The following is Part 1 of a two-part series. You can read Part 2 here.
In human history, inequality has created borders between marginalized people and basic human rights, opportunities, and agency over their own lives. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has amplified these existing inequalities while putting up new barriers. Community quarantines and lockdowns, though necessary, disproportionately affect communities whose access to basic needs and services, health care, or even transportation to return to the country were already lacking to begin with. Measures to reduce physical contact have further solidified the walls of isolation and deepened the divides between those who can cope with these changes and those who cannot.
Solutions, then, should also evolve to address these problems head on. We can learn so much from social entrepreneurs and innovators who are applying the creativity, leadership, and savvy needed in business to solve social problems.
The Ashoka Fellowship
This is where the Ashoka Fellowship comes in. Since its inception, the work of the Fellowship has been about recognizing and supporting leading social innovators in the world whose work brings to light barriers that are pervasive in society and offers solutions for breaking them down.
In 2006, Terri Jayme Mora and I started exploring how to bring the Ashoka Fellowship to the Philippines. We were both based in Washington DC at that time, with Terri working in the global office of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, while I was ending a stint with the World Resources Institute. With the support of Ashoka Founder and Board Chair Bill Drayton and Ashoka President Diana Wells, we finally decided to bring the Fellowship to the Philippines. It was clear that our country was a fertile place for social innovation, for new ideas to address poverty, environmental destruction, food insecurity, social injustice, and other deeply rooted problems that have been difficult to crack.
We were right. Fourteen years later, we have raised significant resources, mostly from domestic donors, and have established a vibrant community of Ashoka Fellows who by the end of the month will be a dozen in number.
Ashoka Fellows in the Philippines
Ashoka Philippines, whose board is now chaired by the visionary philanthropist Rico Gonzalez, has been searching for, recognizing, and supporting social innovators who transform systems in society to solve pressing problems. These individuals undergo a rigorous process before they are offered the Ashoka Fellowship, a lifelong membership to a global network of changemakers and partners. Close to 4,000 Ashoka Fellows are present in diverse fields and communities in over 90 countries, working towards a society where everyone is a changemaker.
In the Philippines, 12 Ashoka Fellows are creating systemic change for all Filipinos. The following are the 9 previously inducted into the Fellowship:
Girlie Garcia-Lorenzo founded Kythe Foundation, Inc. and has integrated psychosocial support for chronically ill children in the local healthcare system, reaching over 8,000 patients and families nationwide. As the President of the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO), she has also successfully lobbied for the passing of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act.
Through his organization A Single Drop for Safe Water, Kevin Lee works with local government and other partners to help create demand for quality water, sanitation, and hygiene systems in communities, and empowering local governments to address the needs of their constituents towards sustainable systems in the Philippines.
Tina Liamzon established the Ateneo Overseas Filipinos’ Leadership, Innovation, Financial Literacy, and Social Entrepreneurship (ALSE OF-LIFE) Training Program, and is building a global community of empowered Filipino migrant workers through a leadership and education program that encourages them to become drivers of change in the Philippines and in their host countries.
Laurindo Garcia is the founder of Be Inclusive, a venture committed to addressing persistent discrimination by building an ecosystem of companies in Asia that uses inclusion as a business strategy. When Singapore’s confidential HIV registry leaked in early 2019, Laurindo worked with Action for Aids to rally 64 companies into pledging for the non- discriminatory treatment of employees with HIV.
Through Arugaan, Ines Fernandez transforms volunteer mothers from nurturers to leaders by training them to become knowledgeable about proper breastfeeding practices, healthy indigenous food, and relactation counseling. She also played an integral role in passing the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act.
JP Maunes founded Philippine Accessible Deaf Services, Inc. (PADS) to build and promote adaptive sports, which he sees as a key initiative to further strengthen and expand venues for mainstreaming the inclusion of PWDs in all aspects of society. In 2017, PADS founded the first cross-disability dragon boat team in Filipino history, the PADS Adaptive Dragon Boat Team. Within the same year, the team won the gold medal at the 9th Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on its first try.
Amina Evangelista Swanepoel is the Founding Executive Director of Roots of Health, which combines comprehensive reproductive and sexual education with access to free clinical care and services in Palawan, as well as the establishment of strong community-based support to empower women and young people to make informed decisions and live healthy lives.
Through BagoSphere, Zhihan Lee uses a “last-mile education” model where the organization works directly with employers to develop programs that equip rural youth with in-demand professional skills. After graduation, BagoSphere places the student with one of their partner employers and provides dedicated support as they continue to explore job and career opportunities.
Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman of Teach Peace Build Peace Movement mobilizes a core youth-led volunteer team that facilitates peace-related value formation programs throughout the country, and the creation of peace education materials – a initiative she is replicating in schools nationwide.
This coming Friday, on October 30, Ashoka Philippines will induct into the global Fellowhip 3 new Fellows. Part 2 of this article will introduce them to the public. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
Jose Luis Pablo is communications manager of Ashoka Philippines.