An open letter to aspiring sustainability professionals in the Philippines

Standard

Since you opened this blog post – like me, you’re probably trying your best to start a sustainability career of your own. Whether it be on energy, waste, green cities, communications, etc., sustainability is very broad. In the Philippines, how much possible is a career on this field?

I’ve spoken with many people on what they think about the industry of sustainability careers in the country. People tell me that careers in this field are typically reserved for higher-up positions in corporate social responsibility and environmental organizations and institutions. It’s also very course-specific, such as environmental science and agriculture.

There is the notion that sustainability is mainly about the environment. For starters, there is no sure way to get into an entry-level sustainability career, because the field itself is still very young in the Philippines. It is not yet as developed, but we are learning more about it.

Let me be the one to say that you’re not alone, and like every aspiring sustainability professional, the field is, indeed, so vast and wide. There is so much to explore.

So where do we start?

Since sustainability careers aren’t as professionalized yet as we hoped them to be – in my thought – starting from the grassroots level is the best way to go.

Two of the ways I do this is by engaging in sustainability-related projects and reading related materials. Some of the projects I got involved with tackle social entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture, peacebuilding, women empowerment, youth empowerment, and this blog, Triple Bottom Line. On the other hand, one of the main reading materials I’d recommend is eco-business.com, since it focuses on the Asian context of sustainability.

The process varies from person to person – these are just the ways which I personally find helpful.

Trish Kenlon, founder of Sustainable Career Pathways, provides a more general advice that I think is applicable in whatever context you are in. She lists down several reasons and tips and explains why it’s just ‘darn hard’ to launch a career in sustainability.

Just looking for a career in sustainability can be mentally exhausting. I find myself sifting through tons of local job openings and find ‘sustainability specialist’ as the most common one. Then again, however, these job openings are environment-focused.

I think it’s important to remember that to create a suitable industry for sustainability careers in the Philippines, it’s not always just about the environment. There are also the elements of culture, politics, and economics in sustainability. This is, however, a topic for another day.

Considering that the sustainability field is still very young in the Philippines, the only real way I can think of is for aspirants like me to explore until we find the ‘sweet spot’. With this, I’m wishing all of us the best. If you’re an aspiring sustainability professional yourself, message me and let’s talk about it.

The spirit of volunteerism

Standard

Last May 2019, I joined a one-month volunteer work as a class assistant and documenter in the annual training of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI). It consisted of classroom-based and field-based courses—the ones I was assigned to include fundamentals of peacebuilding, monitoring and evaluation for peacebuilding practitioners, and indigenous peoples’ culture-based conflict resolution practices and its potential contributions to mainstream peacebuilding in the Philippines. As depicted by the titles given to the courses, the organization provides training to peacebuilders around the world who work in various contexts of peace and conflict.

Though it was not directly related to my current field in social entrepreneurship—I simply came to the training to offer my skills in documentation. I was even asked briefly during the training, “So what are you doing here?”—to which I replied, “Exploring”.

That question and answer stuck to my mind along the way; I think it somehow represents my current journey as a young professional. For one, social entrepreneurship is still a developing field and has many nuances in the mainstream debate. I, on the other hand, would naturally try to explore something further to better understand it—even though I end up in something that seems unrelated at first sight.

Simply put—much like how social entrepreneurship is still evolving and understanding itself—I would say I am in the same situation. I want to immerse myself into different things to understand the field better (while, of course, trying to earn a decent income on the side). These are exciting times for social entrepreneurship, me, and all others who pour their hearts out into this field.

In this process of exploration and discovery, I find that volunteerism has been very helpful to my journey.

Apart from my previous volunteer work with MPI, I also work as a part-time volunteer in another non-profit organization. Through these various forms of volunteer work, I’m able to expose myself beyond my regular job.

If I had a main advice to young professionals like me, it’s to keep exploring and rediscovering themselves until they find that ‘sweet spot’. It’s not a smooth process—in fact, I often find myself laying in bed at night overthinking what my next steps would be. My next main advice is to just relax and take a breather, because many other people are experiencing the same things. It is, indeed, a shared experience that we should not rush or pressure ourselves into.

Volunteerism sounds like a very noble term. We start to imagine an individual working for philanthropic causes, or an individual putting themselves in unfamiliar situations to help others in need. If you look at the technical definition, it basically means “the act or practice of doing volunteer work in community service”. These are all true.

But I’ve come to realize that volunteerism is also about the self. We help others in need because it makes us happy, it gives us purpose, and at times it provides a transcendental feeling. It reminds me of what many people ascribe with today: self-care and self-love. Like what I learned in the annual training of MPI: we need to have inner peace and love first before we can start helping others with the best version of ourselves.

It also helps to reflect that volunteerism is not always about setting very high obligatory standards on ourselves. When imposing obligatory standards, volunteerism starts to feel something technical—it starts to feel like a bullet point on a to-do list. This is why I started looking at volunteerism as something that simply gives me joy.

The next time that young professionals out there like me engage in volunteer work—try not to treat it as a form of obligation. When treated with joy, volunteerism starts to feel like a constant stream of psychological flow.