ATENEO CODE XCHANGE (01 April 2017): “XChange 2017 Organization Development Seminar: Developing Youth Organizations for the Nation”

PRELIMINARY SHARING: Breakout Session on Development


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Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here.

I was asked to talk about development, about my journey as a development professional, and connect my journey to development issues, so you may connect yourself to development issues, so you may appreciate servant leadership and nation-building better. All of that plus Q&A.

Let’s do this.

My journey as a development professional was built on the foundations of sociology and development studies, from Ateneo de Manila University for my Bachelors Degree, then University of the Philippines-Diliman for my Masters’, then significant inputs from courses from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy-National University of Singapore, and more from Ateneo. By affiliation and service, I went:

+ Media content research, with ABS-CBN’s former The Correspondents documentary program, then,

+ Development Research, with the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, then,

+ Development research and partnerships, with the Asian Institute of Management – Center for Bridging Leadership, then,

+ Policy research, advocacy, and partnerships, with the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, then,

+ Policy and development research and partnerships, within a media institution, with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

You’re seeing an unintentional trend in my development career. It’s the circle of life. *raise Simba*

Throughout those ten years, I have been continuously teaching here in Ateneo. Writing books, policy papers, and journal articles, alone or collaboratively; doing development research consultancies *raise Simba*. Then I’ve been actively involved in the Ayala Young Leaders Congress alumni group, and more recently with fellows program then the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation.

So am I a researcher? Am I a policy advocate? Am I a partnerships-builder? Am I from the media? I don’t know, because I can be a Jedi or a Disney princess or a dragon-riding Targaryen too. I am a development practitioner. And that, to me, means I do whatever it takes, using whatever options accessible, to strategically assist, however small or encompassing, the betterment of the lives of people who do not have the same flexibilities and choices that I have. There is so much to do, in this, my only lifetime to spend.

In the course of my adventures:

+ I have been in public hospitals, barangay health stations, that require a ride on a plane +bus/van +speed boat while escorted by armed men. I bet the odds are your school clinic looks better, and is supplied with infinitely more.

+ I have seen small children in a remote island who play around, shouting at each other, “Papatayin kita” (I will kill you), waving huge makeshift toy guns, because that is the only reality they have ever seen.

+ I have talked to people who, despite the limited topic of your inquiry, unload all their lives’ troubles onto you, because they feel like you are their only connection to institutions who can respond to their needs.

+ I have talked to local officials who they themselves are appalled, disgusted, at the levels of vote-buying in their own areas, but are forced to ride with the political culture.

Some people are motivated by best practices, that you know, that contrary scenarios do exist, and better scenarios truly, genuinely, happen broadly but sporadically. But for some reason, I remember the worst ones more. Because these make me angry. It gives me drive. It gives me grit. These things I see are wrong and unjust. And I believe I would not have lasted long enough if this fire is not built on hope.

You are here in this Development session, belonging in your development organizations, because you have already been called. There is an insight, something you may have not verbalized or framed enough yet, that drives you to act for a better way of doing things. I would like to assume that a part of you is angry, another part is grappling for answers, another part is afraid, and yet another part is gigil to make a difference.

Yup, that’s us in the development sector. We, the many Davids that fight a growing battalion of Goliaths. That’s how I feel most of the time. What I do day-to-day seems trivial when I measure it against the increasingly complex needs of the times. And the fight never seems to end. But I will not be able to live with myself anyway if I won’t keep on moving. There is no peace in inaction. Peace is being IN the fight.

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So, how can you thrive in this development jungle? There are many ways, and let me swiftly go through some ideas, and you can ask me more in the open forum:

+ Be an ANALYST. Know the people, listen, and listen well. Know your context. Know your facts. The evidence-facts. Not the hateful, malicious, fabricated “facts”. Be strategic and comprehensive. Know what information you need to make the best decisions and actions possible, and communicate the info in ways that trigger movement from others. Build knowledge. Build critical information.

+ Be a TROOPER. Not the Storm Trooper who doesn’t hit anything with the laser gun. But the trooper who is skilled, equipped, ready for ground action. I have deep respect for development practitioners deep-diving in communities; deep respect.

+ Be an ENTREPRENEUR. Not just the money-making one, but the opportunity-making one. Development entrepreneurs create options when there seem to be none. Development entrepreneurs do not act in linear plans. They sense when something can be done, and they do it.

+ Be a CONNECTOR. Be a bridge. Sectoral differentiation does not really matter in the big picture. It all boils down to how we build on each other’s work. How we protect each other’s spaces. How we enable each other’s strengths. And in the final analysis, how we hold each other accountable on our committed battlefronts. It’s like the rebels in Rogue One. Each person’s action enables the success of another.

+ And for those who have the strength of heart, the tenacity of spirit, and the commitment to integrity, be a CONSCIENTIOUS PLAYER. There is nothing more potent than a reformer within systems and institutions that need to be changed. I have seen too many who played the game and got lost in it. That is the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. You win by keeping both your intentions and your actions in check all the time. You die by succumbing to the endless pressures of pleasure – by money, by social capital, by power. Eyes on the reform. Don’t be a Cersei when you can be a Jon Snow. Be a Jon Snow.

Winter is coming. Season 7. July 16.

I will end this sharing by quoting from Ignacio de Loyola. This was Calixto’s prayer at the end of the movie:

May God grant you safe passage on all your journeys ahead.

May you find companions worthy of your dreams.

May your plans always be bold. And may your courage rise to meet them.

May you live to bring the love of God to all the corners of the earth, to the most distant peripheries of His Church.

And may your passion always burn brightly – that in God’s time, you may set the world on fire.