the direction but also the inspiration so that members and volunteers can deliver on goals, objectives and can raise enough funds and resources to get things done.

Leadership is also about reproduction of future leaders and this is where most organizations fail – for me, the real test of sustainability is when organizations are able to attract potential leaders who can take on future challenges and also when they are able to cultivate local leaders.

In our example, a bulk of our fundraising comes from Manila, which is miles away from Zamboanga and Masbate so it is very important that there are local teams in these areas as well who can raise enough resources on their own.

Lastly, when we were starting out at the last part of 2010 and early part of 2011, Anton Lim, our Chief Dreamer, introduced the concept of sweat equity in Layag-Layag wherein he made sure that the local community we are about to help and support will also do their share in the project.  He talked to our key partners and the community leaders on the ground that the boat (and any other future boats) needs to be maintained by the community as a whole.

We also made sure that they begin helping themselves by bringing in experts who can help them improve their livelihood, access to government agencies who can help them in their healthcare needs and their access to social services, and also volunteers from other organizations who can teach them about how to clean and take care of the environment and other basic stuff.

What this lesson didn’t mention though is the important presence of both passion and patience in an organization’s leaders and members.  Passion is the difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when it is convenient. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

To end, I agree with known venture capital guru, Randy Komisar that “only passion will get you through the tough times. It’s the romance, not the finance that makes business worth pursuing.”

And so for the rest of 2012, I wish that you find your passion in life and remember sharing success creates more of it.