Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #4

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I’m typing this down on my phone while commuting. Currently, the jeepney I’m riding is traversing across Gil Puyat. Later, I’ll be near Heritage Hotel where I’ll ride the jeepney going to Multinational Village where I live. Usually, this commute takes around three to four hours.

Right now I’m thinking of both positive and negative sides on this commute. The positive side is that because of the traffic, I’m able to find time to blog about it through my phone. It serves as a creative outlet rather than boring me to death while the jeepney crawls through the streets of Manila.

On the other hand, the negative side is, well, the traffic. Plus the air pollution — that’s probably the worst.

Another thing that comes to my mind when talking about traffic are private vehicles. Is it worth it to own and drive a car in Metro Manila? I can think of a few pros and cons.

Some pros:

  • Convenience
  • Mobility
  • Personal space
  • Useful for emergencies

And some cons:

  • It’s basically a liability
  • Carbon emissions
  • You’ll get stuck in traffic either way
  • Gas expenses
  • Maintenance

I still prefer using public transportation because in my experience, the cons outweigh the pros when owning a vehicle. And besides, if only we had a good public transportation system, then probably no one will need to buy a private vehicle in the first place. We’d all be taking efficient transportation that’s designed as a public good.

We don’t have that in Metro Manila though. Well, at least, “yet”.

As to when we’ll ever have efficient public transportation, it’s probably decades away.

Traffic isn’t all that bad though, at least for me. In traffic, I’m able to reflect on different kinds of things, regardless of how serious, witty, or obscure they are.

Whatever it is, traffic can be both a killer and a chance for momentary solitude. But it sure as hell not for anyone who’s not mentally prepared for it.

Also, I spent around 0.02gb trying to upload this blog post. Well, better than being bored to death, I guess.

Non-profit insights: Creativity amidst ambiguity

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I’m very proud to be working with our nanays at Alexa Mira Society (AMSI).

For the past weeks, we’ve organized several workshops in our livelihood program where we taught them positive self-image, business planning, and personal finance, among others. Looking into their eyes when I was observing the workshops — I can see a glimmer of hope. Our nanays want change, and they want it fast.

Recently, our nanays have finalized their livelihood project with that of making handmade products from crochet. They already found a supplier for their cloth. Since then, they have been experimenting on different designs and talking about their next steps forward.

What I appreciate the most is the amount of creativity and resourcefulness they’re investing into this project and the entire program of AMSI. I’m happy to know that the lessons we’re sharing with them bore fruit along the way.

This is where creativity becomes a big asset and tool in local communities.

On creativity and community building

People underestimate creativity and intuition. As human beings, I think one of our most important assets is to — at proper times — act based on our gut feel or what we sense to be right. Sometimes, our intuition tells us more about our analytical and overthinking mind.

Imagine if we build that into the community.

I believe communities are powerful. In our own community, the nanays have a voice. They use this to power through every day. They use this to fuel their creativity and resourcefulness. We ideate with them, and they execute. They move when they’re provided the proper autonomy and direction.

Everyone is creative. They just have to be given the proper chance.

Teaching ‘how to fish’

It’s common knowledge and practice that non-profit organizations spoonfeed or simply give donations to their beneficiaries. But this is not what we aim to be in AMSI.

By teaching the nanays personal and business skills, we want them to move forward on their own once we ourselves in the team are gone later down the road.

Because in life, it’s like a grand game of autonomy and just striving to be good people.

Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #3

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For the past weeks, I’ve been working in coffee shops in Intramuros while exploring places in the afternoon with my loyal and trustworthy friend Google Maps. Recently, I’ve expanded my base of operations to Binondo. Before that, however, I want to share a thing or two about the coffee shops and bars I’ve encountered in Intramuros.

Barbara’s Coffee Shop

Barbara’s Coffee Shop, I would say, is like an introduction to me of what Intramuros could offer. When I first came in, I wasn’t that comfortable yet on working with my laptop in a coffee shop. I was used to working in the office and anywhere that’s not, well, a coffee shop — because I had this notion that it’s going to be costly for me to work in such places. Well, I made the right decision, and now I’m practically working in any coffee shop I can find. (Pro tip: All I had to keep doing was buy the cheapest coffee.)

