You can still donate to launch Connective Possibilities!

Our official fundraising campaign through is technically over, and you can visit our fundraising page here, but that doesn’t mean that the fundraising stops!

In fact, this is just the beginning. You can still support us by making a donation today! Click on the button below or this link to help us launch our organization.

I’ll also update you all soon with some fascinating data from our first 50 days of fundraising.

A Startup Manifesto

I believe that communities have the power, potential and the will to lift themselves out of poverty. In East Palo Alto, a poverty-afflicted community in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was not uncommon to hear that the high school drop out rate was 60%. But for that salient statistic, we can look at the converse and realize that in East Palo Alto, 40% of the kids were NOT dropping out of high school. Who are these kids and families? Amid a turbulent and poverty-afflicted community, why and how were these students successful?

When I worked at a college access nonprofit organization, I saw firsthand the reasons why these kids and families were successful. They leveraged the social capital that was around them. They had a loving teacher or nonprofit program manager who pushed them. They had a trailblazing mother or cousin who led the way for the entire family. It’s people talking to people, working together to find solutions for each other. Through this critical network we leveraged every single connection to ensure that our students were on a path to personal success.

I believe that this network can be scaled up to entire communities. What if we built the connective tissue in communities so that people could access this human-powered network at a larger scale. What if all families, community members, educators, nonprofit workers, business people, and leaders took ownership and responsibility for the future success of all children.

However this will require a shift in the way we currently think about the purpose of education. A few years ago I was planning an event that showcased our students’ successes to the community and needed a large venue. Naturally I thought to ask the neighborhood schools to see if they would allow us to borrow their gym for an evening, and I was shocked when a school principal was completely unwilling to help. She aggressively asked, “How many of MY students are you serving?” When I named only a handful, she rejected my request stating that she only allowed use of her premises for “her students.” It’s this kind of insular attitude that hinders relationship-building in the community. Instead of thinking just about “her students,” how can we change the community conversation to “our students”? I knew there had to be a better way.

The good news is that hundreds of nonprofits, community-based organizations and innovative schools and initiatives across the country have already made progress and action. There is a movement happening in the education sector towards rebuilding the system from the inside out and from the outside in. Although we’ve got a lot of new and innovative initiatives happening all across the country, many of these initiatives work in isolation, don’t collaborate, or don’t communicate — they’re still acting like that isolationist school principal, thinking about “her school” and “her students.”

We can change this.

With your help and with the help of many other supporters from communities across the nation, we will launch Connective Possibilities (CP, a working title), a social movement that will connect kids and families to vital poverty-fighting resources. CP aims to build the connective tissue in low-income communities to transform our lowest performing schools.

The vision is to create a human-centered platform in low-income communities across the country that will help to strengthen and innovate entire education systems from the ground level, rather than from the top-down.

The first phase of the movement will start at the ground level to address poverty-related issues that plague students and families from low-income communities. We will build a one-stop shop of all of the resources in the community in low-income schools. It’ll have a “Wikipedia” for who to go to for whatever issue kids and families are going through. We will staff them with heart-driven, innovative college students so that teachers can focus on teaching. There are a hundred more details about how this will work, and if you want I can even share the business plan with you.

Starting a new nonprofit organization is a daunting task, and I’ve spent enormous amounts of time in solitary reflection and in consultation with many supporters about the concept. However the time for action has come, and I’m incredibly excited announce that we will launch (and incubate) Connective Possibilities this year and do a full launch during summer 2012 (after I graduate from my masters program at Harvard).

Just like I believe that a community has to work together to improve schools, I believe that I can’t launch this organization by myself. Well, technically, I can, but that completely goes against the core beliefs that undergird this startup. I hope you’re intrigued and curious. I also hope you can join our growing movement to help families fight poverty and transform our nation’s schools.

Join us.

For our youth,


Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Fighting Poverty in Boston

This week I met with three critical stakeholders in Boston to learn about the existing fabric of care that supports people living in poverty-afflicted communities as part of my feasibility research for launching Connective Possibilities (more on that to come later). LIFT and Healthleads are nonprofit organizations that provide resources to community members. Maicharia Weir Lytle, LIFT’s Boston Executive Director, gave me a tour of their multi-service center in the heart of Mayor Menino’s audacious Circle of Promise in Roxbury. Community members work one-on-one with LIFT volunteers to find jobs, secure safe housing, make ends meet through public benefits and tax credits, and obtain quality referrals for services like childcare and healthcare. Sonia Sarker, Healthleads’s Chief of Staff, also shared with me their similar model — except their volunteer-staffed “help desks” are located in hospitals and clinics that low-income people frequent.

