The unprecedented pace of rapid change is challenging the world to ask: how will current and future generations not only adapt or thrive but also drive change?
“The changes in the way we co-exist with each other are already taking place faster than our ability to formulate the shared rules that govern between us,” says Ashoka Philippines Chairperson Rico Gonzalez during the Ashoka Fellows Induction Ceremony held last February 21, 2018. Rico posits that the social structures that afforded us our peaceful co-existence are one and the same with those that have formed the world’s most complex and interminable problems. Called wicked problems, he explains that they “shift and persist even as we attempt to address them.”
The complex web of wicked problems calls for a web of innovative solutions that are preemptive rather than simply reactive to issues. Ashoka tackles this increasing prerogative primarily through its Global Fellowship program which connects exemplary individuals and thrusts them into the forefront of positive change. These individuals are challenging status quos, rethinking the future, and uprooting systems that are extractive and laying the groundwork for more inclusive communities. Ashoka Philippines has found such individuals in Amina Evangelista-Swanepoel (Roots of Health), Zhihan Lee (BagoSphere) and Bai-Rohaniza Mateo Sumndad-Usman (Teach Peace Build Peace Movement Movement) who are leading changemakers within their respective programs in reproductive health, education and peace-building. They are joining Ashoka’s 3,500 fellows in 93 different countries as lifetime members in the world’s largest and oldest network of social entrepreneurs.
Ashoka Fellows are high-impact innovators who champion a social good and ultimately re-design the world and its systems to become more equitable, inclusive and sustainable. They are often identified by the organization in the early stages of their work, when “the support and assistance of like-minded fellows hold the greatest potential to scale their impact,” Rico says. Although fellows are considered the trailblazers of social innovation, they are not ones who want to walk the path alone. Beyond being devoted leaders, they are collaborators into the future Ashoka is envisioning as “Everyone a Changemaker” world.
The vision of “Everyone a Changemaker” puts power in every single individual to have agency in their lives and to work together to form solutions to the world’s wicked problems. It is a vision that is being brought to reality in the Philippines by Ashoka’s three new fellows.
Empowering Women & Girls
Amina’s organization Roots for Health, is working to curb unwanted and teen pregnancies in the Philippines through comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive healthcare. Amina co-founded Roots of Health in 2009 with her husband Marcus Swanepoel and her mother Dr. Susan Evangelista.
Through Roots of Health, 18,000 women now have access to contraception, 675 pregnant women and girls have received pre-natal healthcare, and 19,000 high school and college students are being taught comprehensive sex education. They have also established partnerships with schools, local government units, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health to bring their programs to an even wider reach. But this was no easy feat. “We talk about sex, sexuality, consent and human rights in a very conservative environment. But at our core is our belief that every person has a right to his or her sexual and reproductive health,” shares Amina.
At our core is our belief that every person has a right to his or her sexual and reproductive health.
Establishing common ground with their clients and partners is what Amina sees as key to institutionalizing the change the organization is championing. Preventing teen pregnancy and safeguarding the future of the youth is a priority most people will agree on. Once this is established and Roots of Health is able to do its work, people cannot deny the positive change in families and communities that comes with allowing the youth and women to practice responsibility towards their bodies and future. In fact, according to one of the organization’s clients, access to reproductive healthcare and education has been lifesaving.
"We're changing Palawan. And soon we want to change the Philippines—where all pregnancies are wanted and planned. And all young people have a chance for a beautiful future,” Amina says.
Preparing for the Future of Work
In the case of BagoSphere Founder Zhihan, a confluence of his personal experiences, education, and career led him to question the future of work and education. BagoSphere, first established in Bago city and headquartered in Bacolod city, hopes to address the labor/education conundrum by working directly with employers to develop programs that equip rural youth with in-demand professional skills.
Zhihan owes much of his calling to challenge an outdated education system to his grandmother—an uneducated dishwasher who had to work 12-hour shifts for only P600 ($12) a day. The story of struggle his grandmother had is one that he often sees in the students of BagoSphere. And he firmly believes that these people and their stories shouldn’t be determined by an unfair education and labor system. Thus, it has become BagoSphere’s mission to provide the tools for the rural youth and working class to rewrite their own narratives.
