How Filipina engineer shared spotlight with Obama, Jack Ma

Voltaire Tupaz
How Filipina engineer shared spotlight with Obama, Jack Ma
Entrepreneur Aisa Mijeno shares how the White House managed to bring her to the APEC CEO Summit even if she wasn't qualified to attend it

MANILA, Philippines – Like other commuters, 31-year-old entrepreneur Aisa Mijeno was forced to walk after several roads in Metro Manila were closed for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week.

On Tuesday, November 17, she had to sprint the last 4 kilometers to the Green Sun, Makati City – venue of the APEC SME Summit 2015 – to listen to current trends and innovations that can inspire new entrepreneurs like her. 

People behind AirAsia, Care.com, Uber, Xurpas, and technology thought leaders headlined the summit that carried the theme, “Innovation and Big Ideas: Pushing Boundaries.” (READ: APEC 2015: Micro enterprises, innovation take center stage)

The next day, November 18, it was Mijeno who took center stage at the APEC CEO Summit, inspiring the crowd of industry leaders with the story of her startup called Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt).

“We weren’t supposed to be at the CEO Summit. We’re not qualified to be part of it,” said the young SALt CEO, who ended up sharing the spotlight with no less than US President Barack Obama and Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma. (READ: Filipina startup founder shares stage with Obama, Jack Ma)

After delivering his message, Obama went on to moderate the panel that highlighted Mijeno’s award-winning product, the SALt lamp, an alternative source of light powered by tap water and table salt. 

SALT LAMP. Add 1 glass of water and 2 tablespoons of salt, and you can use the lamp for 8 hours. Photo by SALt

How it happened  

Mijeno was checking her emails on Monday morning, November 16, when she got a call from the White House, inviting her to join the US President in a panel discussion at the APEC CEO Summit.

“At first, I thought it was some kind of a prank call; a joke. I didn’t really take it seriously. Just imagine, you’re doing your mundane activity and then you have a caller telling you she’s from the White House,” Mijeno told Rappler. 

The woman on the other end told Mijeno to expect an email with details of the request. When Mijeno got the email, she searched for the person on Facebook and Linkedin to check her identity.

“Well, in short, I Googled her up, and she seemed legit (legitimate),” Mijeno quipped.

Meanwhile, her younger brother, Raphael, SALt co-founder and chief financial officer, took his excitement to Facebook: “How would you feel if someone from the White House gives you a call and asks you to be part of a panel alongside US President Barack Obama and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma?” 

Mijeno was told that Obama made a last-minute decision to hold a “lighthearted forum about climate change” on top of his speech, and she was to be part of it.

A first in APEC history, the US President casually moderated the conversation, underscoring his message that combating climate change and ensuring inclusive growth can be attained at the same time. (READ: A first: Obama is APEC’s funny moderator-in-chief)

When Mijeno said that SALt is looking for support to mass-produce the lamp, Obama playfully pointed to the billionaire head of the world’s top e-commerce platform.

“Serving as a matchmaker here a little bit!” Obama jested. 

Here at APEC CEO Summit. My segment just ended with President Obama and Jack Ma. #saltph #apec2015

Posted by Aisa Mijeno on Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Selfie with Obama

Mijeno’s mother, the housewife of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), cried as she watched her daughter basking in the APEC spotlight.

But the extraordinary experience of the young engineer from Batangas might just not be another 15 minutes of fame if she uses it well. 

Backstage after the panel discussion, Obama continued bantering with Mijeno, suggesting to feature the young engineer’s award-winning alternative energy product on the White House website. White House staff have already emailed the draft write-up, Mijeno said.

The prospects are bright for SALt, with various opportunities opening up for the initiative to scale up by 2016, targeting to deliver about 600 lamps to remote areas in the country. (READ: Alibaba’s Jack Ma offers to mentor Filipina engineer)

But for now, the millennial entrepreneur would just like to relish her moment with the world’s “most powerful man.”

She quipped, “I’m more delighted with my selfie with him.” – Rappler.com

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