So this is why Barbara’s was a memorable coffee shop to me. I went there during the latter part of August, and since then I’ve been roaring to visit unique and independent cafes like them.

Cafe Janealo

This cafe was a pleasant surprise to me. I didn’t plan on going here. I was supposed to go to another cafe, but realized that they’re closed already. Lo and behold, when I went in Cafe Janealo, it was the fanciest cafe I’ve been to in Intramuros. For starters, I ordered their brewed coffee which comes with suman (perfect combination!). I worked there for the rest of the morning while sipping my coffee and dipping the suman into it, before I went ahead and devour the sticky rice.

Come noon, it was time for lunch. I got myself some chicken skewers. It was rather expensive, but I thought, it’s only seldom that I come to this place. People also slowly started coming in for lunch. Luckily, I was about to finish my own. I managed to fix my things, stand up, and give the table to a group of people waiting for me.

La Cathedral Cafe

This cafe is yet again another pleasant surprise. You have to see it to believe it. Recently, they announced that their balcony will be opened soon. From the balcony, you get a good view of Intramuros, most especially the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion. As usual, I bought brewed coffee and worked for the rest of the morning. During the afternoon, I had some really spicy and delicious Bicol Express. In these types of cafes, the ambiance and aura are what matter to me most.

Cioccolata Churros Cafe

Not gonna lie — this cafe didn’t really impress me that much. Maybe because I prefer dimly lit cafes, haha. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to work in because it’s well-lit and they have a good selection in the menu. Like how I usually do, I bought brewed coffee and stayed there for the rest of the morning. They didn’t serve lunch though, so I looked for nearby food stalls. Luckily, I found one place where they sell bento meals for less than P50. Quite a good deal if you ask me.

Batala Bar

This is the bar I’ve been to most recently, and probably one of my favorites. They serve mostly local craft beer, coffee, and ice cream, as well as some products from social enterprises. I gotta say, they have an awesome vibe going on in the bar. The view from the balcony of the Plaza San Luis Complex is priceless. I sat on the table near the balcony. It was one of the most peaceful working environments I’ve been to (well, as long as you’re the only one there — luckily, I was).

That’s it so far for my coffee shop/bar escapades in Intramuros. There’s more to come for sure! (I just found out a new cafe opened up in the Plaza San Luis Complex!)

Non-profit insights: Working one year into Alexa Mira Society

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Since 2018, I’ve been working part-time in a non-profit organization (NPO) called Alexa Mira Society (AMSI). We hold our programs every Saturday of the week, and focus on the kids and nanays (mothers). The tatays (fathers), unfortunately, cannot join us because in Filipino culture, the fathers work even on Saturdays to tend to their families’ needs. There is also the notion that only the nanays and kids should engage with non-profit organizations.

When I first started in AMSI, I was quite reluctant. I had typical questions going on in my mind such as “is there money here?“, “will this be worth my time?“, and “will this be fulfilling?“, among others. Looking back, I realized it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Working in a non-profit

AMSI is relatively new, so my team and I had to construct an organizational structure. It’s not yet as seamless and relatively efficient as other NPOs, but it’s been a good start so far.

I volunteered to be the project manager this year, and initially began setting our respective roles and positions. It’s been months since then, and we’re slowly learning and getting the hang of our respective tasks.

In this working environment, I learned that if you are going to build a structure in an organization, you’re going to have to work together a lot in an unstructured way. Like how you build anything in life, it starts with ambiguity and unstructured processes.

Amid this building-up process, we’ve made really good friends with each other. Today, it’s more like a siblinghood. We remain professional with the tasks, while at the same time maintaining our friendships (and having heart-to-heart conversations here and there). There’s also a strong feeling of family, and that’s something really nice to have.

Working with the community

We work with a community in Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City. One thing I learned and realized with our community is their potential and skills.

