Q&A: Illac Diaz, Innovator

Krista Garcia
Illac Diaz is one of eight panelists for the Rappler Do More Awards

THE INNOVATOR. Illac believes that you should strive to make a difference using your gifts. Graphic by Mara Mercado


MANILA, Philippines – Illac Diaz comes from the same gene pool that gave us Gloria Diaz, the first Filipina Miss Universe.


Some of us can remember his heyday years as a model and an actor.


But for the most part of his career, Illac has reinvented himself as a social innovator.  After seeing how Typhoons Milenyo (2007) and Ondoy (2009) ravaged the countryside, Illac grew passionate about helping rebuild communities and providing them with livelihood.


Today, Illac is the founder of several award-winning initiatives that benefit those with no access to basic human needs like shelter and electricity.


Through MyShelter Foundation, he established the first earth bag and bamboo school construction practice in Asia to address the shortage of clinics and educational infrastructure in rural areas.


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Meanwhile, Pier One was the first migrant housing center to answer the conditions of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) within Metro Manila. Starting out with 40 beds, Pier One can now offer job assistance and temporary accommodations to up to 12,000 maritime workers.


His latest venture is Isang Litrong Liwanag (Liter of Light), which brings an ingenious, eco-friendly bottle light to communities living without electricity.


“Our first beneficiary was the family of one of the students who went to the schools we built,” Illac narrates. “We filled [a plastic bottle] with water and bleach to let light through as a window. This gave 55 watts of brightness inside the classroom and children could read even though there was no electricity yet in the structure.”


The child requested that Illac bring the light to his home so he could read inside their house, and his mother can work better as he does in school. Today, Liter of Light has produced 140,000 bottle lights around the country and 350,000 in 15 countries.


Illac sees Liter of Light not just as aid, but also as an empowering tool. “The idea is to create an army of new thinkers and tinkerers where the goods and programs become so good that we can export this to other countries,” he says. Eventually, Illac wants Filipinos to learn to be benefactors, and not just beneficiaries.


In the ancient Aztec language, “Illac” means “God of Light.” Illac has chosen to live up to his name and Do More, not just for himself but also for others.


Here are a few questions we asked Illac:

What did you want to be, growing up?

My dream was to be an explorer and I would invent scenarios where I would need skills to survive. I still have my first Swiss knife I built things with.


What’s your favorite part about your work?

Always being the rebel and asking my team of scientists and designers to think out of the box (or bottle). I grew up with so many stories and experiences of non-profit [organizations] always asking for funds here and around the world, but I wanted Pinoys to also be on the other side: [to] give a hand rather than always receiving a hand-out.


What’s a typical day like, for you?

I have to run for an hour. I am solar-powered and need to be next to the window or walk in my garden to feel energized for the day. Then it’s either straight to the office or go to communities around Manila.


Who are your role models?

I am a huge collector of books, photographs and monuments of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. I always dreamed that I would see Filipinos become great statesmen and global leaders. I always asked myself why the stage was filled with Western leaders and foreigners who were making global impact when we lived surrounded by poverty; [therefore], we should know how to get up and fix it better than others.


What does it mean for you to “Do More?”

Doing your share commensurate to your capability to make a difference and the privileges gifted to you. Great leadership is not maximizing your profits at the expense of others, but bringing others with your success, and leaving behind a better society and planet. – Rappler.com


The DO MORE Awards is Rappler’s first opportunity to commend Filipino achievers who have the courage to challenge the status quo. It aims to honor those who take the initiative to go beyond the call of duty. What they do inspires others around them. Do you know an Innovator like Illac Diaz? Nominate them for the Rappler Do More awards until October 5!

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