Both services help people navigate through the turmoil inherent below the poverty-line, and provide support so that people don’t spend more in money, time, hassle, and exhaustion. No one thinks about the lines and bureaucracy that the poor have to wade through. Weir Lytle showed me a thick stack of papers, which represented all of the various applications for private subsidized housing that a person would have to fill out to look for a safe and stable home. A LIFT volunteer collected all of these applications, scanned them into PDF files, and uploaded them into an internal wiki of resources, so that people don’t have to traverse all over town to pick them up – a savings of at least 10 hours of travel time.

One of my main questions about Healthleads’ model was whether connecting clinic clients and hospital patients to resources was leading to a fade-out effect. Sarkar explained how Healthleads’ model actually made hospital interventions better. Currently the healthcare system reacts to the exacerbated ailments of poor clients. A doctor might prescribe an inhaler to a child with chronic asthma, but she can’t do anything about the child’s apartment that is crawling with roaches. Healthleads aims to fix this by being “Physician extenders” and unbundling this social responsibility off of the physician’s plate so that she can “work at the top of her license.” Healthleads fills a missing operational gap in the value chain of hospitals that serve high-poverty communities: Doctors => Nurses => Social Workers => Healthleads volunteers (who release the pressure off the previous three positions so that they can work at the top of their license.

My third and final visit this week was with Principal Cynthia Paris-Jeffries at one of Boston’s turnaround schools, Blackstone Elementary in the South End. Blackstone is a K-5 school with a largely Latino (80%), Black (15%), and poor (over 90% on Free/Reduced Lunch) student body, and because the school failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress in both English Language Arts and Math for several years, they’ve been labeled a “turnaround school” and provided resources from the district. My meeting with Principal Paris-Jeffries reminded me of Isaacs and Sawhill’s conclusion that the best intervention to improve social mobility is to focus on high quality, early childhood education targeted at children from poor families. Paris-Jeffries compares the job of a good principal to that of a skilled chef — every school needs a healthy mix of carefully and artfully chosen services and partners. Some principals just throw in every intervention or partner into their school without really thinking about how that affects the school as a whole. Paris-Jeffries alluded to making a simple, yet effective set of interventions tailored especially to early childhood education for children from poor families, which includes partnerships with City Year, READ Boston, South End Health Center, the Power Lunch Program, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Each of these three organizations tries to tackle the poverty-related issues that cause family background to play a role in why families and kids fall behind or get ahead. Providing resources and connections, like the informal social capital in middle and high-income communities, helps kids and families receive the resources they need to do better. And although poverty has risen to 13.2% (Sherman, et. al) — its highest level since the 60’s — it’s reassuring to know that communities, organizations and schools are doing their best to fight poverty and the hidden issues that poverty brings. However, it’s also clear that more needs to be done, and we have just touched the tip of the ice berg in regards to the full effects of the recession on people living in poverty.


A Decade of Conversations

This post was originally published on my new website,, which I created as part of a my Digital Media, Politics and Power class at Harvard.

Photo Credit: Marc Loresto

On this day of personal reflection and national introspection, it’s not hard to think about the dramatic changes that have occurred over the last decade. Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, our lives have changed to include more ubiquity of digital tools and technologies, like cell phones, social media, and broadband internet. I can’t help but imagine how our reactions, lives and society might have been different if we had today’s technologies back then.

A decade ago I was a resident advisor at the North Residential College at the University of Southern California. At around seven in the morning several of my residents hurriedly woke me up to show me the frightening news, and I felt like I was having a nightmare. At that time, I just got a cell phone, I was still a year away from signing up for Friendster, and email was reserved for the nerds (i.e. me). As an RA, it was my responsibility to disseminate information to my residents about cancelled classes and events — so I walked up and down the halls and talked to my boys one-by-one. Later that day I posted up a flyer in front of a classroom to alert club members that our evening meeting was cancelled. Today, I would have broadcasted the same information via email, text and tweets in a matter of minutes.

