KABAYAN WEEKLY — A total of 53 overseas Filipinos (OFs), wearing their best black and white clothes and with their heads held high, received their diploma during their graduation as an “Atenista” last month after completing the six-month Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) program of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).
The commencement exercises held in Dubai were attended by the Philippines’ top diplomats and officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), led by Ambassador Grace Princesa, Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes, Consuls Giovanni Palec and Ferdinand Flores, and Labor Attache Atty. Delmer Cruz.
“As you strive to do your best for your personal growth and for the advancement of your families, rest assured that greater opportunities await. It is our hope that you will continue to work for excellence to attain our vision of transforming communities and building our nation,” Dr. Mario Villaverde, Associate Dean of ASoG, said in his keynote speech delivered during the event.
The final part of the program became very emotional when various pictures were projected on three big screens complemented by the Fast and Furious 7 song See You Again. It was a walk down memory lane when the OFs saw how they looked during the teambuilding activities, formal presentation of business plans, classroom lectures, and whenever there were selfies and groupies.
ASoG started the LSE in 2008 in Milan, Italy. This year’s batch is the 26th worldwide, but is only the third in the UAE.
“The program has opened a lot of opportunities for all of us and I’m confident that there would be successful entrepreneurs from our batch,” said batch president Arlene Pulido, adding that the empowerment program has opened their minds to become financially literate and future entrepreneurs.
The Philippine Business Council-Dubai, in partnership with ASoG, the Philippine Consulate and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Dubai, introduced the LSE in 2013.
The program challenges participants to become leaders and change-makers by conceptualizing social enterprises over traditional businesses.
The business plan
About AED 3.6 million, or more than P45 million, is the expected combined sales of the various social enterprises of the graduates who banded together in 14 groups. The projected amount, however, might go up or down depending on the ability of the groups to execute their respective business plans.
Two groups are expected to carry on as they were awarded the P50,000 pick fund. They are the TaraKabayan.com online business and the FEME Connect directory of excellent Filipinos. The fund or seed money was offered by ‘alumnus’ JR Papel to assist the groups with the most viable business plans. The amount will be returned after a year without any interest to assist the next batch winners.
Coincidentally, TaraKabayan.com and FEME Connect were also chosen as recipients of the Excellence Award and Viability Award, respectively. The Hibla group won the Proudly Filipino Award while the Organic Republic received the Socially Relevant Award.
“Aside from the learning, what I would treasure most from this group is that we treated each other as family. We helped each other in times of troubles and comforted each other. I hope that we would continue the relationship and camaraderie while we make a difference to others,” said Pulido.
Indeed, they really helped one another. They had contributed some amount for the medical expenses of a child who was afflicted with dengue in the Philippines. The mother who belonged to the batch was able to go home with her airfare being paid by the batch.
The true colors of the batch were summarized by the messages delivered by three of its members. Melanie Anacleto, who works as a nanny and whose lady employer attended the event, said that she was treated with respect by her batch mates who did not abandon her and another nanny in the groupings. She became the instant star of the night when everyone from her batch, including the VIPs on stage, stood up and acknowledged her as a symbol of inspiration.
Twenty-three year old Samuel Paulo Borja, the youngest who never studied in the Philippines and who has yet to work professionally, said he learned so many things aside from the program modules. He proudly proclaimed that he was a Filipino at the end of his speech which was reciprocated with a thunderous applause.
Teresa Cardona, the oldest, said her self-esteem has been boosted after ‘graduating’ from an Ateneo conceived program. She disclosed having studied in a lesser known school in Mindanao. She read about the LSE in an email blast and exhaustively searched for the right contacts to be able to enroll. Cardona was equally applauded as she represented the aspiration that “it is never too late to study” and to “never stop learning.”
Some of the batch members met a week after when they attended a morning mass which was their thanksgiving for having been blessed with new wisdom and for having another family in the UAE.