Michael is a BagoSphere graduate who was able to turn his story of struggle into one of success. He used to work three rigorous jobs for only P3,500 (S70) a month while his wife worked abroad in order for them to provide for their family. However, after graduating from BagoSphere’s program, Michael began earning triple of what he used to and his wife was able to come home permanently. In addition, Michael went beyond what was expected of him—from one of the weaker students at the start of the program, he is now BagoSphere’s Admissions Assistant and someone Zhihan believes any chief executive would be lucky to have in their team. Michael’s story leads Zhihan to ask “how many people are there like him? Whose potential are kept hidden in this country and in this world?”
I believe in Ashoka—that everyone can be a changemaker, to their lives, to their families, and to their communities.
For Zhihan and his team, their work doesn’t stop at empowering the youth and the marginalized. “For us, it's rethinking a 150-year old education system that is designed for a world of steam engines and the telegraph. A system that was designed to prepare people for work that is repetitive and non-creative. A system that is no longer relevant in our world—a world where work and learning are no longer separate. A world where skills like empathy, teamwork, new leadership and changemaking are the new premium. And yes, I believe in Ashoka—that everyone can be a changemaker, to their lives, to their families and to their communities,” imparts Zhihan.
Building Lasting Peace
Bai-Rohaniza, Founder of the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement Movement, champions the cause of “Every Filipino Child and Youth a Peace Builder.” Her organization aims to normalize a culture of peace through institutionalizing peace education and values formation for the youth.
Bai-Rohaniza was raised by parents in an interfaith marriage who instilled in her the values of tolerance and empathy at an early age. As a child, she was exposed to violence during the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, which ultimately led her to realize her calling towards spreading a culture of peace. Many ask her the question—how can peace be taught and sustained when conflict is always present? She answers: “we dramatically transform the culture of peace as an inherent way of life and as the core of humanity,” this in turn breaks “the cycle of generations of conflict into a cycle of building different generations of peace heroes though peace education."
Through the course of their work, Teach Peace Build Peace Movement has seen many hardened lives transformed anew. A kid who once saw death and violence as normal, now actively proclaims himself as an advocate for peace; a young Aeta who sees himself as an inferior becomes a confident and involved member of the community; parents who were detached are now active in their children’s values formation; and different leaders of communities are now proactively practicing peaceful ways of conflict resolution.
In four years, Teach Peace Build Peace Movement has brought peacebuilding in areas of Manila, Pamapanga, Maguindanao and Mamasapano. Their network has grown to 125 Peace Heroes child ambassadors, 85 I Teach Peace teacher champions, 174 I Teach Peace community facilitators, more than 500 volunteers, 10 model schools with approximately 7,000 students and 40 schools with 30,000 students that have started integrating peace education session guides in their curriculum.
We'll do our very best, God-Willing, to make people believe that positive change is possible and that everyone in this world is and can be a changemaker.
“We'll do our very best, God-Willing, to make people believe that positive change is possible and that everyone in this world is and can be a changemaker. May this night remind us that we can all work together in building a peaceful society,” says Bai-Rohaniza.
Driving Positive Change
Amina, Zhihan and Bai-Rohaniza do not grapple with change. Rather, they embrace it and nurture it towards positive impact and have consequently inspired many others to do the same. Their influence is seen in the stories of transformation and empowerment found in the women and youth of Palawan, the rural working class of Bago city, and the peace heroes and peacebuilder communities across the country. Filipinos who were previously forgotten, oppressed, and marginalized are now becoming active agents of the change they wish to see.
In the midst of uncertainty and rapid change, the induction of these three new Ashoka fellows proves timely. Rico sums it up best in his speech: “They are models that offer us a paradigm for how to proceed in this changing world. They show us, in the midst of all the disruption that is here already and is yet to come, how we might together still build the common good […]. In a world where everyone will suffer through the consequences of change, where everyone is empowered with the tools to create change, the common good can only truly be achieved when we all collectively actively change.”
In a world where everyone will suffer through the consequences of change, where everyone is empowered with the tools to create change, the common good can only truly be achieved when we all collectively actively change.