During today’s anniversary ceremony at Harvard, David Gergen, professor at HKS and director of the Center for Public Leadership, said that right after 9/11 our initial instinct was to embrace our family, and by that he meant to nurture and care for our close loved ones — and over the last decade we’ve used emerging tools to embrace our families. Facebook groups to stay connected with loved ones. Flickr, Instagram, and Youtube to “see” them. Skype and FaceTime to keep the communication lines open. Gergen, however, urged us to embrace our larger extended families, and by that he meant communities of people outside of our own networks who are suffering and marginalized — those who live in the shadows of the recession while we live in the light.

In Clay Shirky‘s book, Here Comes Everybody, he suggests that technology and social tools are ubiquitous, but the underlying assumption is that everyone has access to these tools and technologies. While working with low-income students and families in the Bay Area, I tried to use cutting edge forms of communications tools, like blogging, wikis and email, and I realized that wasn’t working. The young people and their families weren’t using the same technologies, partially because they didn’t have access to computers and/or high-speed internet access. I had to shift my strategy from forcing technologies onto my students to understanding what technologies they use and how they use them. Because of this mind shift, I noticed that although computers and internet access were prohibitively expensive for my low-income families, most of them had cell phones and more recently smart phones. Rather than using the more conventional tools like emails and blogging to organize my students and their families, I used texting and Facebook tagging to foster community and mobilize the group to act. And then something happened that I wasn’t expecting — my students started to self-organize. The more vocal ones began to forward my text messages to others, and they created subgroups within our group to tackle issues. It was kind of like Wikipedia’s spontaneous division of labor, except in a tangible way within a community of about 300 students.

I didn’t introduce this mode of communication to my students — I merely discovered that they were already texting each other and forming informal groups online. And I guess the common point is that people throughout all generations are having and will continue to have conversations on and offline. People will continue to form groups on and offline. If we have to communicate one-by-one by knocking on people’s doors or if we text hundreds people at the same time, it doesn’t take out the base fact that we are communicating and connecting with people. After all, “Conversation is king.”

Inside the Belly of the Philanthropic Beast

Two weeks ago I started my Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship at the Highland Street Foundation. A couple of basics before I get deep into this post:


  • Education Pioneers is a national nonprofit organization that “identifies, trains, connects, and inspires a new generation of leaders dedicated to transforming our educational system so that all students receive a quality education.” Fellows are placed in educational organizations for a 10-week high impact project during the summer between their graduate school years.
  • The Highland Street Foundation is a small family foundation based in Newton, MA, which is a suburb of Boston. The foundation boasts a $190 million endowment and funds education, youth, mentoring, health care, and cultural institutions in Massachusetts and California.


When I was placed with the Highland Street Foundation in May, I was slightly concerned because I didn’t know if I would be able to connect with the grant-making side of the nonprofit world. For over a decade, my worldview and context has been shaped by grant-seeking organizations. Yet here I am spending 10 weeks with the good folks at Highland Street, and thus far the experience has been eye-opening.


My project this summer is to do an evaluation of one of the foundation’s grant programs, Free Fun Fridays. The Free Fun Fridays program opens up the doors of over 20 of Massachusetts’ most famous cultural institutions for free this summer. Highland Street will underwrite all of the admissions costs of the cultural institutions. This is the third year that the foundation has implemented Free Fun Fridays, and this year they were interested to learn about the economic and social impact of the program — what is the economic impact on museums, neighboring businesses and families?


The interesting thing is that the foundation doesn’t have a history of doing evaluations or assessments of their grant programs (other than a post-grant report that grantees must submit). I’m literally starting from scratch and have called on my professors and friends who are experts in the field of program evaluation to lend me their expertise.


I’ve also noticed that being on the grant-making side of the table provides a completely different angle, and I feel a shift in the power dynamic. I accompanied my executive director on a site visit to one of our grantees. The grantees (who will not be named) included over 20 bigwigs from their organization to the meeting, and I thought they would overtake the meeting since we were significantly outnumbered. Instead, however, my ED ran the show sharply and with such certitude and ownership. He threw out questions quickly, and the grantees’ staff tried to answer as adeptly and succinctly as possible. You could feel the power hovering strongly over the Highland Street side of the room. It was an absolutely new feeling to know that you were on the side of the room that held all of the chip, while the other side of the room wanted those very chips. To their credit, they didn’t exude any overt desperation. I did, however, sense that the balance of power was definitely on the corner that held the potential to give them another $1 million grant.


