Changing the world one vision at a time

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

November 8, 2020, 12:13 pm

MANILA – Changemakers are often dubbed as modern-day heroes, transforming society for the better through startups and innovative solutions.

Many of us wished to be one. But to be a changemaker without initial cash, is it possible? For Scott Stiles, founder of the Fair Employment Foundation, it is.

He said his life-changing journey to help address harsh conditions migrant domestic workers across Asia are being subjected to all started with a “vision”.

“My biggest advice is to develop a really well-thought-out plan and get that plan into as many people’s hands as you can and resources will start to come. The people around you will be the one who’s going to make it possible,” he said.

“We live in a world where there are resources for people with vision and real focus and plans on how to make the world better and improve it,” he added.

Scott Stiles. (Photo courtesy of Ashoka Philippines)

Scott was born and raised in the United States and studied business at Brigham Young University Hawaii. During a summer internship in Hong Kong, Scott found out about the conditions of migrant domestic workers from his brother-in-law, David Bishop.

Inspired by David and with a strong belief in the potential of a market solution to the problem of domestic worker debt bondage, Scott turned down more lucrative career opportunities to move to Hong Kong after graduation.

With co-founders, David, and Tammy Baltz, Scott opened the Fair Employment Agency in 2014. Scott and his team have established an ethical employment agency in Hong Kong and a training center in Manila.

At present, Scott continues his work to disrupt the migrant domestic worker recruitment system in Hong Kong and other migrant work industries across Asia.

He does this by building and testing ethical recruitment agency and training center models, which seeks to make exploitative recruitment unprofitable.

'Awareness, dedication'

Like him, Ben Abadiano started his campaign to provide better education to the indigenous people without any huge financial backing.

When he was still fresh out of college, Ben stayed with the Mangyan tribe in Oriental Mindoro and put up a school for the IPs called Tugdaan to give the community a venue where the youth can learn to value their culture and heritage.

In 2006, after almost two decades of working with and for the IPs, he established the first tertiary-level program for the IPs, the Pamulaan Centre of Indigenous Peoples Education.

Ben Abadiano (Photo courtesy of Ashoka Philippines)

Ben admitted that at the start, putting his plans into motion met a lot of apprehensions, mostly from his friends who would often ask him where he will get the money to fund his school.

“Many of my friends would tell me, ‘I don't think that’s a good idea because where will you get the resources,’ then I would always tell them, as long as you have the vision and you have the commitment, many things can happen,’” he said. And a lot did happen since 2006.

Now, the alumni of Pamulaan’s 4-year degree courses are now youth leaders working in IP communities or are employed in development organizations, government, and as teachers, community facilitators, agriculturists, anthropologists, and trainers in the private sector.

Still, there’s a lot to be done when it comes to supporting IPs in the Philippines, said Ben.

“The mainstream society needs to really learn many things. That's why I think even our textbooks in the Department of Education have to be changed because there are so many things there that are not even about who the indigenous peoples are. By doing so, we would also deepen our pride about being Filipino, being indigenous Filipinos,” he said.

To all people who want to make a change, his advice is to start in their community, be aware, and keep the fire burning no matter how limited their funds are.

“I think those are very important -- passion, vision, and dedication to the commitment. The resources will just come. The resources, for me, it’s just the easiest to happen if people see your sincerity,” he said.

'Humble beginnings'

Ryan Gersava started his "change-making journey" with a goal to help the most excluded populations of society and ensure that they too are given equal opportunities for high-level work.

He was diagnosed with Hepatitis B when he was still a freshman. And despite graduating with impressive marks, he failed to secure any job due to his diagnosis.

Disillusioned from his dream of becoming a medical technician, Ryan decided to work online where he discovered the potential of digital economy for people who often had difficulties accessing work such as Persons With Disabilities (PWDs), ex-convicts, former drug dependents, and sex workers.

In 2015, Ryan co-founded Virtualahan with his siblings. But like any other start-ups, getting up there was no easy feat.

Ryan Gersava (Photo courtesy of Ashoka Philippines)

"We don't have the resources so what I did is I asked my siblings to work for me for one and a half years with no salary so that we can just get ourselves off the ground and gain traction and validate the model. Because when we were starting, nobody believed in us," he said.

"The fact that we come from Mindanao and we don't have that social capital that we really need like (those) social entrepreneurs in Manila, so we really have to hustle through when we were starting," he shared.

At present, Ryan continues to develop the best way to optimize their impact formula and reach.

He is designing a cost-effective and transferable social technology that allows socially-excluded populations to access work in the global digital economy.

In 2019, about 78 percent of Virtualahan graduates reported an increase in their overall self-confidence; wherein 98 percent of those interviewed felt a strong sense of belonging in the community, 84 percent learned to become self-sufficient, and 92 percent credit the virtual school for helping them accept their condition.

Scott, Ben, and Ryan were all listed in this year's prestigious Ashoka Fellowship, the world's largest network that supports leading social innovators around the world, with over 3,500 fellows from 93 countries. (PNA)