No matter how many times I video chat overseas, the magic of the internet never ceases to amaze me.
It’s completely dark through my windows in California, and I’m seeing the morning sunlight of the next day in the Philippines through the laptop on my dining table. I’m brainstorming with Mark Colentava, one of many self-driven leaders in the City of Balanga working to grow their technology startup community.
In the past year, over Google Hangouts, we’ve been connecting Balanga’s students to international speakers who have found social and economic development through technology. Many of the speakers’ stories come from the Philippines.
But there was a lot I didn’t know about Balanga. I’m Filipino-American, and all my life I’ve lived in California. The Balanga administration was more than welcoming of our hangout series, but how was this technology outreach fitting into the lives of these students? At that point I had spent only two weeks in the Philippines, and had never visited Balanga. As a software engineer in the United States, how could I better support technology education in the Philippines?
The FYLPRO immersion trip, though a brief seven days, was an amazing opportunity to try answering these questions. Just three months after the delegate announcement I was hopping into a trike to visit Bataan Peninsula State University. I sat in on their Android development class, met with many of their faculty, and hung out with their students. During a warm welcome from the Balanga Makerspace I met with many self-driven students and young professionals working hard to deploy their technology projects to benefit their communities.
From here I flew to Bacolod, in Negros Oriental province to observe and learn from Google’s humanitarian outreach project, Google Reach. Before the FYLPRO program started that week, I was happy to briefly observe and learn from 16 Google colleagues in Bacolod that share a passion for lending their talents to humanitarian NGOs in emerging markets. I was touched to have visited a Gawad Kalinga village in Bacolod, meeting courageous families that had lost everything in Typhoon Yolanda and international volunteers working to restore these victims’ communities.
Google employees contributed new sustainability options and technologies to NGOs while building new volunteer relationships in emerging markets.
Back in Manila I was honored to meet Ambassador Cuisia, the rest of the FYLPRO 2015 cohort, and the many FYLPRO supporters that worked hard to make this program possible. Throughout the next week, the delegates were introduced to some of the country’s most impactful projects in social development, business, and politics, while we also explored our Filipino heritage. Every initiative had an amazing story of ordinary people following a vocation to serve their community.
All of these projects were enabling social change, and I strongly resonated with the work of the startup incubators I had the chance to meet. Although Ideaspace Foundation and Kickstart Ventures were each founded only four years ago, they’ve since been incubating dozens of new startups each year and inspiring technology entrepreneurship among the hundreds of team applications they receive annually from throughout the country. I met a husband and wife team now turning a profit from their mobile app, written from development skills they learned from online coursework.
In fact, most of the mobile developers among startups I spoke with learned how to develop mobile apps from educational materials cobbled up from multiple sources online. I met web application teams looking to disrupt the way the world does business, and a founding team member that deftly helped develop a flight tracking system despite having lost his hands. I was deeply inspired by everyone working hard to solve difficult problems for their community, to create new jobs, and to provide more equitable access to opportunities in the Philippines.
I returned from the trip excited for the projects that were alive and well, with new insights from the outreach already taking place, and new theories on how we can further promote practical educational outcomes far beyond those demanded of a startup incubator. I had also made new friends among this year’s cohort.
Since returning I was also thrilled to learn that Balanga had committed itself to city-wide lifelong learning as one of twelve international “learning cities” highlighted in a recent UNESCO report. As the world is watching them, I also look forward to witnessing Balanga’s educational progress.
I’m grateful to the Philippine embassy for granting me renewed confidence that we each have the power to contribute positive change in the world, as so many of our gracious hosts in the Philippines have demonstrated. From across the ocean, over the internet, and through my laptop, it’s now more magical than ever for me to watch the new day unfold in the Philippines.
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