For the ordinary Filipino, creating jobs is heroic

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on October 20, 2011

In an inspiring lunchtime speech at last week’s International Outsourcing Summit, a former overseas worker employed as a maid in Hong Kong described how she transformed herself to become a successful IT-BPO entrepreneur creating jobs in the Philippines and keeping families intact and happy thanks to the gift of empowering technology. The talk was organized by Business Processing Association of the Philippines executive director Raymond Lacdao.

Here’s her story, in her words: “To start with, I am a woman from the “masa,” from the poorest of the poor. The finest dress I ever owned was made from a flour bag, bleached white. My father was a simple fisherman from the island of Bohol, and my mother was a housewife from Mindanao. I am the eldest of six children. And I grew up in a very small undeveloped fishing village.

“Some of my earliest memories are the tears in my mother’s eyes when we would go to bed hungry. When I was only 10 years old, I would dive alone in the sea to gather seaweed and seashells to help feed my family.

“Like many other women born into poverty in the Philippines my only chance to fulfill my dreams for my family was to go overseas to seek employment. I left my two children behind and spent 20 years working as a domestic helper raising other people’s children. Today, there are more than 10 million Filipinos working overseas separated from their families. I believe the BPO industry can help change this fact of life.

“My employers in Hong Kong trusted me to raise their son. His name was Jonathan and he was only eight-years-old. Jonathan taught me to use a computer. I knew nothing about technology, but I did have a thirst for knowledge. I studied and read everything I could find on the subject. When I discovered the Internet I began to fully understand that people could perform services (for remuneration) without leaving home.

“Because of the empowering nature of technology I started dreaming. I dreamed of coming home and starting a business and of becoming a job creator. I did not want another mother or father to follow in my footsteps, to suffer the same pain and anguish of being separated from their families. I now know that I was envisioning business process outsourcing (BPO) without knowing what BPO was.

“I (eventually) returned home to the Philippines. In 2006 I founded a BPO in Davao called Mynd Consulting. We started with two people, and an old computer, offering bug testing and quality assurance services to US clients.

“Today, we run multiple shifts and focus on social media and mobile application development. In addition, we supply teams of programmers on a long-term basis to clients in both the US and Europe. Until now, I often joke that I am still an overseas worker. The only difference is that I do not have to leave our country. Now that you know my background, you can appreciate that I view the BPO industry from a very different perspective.

“I see our industry from the eyes of the ordinary Filipino. You may ask, ‘what value is there from viewing our industry from the eyes of the poor?’ Let’s look at our IT-BPO Road Map for 2011–2016 for the answer.

“When we tell the Filipino people that by 2016 the industry will be generating US$25 billion in revenue, we think, ‘Wow! So Big!’ Those figures may mean something to the people in this room. But for the masses, those figures mean nothing. Remember, we are a nation of overseas workers. When we focus communication on the jobs we are creating we need to ask, ‘What does 500,000 jobs really mean?’

“It means 500,000 mothers, fathers, sons or daughters will stay in the Philippines instead of being ripped from their families. For those of you who have never left your children behind for five, 10 or 15 years, that is a powerful message. It is a message that will resonate with the people. When we create one job for one family and we help keep that family intact, that is priceless.

“This is the message we need to communicate to the ordinary Filipino.

“Some would argue that the ordinary Filipino does not benefit from the BPO Industry. They are simply wrong.

“When I dove alone into the sea at the age of ten to help feed my family, that was not heroic—that was survival. When I left my family to go overseas for 20 years, that was not heroic. That was a tragic necessity to help my family break the cycle of poverty.

“But when I returned to the Philippines and started a BPO that created jobs—that was heroic.” And that’s why BPO matters.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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