Since I’ll be in the belly of the philanthropic beast this summer, I hope to learn about what truly makes philanthropy work and how to build relationships with decision-makers at foundations. So far, my assumptions have been challenged, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I learn as the summer progresses.


Lessons from my work with Gawad Kalinga

It’s been nearly six months since my last trip to the Philippines, and I still am having trouble synthesizing the immensity of the lessons that I received from that visit. I’d been to the Philippines several times since I received my green card back in 2003, but there was something incredibly different about my latest trip in January 2011.

The visit changed my life, and altered the way I think about the Philippines and about how ordinary people can make an extraordinary impact on society.

Tito Tony Meloto
Gawad Kalinga Founder, Tony Meloto

It all started out on a rainy November day in Harvard Yard. I came to listen to Gawad Kalinga’s founder, Tony Meloto, speak about how his organization is fighting intergenerational poverty in the Philippines. Tito Tony (as he is called by Filipinos who know him and means “Uncle Tony”) spoke emphatically about GK’s mission and vision for two hours, and I was hooked. I promptly sought him out after his talk, and after a few email exchanges, I agreed to do a volunteer consulting project with him and his brand new social innovation office in Manila.

I went to the Philippines because I thought I was going to impart all of my American wisdom on my Filipino countrymen, and what I found was that I was on the receiving end of some of the most important lessons of my life.

The pre-existing social change frameworks that I used were blown up.

I realized that the American way of thinking about social change is very compartmentalized and actually quite narrow in scope — even the largest nonprofit organizations in the States have an incredibly narrow view when it comes to tackling our largest social issues.

On my first day of work I got a crash course on the inner workings of GK. My pre-visit research taught me that GK transforms Filipino shantytowns from slums into beautiful, livable and clean communities with the support and investment of the shantytown residents. Over 2,000 barangays (or villages) have made this transformation and over 200,000 families were affected thanks to Gawad Kalinga. But I thought that was it, and, like Habitat for Humanity, I thought all GK did was build houses for Filipinos.

I was completely wrong. During my orientation meeting, Karl, a member of the GK Center for Social Innovation staff, shared that GK is involved in food/farm development, child and youth development, health care, environmental issues, entrepreneurship, disaster management, government partnerships, tourism, and many more. As I listened to Karl, my understanding of GK became hazier and more cluttered. My American sensibilities doubted that this one organization (with only about 200 full-time and part-time employees scattered across the 7,000 Philippine islands) could handle such a large number of priorities, and I began to wonder about the efficiency  levels of the organizations’s dizzying multi-pronged strategy. How could the organization adequately implement all of these projects? Who was funding this confusing bundle of priorities? How were they tracking the impact of the varying projects across the country? All of these questions immediately surfaced as I learned more.

I think I came off incredibly judgmental that day, and I’m not exactly sure how Karl felt about our fast-paced and intense question-and-answer session, but I was just so fascinated. I later learned that I needed to soften my fast-paced, judgmental American demeanor because Filipinos don’t respond well to it–they much prefer slower relationship-building conversations over San Mig Light (a popular Filipino beer) and enormous amounts of food.

In the back of mind, I kept thinking about all of the traditional American ways to conduct business (even in a nonprofit): have a strong and targeted mission, maintain tight control of your brand, understand and leverage your core competencies, quantify and use data to drive your organization’s efficiency, and most importantly stay focused. While GK borrowed and was influenced heavily by these American lessons, they certainly were not singularly focused on one or a few main priorities. It seemed like they have dozens of missions all working together at the same time. And these missions have a singular vision of nation-building.

This may have been the most important lesson I learned on my trip.

Traditional nonprofit organizations, like Habitat for Humanity or the Red Cross, treat their operations like a business, divided into projects, strategies, competencies, and the like. GK, does that too, but does it through a lens of nation-building. GK is nation-building. I heard this several times during my trip, and I didn’t quite understand it until I traveled with Tito Tony and his team to the small island of Negros, where we met with local businessmen and thousands of GK villagers at a large celebration for GK. The sun boiled the little town’s largest meeting space where thousands of villagers gathered, wearing T-shirts in primary reds, blues, yellows, and greens, which denoted which village they represented. The cavernous and sweltering hot convention center (cooled only by oscillating fans) was adorned with bright banners that read “One Family,” “One Community,” and “One Nation”. The murky philosophy suddenly became clear to me. While traditional nonprofits were busily rallying people around their projects, whether it be to stop child trafficking, fight for gay rights, or reform the education system, GK wasn’t focused on running a “project,” like transforming slums into livable communities. GK was in the business of nation-building; which means every Filipino citizen (whether he is actually in the Philippines or not) is a stakeholder, a builder, a fundraiser, a partner and a steward of not just GK’s mission but of the country.

