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It may sound like a cliché, but I believe that the youth is the hope of every nation. They are the next citizens who will basically run the government, make the economy move, and form part of the society. And it is our responsibility to make sure that the generation that follows us will continue and improve on what we have started. To do this, we must first teach them that no matter how hard life is, they should believe that positive change can happen and we must not lose hope in the country.
I got a call from Ambassador Joey Cuisia two weeks ago that he would visit me together with 10 young Filipino-American leaders, and he would like for me to tell more about my advocacy in Go Negosyo. He has this program called the Filipino American Youth Leadership Program, which is an initiative by him and his wife to encourage the young Fil-Ams to contribute to the Philippines’ further development. Around 400 young people between the ages of 18 to 35 years old submitted their applications, but in the end they only chose 10. It has gained the support of the consuls general in several states in the United States, as well as local partners that are sponsoring the visit.
These young Fil-Ams come from diverse backgrounds. We have Melissa Ann Apuya, a district representative at the office of Senator Leland Yee of California; Louella Rosa Cabalona, a senior project manager at Walgreen Co. in Chicago; Cesario Calanoc III, the managing director of One Virtual Source, a company based in California; Gregory Allan Cendana, the executive director of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance in Washington, D.C.; Alexander de Ocampo, the senior program and project manager of the Saban Capital Group Corporate Affairs in Los Angeles; Angela Maria Lagdameo, a senior analyst at the Office of Governor Martin O’Malley in Maryland; Francine Antoinette Maigue, artistic director of Mystic Entertainment in Chula Vista, California; Maria Katrina Zulueta, deputy chief of staff at the Office of the County Mayor of Maui, Hawaii; Michael Vea, co-founder of KIPP Infinity Charter School in New York; and Steven Brian Raga, a Cornell University’s Asian and American Center’s outstanding graduate student from Woodside, New York.
The visit was really a great opportunity not only for them, but for me as well. I got to share with them why is it so important to promote entrepreneurship in the Philippines. I told them that back when I was appointed as the presidential adviser on entrepreneurship, I noticed that the challenge is to move the small entrepreneurs up, creating superstars out of them that would inspire other negosyantes that they, too, could make it in business. We had a president who started the economy moving, and now we have a leader who has earned the respect of investors because of his strong commitment against corruption. These are factors that we must all take advantage of to help Filipinos move up from poverty.
I also invited two successful entrepreneurs to share their stories during the meeting. I invited Rikki Dee, who is the president of Foodlink, Inc. His story is really inspiring. His dad was into construction, and when he was still young, he used to collect sawdust and sell it at 50 cents per sack. Today, he has grown into a successful entrepreneur, operating food businesses that are located at all SM food courts in the country. Of course, I also invited Injap Sia, whose Mang Inasal nearly took over the biggest fastfood chain store in the Philippines. From starting at a mall in Iloilo around eight years ago, he grew to 425 stores and 14,000 employees.
The open forum between us entrepreneurs and the young Fil-Ams were insightful, and I would like to share some points that they raised. One of them asked what would we tell the small entrepreneurs in Pampanga who are challenged with the opening of a new mall near their market. In response to that, we feel that it is an opportunity for these small players to be more competitive, and that the mall is not a guarantee to get them all out of business. There was also a question on public-private partnerships and its potential. We answered that it is one good tool to help the government to develop the country. Injap, for instance, has been working with the local governments of Guimaras and Iloilo on building a ferry that would connect the two provinces together. Rikki is planning to develop our very own strip mall in Binangonan. On my part, Go Negosyo has been working with DTI, through the Negosyo Caravans which we bring to the provinces to help aspiring entrepreneurs.
Another point raised by one of the young Fil-Am leaders is on strengthening the Filipino presence in the US. Amb. Cuisia answered that there is a need to improve our image by starting with the Fil-Am organizations. Putting up Filipino-based businesses could also work, but we have to improve on our brand. As an example, the popularity of Thailand’s cuisine is attributed to the Royal Kingdom’s initiative of standardizing the look and taste of its food. On our part, we are now starting to gain a following because of the likes of Justin Uy’s Philippine brand of dried fruits, and we hope to see more in the future.
Towards the end of the discussion, we were all asked how we maintain a sense of balance between work and our private lives. I told them that at the end of the day, we must all ask ourselves: “Am I happy?” Young people tend to overwork themselves, but sometimes at the expense of their health or the relationships around them. Why would we need a million pesos if we will die early? What is the sense of being materially successful if we have severed family relations? The secrets to a balanced life are taking care of yourself, finding time for your family, and having faith in God.
As the young Fil-Am leaders go back to the US, I hope that we were able to inspire them to contribute their knowledge and skills towards development by starting with their own communities in the US. I would like to congratulate Amb. Cuisia for starting this program, and we are positive that more and more young people in the US would be encouraged to look back on their roots and make the Philippines a better place to live.