For the past weeks, we have been exposing them to a series of seminars and workshops in the livelihood program. We are doing these so that in the latter parts of the program, the nanays would be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to jump-start their own livelihood project.

The good thing is that the nanays already have an entrepreneurial mindset. My team and I were just really there to help them realize this further. Along the way, they have been conceptualizing and thinking of ways to start their next livelihood project.

The kids in our community are another unique story. Apart from being very makulit and rowdy, the kids have a lot of potential in them that we help nurture through the kids’ program. We’ve exposed them to a number of mini workshops such as urban gardening, personal finance, and arts and crafts, to name a few.

Ultimately, our goal is to help the community stand up on their own feet and earn a living for themselves. We continually instill an entrepreneurial mindset in the nanays and a creative mindset for the kids.

Much of our work has been experimental. We think that to better address the needs of our community, we need to apply a lot of creative approaches. We’re able to see the impact that we’re doing for the community, and I think that’s what matters the most.

Lifelong search for social impact

Social impact is, indeed, a complex subject to dwell upon. When we first started forming programs for AMSI, social impact is one of our main concerns.

Will the activities bring actual change in the lives of our communities? How should we measure our social impact? Are our programs tailored to their needs?

These were just some of the questions we asked. Since human development is a complex topic, what we focused on are what we are currently capable of. We started with simple social impact metrics through feedback forms and attendance sheets, among others.

There is an article by the World Economic Forum that provides a unique perspective on this topic. It tries to ask questions on who should be defining poverty and social impact, among other things, in the first place.

At the end of the day, bringing change into other people’s lives can have multiple meanings. It could be the joy you feel when you see the smile in a child, or even the increase in family income of your beneficiaries with the help of the livelihood project that your organization helped them start. Again, what matters is there is something that positively changed, because in this world, the only ever thing that’s constant (or should be constant) is change.

Reflections of a digital nomad in Metro Manila #1

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It’s interesting when people ask me what I do for a living. Since I’m what you could call a ‘digital nomad‘, I work remotely and my office can be everywhere. But essentially, what I do includes research, writing, projects, social media, non-profit work, and volunteer engagements. Typically, I introduce myself as a researcher and writer, among other things.

Working, exploring

For the past weeks, I’ve been going back and forth the walled city of Intramuros, working in coffee shops during the morning, then exploring different sites during the afternoon. It has been a fun, educational, and ‘old soul’ type of experience so far. According to recent news, around 2.12 million tourists visited Intramuros during the first semester of 2019.

Last May 2019, I was able to go to a one-month volunteer engagement in Mindanao, where I was a class documenter for their annual peacebuilding training. This kind of engagement wouldn’t be possible without the flexible work schedule that I have.

Afterwards, I had many other volunteer engagements. So far, I was able to explore places in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao just this year. It truly is something to be thankful for. I’m learning more about our diversity and culture as a nation.

What you need

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you essentially just need the following things in your work life: a laptop, your hands, head, internet connection, power outlet, and a place to work in. Of course, this would vary on the nature of the job, but you get what I mean.

Whenever I look for places to work in Manila, I want to make sure that either (1) the place has good WiFi or (2) my mobile data connection is strong in that particular area. Because obviously, an internet connection is essential for a digital nomad.

Independence

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you handle your own time. You impose your own work hours. You create your own workflow. You sometimes even list down your own job description. It’s a good training for independence and developing your personal work philosophy.

The digital nomad life is not for everyone though. It also depends on the career you want. Regardless, it’s something to take note of if you prefer flexible working hours that give you a considerate time to explore and do other things you’re passionate about.

On sustainability and being ‘gracefully lost’

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We have a negative connotation on the word ‘lost’. But I beg to differ.

I’d be lying if I say that I already found what I want to do for the rest of my life. The thing with being ‘lost’ is that it’s a process — it’s not something you can run away from just by a quotable quote in Facebook or an inspiring message by someone.

Being lost is an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to explore possibilities and stretch out ourselves as much as we can (but not to the expense of overfatigue). It is, you may say, a kind of phase in life, but I think it can be something lifelong. Getting lost in helping others, for instance, is something I can buy into.