I learned from Tito Tony that by sharing your vision and following how others may innovate and challenge your vision, partners can become stewards of your vision (and they also become volunteers, fund-raisers, evangelizers). This was radically different from the way I saw American organizations running, which is by and large still operating under the auspices of philanthropy and charity. GK was about patriotism, and being patriotic means stewardship, not charity.

I see a lot of room for growth in the American social sector. Instead of tackling a compartmentalized mission, how can we go back to the days of truly advancing large scale causes that galvanize people to become stewards of that cause–kind of like effective activism. How can we transform our philanthropic sector to also become partners of the vision rather than enablers.

Tito Tony is a visionary. He’s a master planner, but not in a rigid way. He understands that he wants to end poverty, but he’s not mired in the details of what it takes to do that. Yet he boils down GK’s message to something that is both tangible and aspirational. The process of building a nation is easy to grasp, and he uses that to galvanize supporters. He’s an evangelizer, storyteller, and philosopher. I felt like I was spending time with someone who shares the same energy as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. He has a presence that is welcoming, challenging, and inspiring. He has a way of making you feel like you are an incredibly important person. This is how he gets people to join the nation-building movement from all over the world.

He challenged me to keep the Philippines in my heart, and he inspired me to rethink about the way I can make a tangible impact on education reform in the States. Because of this trip, I’ve dreamed up a vision of a national education nonprofit that will innovate low-income schools and and create human-centered networks all across our nation. I’ve written enough on this post, but very soon I’ll be writing more about the launch of this new educational social venture.

Until then, I want to thank again all of the people who supported me and believed in me enough to sponsor such a crazy trip. I also want to think the folks I worked closely with at Gawad Kalinga–Tito Tony, Karl, Shannon, Jerry and many others. And perhaps most importantly, I want to thank my family, especially my Tita Badette, Tito Bong, Jovic, Gelo and Bea, who took care of and housed me while I was in the Philippines.

This was just a small sliver of the lessons I learned from the Philippines, and it mostly centered around what I learned from Tito Tony. I hope to also share the lessons I learned from other aspects of my trip. I’ll end it with one more quote from Tito Tony:

The root of poverty is the perpetuation of a culture of elitism.

Parental Involvement & Technology

Parental Involvement seems to be the holy grail of education. We all want it and know that there are major benefits when you get it, but it seems too elusive, particularly in struggling low-income communities. In a recent reading for my Achievement Gap class, “Family Involvement in Middle and High School Students Education,” the authors recommend creating more small schools because “teachers at small schools are able to communicate with parents more frequently and provide parents with the information and knowledge they need to support their children in school.”

I definitely see benefits to having a smaller teacher to parent ratio, but I doubt that this is a realistic systemic recommendation particularly in entrenched, large schools in low-income communities. With budget cuts in our nation’s most struggling school districts and with the recent revelation that small schools aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be, class sizes are growing and the divide between parents and teachers will continue to grow. Should we then add more to teachers’ plates by requiring them to maintain tight communication streams with their students’ families? Conversely, how can we think about unbundling this strategic piece off of teachers’ responsibilities while still maintaining a steady flow of information that parents need.

I don’t mean to sound mechanical, but I think technology can play an integral role in providing steady, reliable and consistent information about a student’s progress to parents. I actually think technology can empower teachers to do this better and more efficiently than ever before. Why have we clung to the physical quarterly report card system when we can check get instant access to current trends in both the world news and our own personal social circles with the click of a button? Imagine having a system that allows parents to track their students’ progress academically and behaviorally in a Facebook-like instant stream. And imagine if you can communicate with both teachers and administrators in such a system. This vision isn’t too far off because the technology exists. However, it won’t do any good for our current systems, but if we can start to embed some of the principles of a system like this–quick feedback, instant and consistent communication between parents and schools, parental buy-in–we may be able to start unbundling this piece from teachers’ plates.

