"The Filipino dream, to put it succinctly, is to leave the Philippines."
In the Philippines more than any place I know, people have dreamt of life on foreign shores. Growing up with the luck of good parents and a good school in Dumaguete, it was difficult to escape the notion that opportunities for a full life weren’t anywhere close to home. This sentiment became reality for me when, in 2003, after a lifetime of aspiring for elsewhere, my mother decided to take control of her trajectory and booked three plane tickets to Cleveland, Ohio.
My story isn’t rare. It’s one that’s shared, in varying degrees, by many of our team members, and by the 10.45 million overseas sons and daughters of the Philippine islands who’ve been swept across continents by the forces of economic dependency. That’s more than a tenth of the population of the Philippines itself.
But the tide is beginning to turn, and Filipinos both native-born and otherwise are increasingly viewing the Philippines as an integral piece to our identities. The question of where our lives fit in relation to the distant archipelago we still consider a kind of home is a constant and nagging one – and there exist few avenues to explore it.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, many organizations are under-resourced and struggling to attract the right people to grow their operations. Some are already implementing powerful solutions to the country’s greatest social and economic challenges, and are just looking for committed heads and hands to scale their impact.
Kaya, at its core, will be a long-term effort to bridge this gap – to link mutual interests across the world and strengthen the role of overseas Filipinos in the development of the Philippine political economy.
The Kaya fellowship program is our first step in this journey. In the summer of 2014, 10 Kaya fellows will be placed in high-value internships with social enterprises in the Philippines, building local capacity while they apply their insights from the experience to the creation of new platforms that link resources and interests in the diaspora community to needs and efforts in the Philippines. Our long-term goal is to develop agents of exchange who can rally their parts of the global diaspora community in support Philippine social initiatives.
By the end of 2013, we want to have the key pieces of this experience in place: partner organizations in the Philippines, experienced leaders to coordinate and mentor fellows on the ground, and sponsors to fund our fellows’ stay. Most immediately, in next month, we will use BVLF funding towards the development of our web presence and the collection of data on student interest in this opportunity. Both materials will be crucial as we present our initiative to relevant stakeholders between now and the end of the year.
Explore Grant Report:
Since mid-August, our team of 15 has managed to garner a broad base of support for our venture: almost 100 Filipino undergraduates (10 from Brown) who have expressed interest in applying to the fellowship, and 21 organizations in the Philippines who have spoken to us about their interest in hosting interns. We also have 4 people in diaspora engagement organizations as well as Ashoka Philippines interested in co-authoring our collaborative design component.
The most striking progress, however, has been in the softer factors: less measurable, but intensely crucial insights on the Philippine diaspora-development question that we've gathered in conversation with both students in overseas Filipino communities and entrepreneurs in the Philippines' quietly booming social enterprise landscape.
These discoveries have triggered a shift in our theory of change, driven our inquiry away from the question of brain drain and more towards the notion of diaspora as a powerful driver of sustainable development. Our mission now has less to do with directly reversing the diasporic outflow and more to do with harnessing its uniquely transnational positioning to fuel social change – and yes, in the end, stemming the push factors of outmigration by providing a secure life for Filipinos domestically.
These nuances in our new vision have altered the way the pieces of our model fit together, shifted the balance of our attention from the summer to beyond, and lent a new clarity to the parameters we had defined from the beginning. The internship makes more sense as a first step than as an end to itself; the “agents of exchange” concept more powerfully fleshes out the role of diaspora networks beyond haystacks in which to find the right needles.
Accelerate Grant Report:
The Accelerate grant was an essential piece of funding that allowed us to launch our fellowship program in the Philippines - our very first proof of concept. The grant as a matching contribution also allowed us to attract support and ultimately begin relationships with valuable donor parties that have continued to sustain our work today. Perhaps most important, the conversations that I had with Lizzie and Alan leading up to and following the grant disbursement were some of the most valuable, productive, and influential conversations in the shaping of our organizational strategy.
Our pilot fellowship taught us 3 things. We learned that innovation and leadership is in a historic tipping point today; we saw that the diaspora has a crucial and relatively untapped role to play as global ambassadors and accelerators of change; and we began to understand, through doing, the kind of experiences that truly lit that flame for both sides of the exchange. Experiences that are centered on deep relationships, critical dialogue, a sense of community, and an element of co-creation. These insights have fueled the rapid growth of our work since Summer 2014: we are now launching our second fellowship in the Philippines, and our fellows from last year have pioneered new partnerships that bring funding, voice, and resources from their diaspora communities to the Philippine social impact sector. Our next step is to mobilize our network of 50 young diaspora leaders to build the movement and infrastructure that will sustain this connection at scale.
Our biggest accomplishment was...
creating an unparalleled community and sense of identity around transnational action for the Philippines.
I learned the most during...
the four months I spent organizing the fellowship - and I learn more every time I think back to the experience and peel back another layer of meaning.
Something I think we did well...
was building an organizational culture that's focused on critical consciousness, local ownership, and understanding change from a systems lens.
We need to improve on...
focusing our efforts - we're at an experimental stage right now and our efforts are ballooning in all directions.
In the future, I hope to...
work on my venture full-time, and in the next few years of strategic pushing, succeed in transforming Filipino diaspora culture into one that's centered on genuine impact in the homeland.