We hear so much unsolicited advice everyday on ‘fixing our lives’ or being at the state of ‘not being lost.’ I think these are horrible advice.

For one, human beings are extremely complex. When talking about the state of being ‘lost’, it’s not something that you can just discuss through a black-and-white perspective.

Instead of wallowing in despair of being ‘lost,’ I say we look at it constructively. I say we become gracefully lost.

Lost with sustainability

As what you probably know as someone reading this blog post right now, I write mostly on sustainability. But this wasn’t something that just popped into my head.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have over 17 general goals for the planet. Each of these 17 goals has more specific sets of goals, and so on. I happen to find myself amid all these goals. I am, you could say, ‘gracefully lost’ in my advocacy for sustainability. I can honestly admit that I have no direct focus right now, but I make do with what I have by exploring and stretching out the possibilities. Some ways I do that is through this blog, my work, and volunteer engagements.

Another factor is that I’m treading on a path that’s barely scratched, at least locally. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to achieve what I want.

I believe in the intersection of business and environment. Businesses have the potential to overturn the damage it’s done to the world. This will require a new economic order that doesn’t rely on ‘eternal growth with finite natural resources.’

It’s a tall order. I honestly don’t know where to start. But I do certain things anyway. And this is what I mean about being gracefully lost.

Gracefully lost

‘Lost’ is a term that gets thrown around quite leniently. We forget that the term is not all that bad. It also has its good side, and that’s what I want to focus on here.

Being gracefully lost is like finding yourself for the first time in a railway system of a big city. You have no idea how it exactly works. But you do it anyway. You learn along the way. You build your knowledge. You practice it. Then you become used to it.

And this applies to any aspect of life. It’s alright that we don’t know yet what to do or where to go. We just have to do something. We just have to embrace being lost. And we have to do whatever it costs to maintain our sanity and health and still manage to bond with our loved ones.

Being gracefully lost reminds us to take it easy. It removes the pressure and fills us with an unrelenting force of lifelong learning.

What the traditional academe can learn from innovative schools: Taking the case of Foundation University

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The academic world has constantly been criticized for being archaic and slow. But things are roaring for change down at Foundation University (FU) in Dumaguete City, Philippines.

FU was awarded in 2015 by the Department of Energy and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau as the most sustainable school in the Philippines. In the past years, they have been speeding up their sustainability and social innovation initiatives.

A canteen within Foundation University, which was designed by its president. The ceiling was designed with bamboo.
Foundation University maintains a hydroponics farm in one of the rooftops of their buildings. The hydroponics farm is also being used by the school’s agriculture students.

Part of these initiatives is a special event last September 20, 2019 entitled “Entrepreneurship and my Future“, where the university invited MakeSense Philippines to hold a social initiative creation workshop. MakeSense is an international organization that organizes and promotes initiatives on sustainability.

In the long run, FU aims to integrate sustainability into its curriculum. They plan to do this by making the different colleges and disciplines work together in academic outputs like theses and projects, among others.

This was also the first time that a social innovation event of this kind was held in FU. During the workshop, the students had brilliant ideas to solve some issues found in their local communities. Among some of these include plastic waste solutions, solid waste management, and solving unintended teen pregnancy.

The panel members speak during a discussion session of Foundation University’s event, “Entrepreneurship and my Future”.

A unique selling point with FU is that they have already began the path on creating systemic networks not just within their departments and colleges, but also with external innovative organizations like MakeSense. Being that their sustainability initiatives are relatively young, they have many opportunities to tweak and experiment along the way.

There is one buzzword for FU’s innovativeness: systems. By creating social innovation networks, FU is able to leverage on a rich pool of individuals and organizations that are sustainability-oriented. They are also able to integrate sustainability on an internal level, specifically in their curriculum and students.

This is something that many other academic institutions can buy into. With systemic issues plaguing us locally and globally, now is the time to move fast. If it would take the traditional academe to radically shift its focus on sustainability and innovation networks both internally in its curriculum and externally with innovative organizations, then now would be the opportune time.

The social garden in Foundation University.