What we do need in the meantime are schools (regardless of their size) that create a culture of community rather than compliance. Parents often have an antagonistic relationship with schools, and they may only come to school because of behavioral issues. I can’t tell you how few of my students’ families came to open houses (maybe less than 30% of our students). The parents don’t see it as relevant because they’re frame of school is what they have known: compliance. How then can we start to involve parents and family members in a way that gives them quick feedback on their students, and instant and consistent two-way communication streams? Answering this question may lead us to that holy grail.

Reflections on Dubin Leadership Trip

Dubin Group

Last month I had the incredible opportunity to partake in the Dubin Fellows New York City Leadership Trip, and I have just recently started to process the entire amazing experience. I joined about 20 Harvard Kennedy School classmates in New York City to have intimate conversations with high-impact, socially minded leaders–like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Former NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein, Harlem Childrens Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada, and Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp. The three-day sojourn was sponsored by Glenn Dubin, who is the founder and leader of Highbridge Capital, a successful hedge fund company.

Conversing with Joel Klein

The most impactful portions of the three-day trip were the meetings with both Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg. Because of my background working in the education sector and my aspirations to be part of the movement that creates systemic change in the sector, the entire weekend seemed to be specially tailored to my interests since we met with several prominent education leaders! Our discussions with Bloomberg and Klein really helped to give me the bigger picture perspective on leadership and how to make an impact through different angles in my life. I could tangibly feel Bloomberg and Klein’s energy and sense of purpose. I felt like both of those meetings were also a call-to-action in some sense, and it seemed like they were giving us as much advice and wisdom as they could because they could see that we were the next generation of leaders. In that sense, I was invigorated and felt empowered by their call-to-action.


Bonding with Geoffrey Canada

I think it was coincidentally appropriate for the field visit to be so educationally skewed because of the urgency of the issues facing the education sector. My biggest take away from those conversations was that education is a “people business.” Despite all of the issues surrounding the debate for solutions, the education sector needs an infusion of great talent at all levels in order to create true systemic change. Multiple leaders–Deborah Kenny (CEO of Harlem Village Academies), Canada, Kopp, and Klein–mentioned this pressing need, and again, personally it felt like a call-to-action. To me it also signaled an incredible opportunity, and got me thinking, “how can we open up and widen the pipeline of talent into the education system and what are the levers we can use to make that happen?”


Asking Wendy Kopp an important question

Another major issue that was constantly in the back of my mind was the issue of scaling impact. How were these leaders tackling the issue of scale, or were they at all? It was fascinating to see the different approaches to scaling impact from the very strategic and methodical widespread impact (Teach for America, Endeavor) to the thoughtful saturation of one market (Mt. Sinai Adolescent Center, Harlem Children’s Zone, Harlem Village Academies). Throughout the trip, I wanted one of the leaders to just tell me which method was the right way to go, but it became clear that there is no one right answer. Both approaches seem to be necessary in order to push an entire movement forward. However, I did appreciate getting insights from Kopp, Rottenberg, Canada and Weinstein (Robin Hood Foundation) about using data to thoughtfully inform their decision-making. And what I realized about myself is that I am the type of leader who doesn’t just want to create an excellent program that serves one market well; rather I realized that I am the type of leader who strives to disrupt a system to create long-lasting change at a large scale. Listening to Kopp talk about starting Teach for America with 500 corps members because that was the tipping point for a national movement really resonated with me.

The group with Wendy Kopp

Probably the biggest takeaway I had was not even a tangible meeting or something that a leader said, but for me it was having the incredible opportunity and privilege to join a talented group of students to meet some highly accomplished leaders. Being surrounded in that environment with these people is something that was truly energizing, and something that I had never dreamed of. I kept thinking about what the young me (shy, immigrant kid) would have done in that environment, and it blows my mind to realize that I had this opportunity. It was affirmation for me to follow my heart and my instincts and to continue to fight for what I am passionate about. All of the leaders we met were inspirational in that they were following their hearts and doing what they believed was right. I appreciated being in their presence, and truly appreciated having the opportunity to be part of this prestigious group.


Fellows at the Colbert Report

At one point during the field visit, I looked around the conference room and I didn’t see the faces of fellow graduate students or competitors vying to get better grades in class or the more profound answers to questions. I saw the faces of future leaders, movers, shakers, and change-makers. Future colleagues, funders, mentors, advisers, friends, confidants, and comrades fighting against inequity and injustice. I was rejuvenated when I realized that we will be making an impact on the world soon, and we all had this foundational experience together. Learning about their rich experiences during busrides, lunch, or en route to the next meeting was valuable, and I sincerely hope that we take the opportunity to stay connected with each other.


Growing up, I rarely engaged with people outside of my social strata. I think there was a sense that barriers existed between people from different social classes, particularly if you grow up with humble means. What I appreciated about my interaction with the Dubins is that they made sure that those social barriers did not exist with them and even among the visiting fellows. They went out of their way to expose all of us who came from different backgrounds to high-performing leadership. Glenn was incredibly down-to-earth, and from his example I was reminded that high-performing leaders are people, too. I was able to see myself in his shoes. The biggest lesson that I learned from Glenn Dubin was the importance of finding, cultivating and nurturing talent. And to do that, you’ve got to be able to communicate, connect and build relationships with people not in spite of your differing backgrounds but because of them.012111_259

I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to the Dubins, the Harvard Center for Public Leadership staff, the Highbridge staff, and all of the leaders we met, to have had this incredible opportunity! It was a clear call-to-action, and I will definitely use what I have learned to make an impact on our society.

Upcoming Plans with Gawad Kalinga

New Years Dinner
New Years Dinner

It’s Sunday night (Jan 2) here in the Philippines, and I’ve been having a fantastic time catching up with my family before getting started on the Gawad Kalinga project. I’m staying with Tita Badette, Tito Bong, Jovic, Gelo and Bea, and we celebrated New Years with my Tito Eddie, Tita Ving and Robert. I thought the end of the world was coming, but it was just the hundreds of illegal firecrackers going off all over the city. And of course, we ate tons of amazing food. Yum.

I got some more concrete details about the project plan, and below is my schedule for this week.

Monday, Jan 3
Meet with GK National Office folks to get more background on the organization. We are possibly meeting at a farm in Valenzuela.

Tuesday, Jan 4
Meeting with the team that runs the Center for Social Innovation (CSI, catchy, huh?), including GK Founder Tony Meloto, at Ateneo de Manila University (one of the top universities in the Philippines). They’re going to give me an orientation on CSI, and then in the evening, I’ll get to meet some of the entrepreneurs from the program.

Wednesday & Thursday, Jan 5-6
We are heading to check out some GK farms/villages in north Bulacan, which is a provincial area just north of Manila.

Over the weekend
I’m spending the weekend in Bacolod, which is about an hour and a half flight away in Western Visayas. This is the target location for the next expansion of CSI, so it’s important that we check this out. They speak Visayan there, so that should be interesting since I don’t speak Visayan and I’ve never been there. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve been to northern Bulacan either.

Map of Bacolod
Map of Bacolod

In between the work, I’m also trying to get together with a few other relatives and family friends. So far the trip has been great (thanks to my family here), and the rest of it should be quite an adventure.

We reached 100%!

In less than 28 days, we reached 100% of the $2,500 fundraising goal with donations and pledges! Thank you so much to everyone who supported my project with a donation, with love and with positive energy. I sincerely could not have done this without you, and we are just getting started. Tonight, I’m flying out to Manila, and will spend the next three weeks working with Gawad Kalinga. I’m really excited to head back there to work on this fascinating project, and it’s really great to know I’ve got a ton of support from you.

I’ve been reading a lot about “crowdfunding” (kind of like crowdsourcing, but projects are financed rather than just talked about by the crowd), and this truly was an interesting experiment in crowdfunding (read more about it here). Here are some fascinating data from the fundraising (minimal amount of quant skills used!):

  • Total amount fundraised: $2,500
  • Total # of contributors: 70!
  • Minimum contribution: $5
  • Maximum contribution: $150
  • Average contribution: $35.21
  • Standard deviation: 30.16
  • # of clicks on the paypal link: 127 => More than 50% clickthrough rate

All quant stuff aside, this goal has been a fun foray into the world of fundraising! Well, I’ve got to pack my bags now for the three-week trip. I’ll update as much as I can in the Philippines!

Thank you, thank you, thank you again.