Alumni Stories

Shining a Light on Sustainability

If life is a novel, Australia Awards scholar Jeffrey Tarayao’s childhood is a Dickensian tale of poverty amidst wealth. After being born in a hospital charity ward, he was brought home to a 42 square meter house—the driver’s quarters in a rich family’s home where his father worked. For the next 28 years, he lived in that small space, barely big enough for his family of five, attending an exclusive all-boys’ private school as one of the benefits granted by his father’s employer.

If life is a novel, Australia Awards scholar Jeffrey Tarayao’s childhood is a Dickensian tale of poverty amidst wealth. After being born in a hospital charity ward, he was brought home to a 42 square meter house—the driver’s quarters in a rich family’s home where his father worked. For the next 28 years, he lived in that small space, barely big enough for his family of five, attending an exclusive all-boys’ private school as one of the benefits granted by his father’s employer.

“All my classmates came from well-off families and I never invited any of them to visit my house. They would point to the rich family’s big house and ask, ‘is that where you live?’ I would tell them yes, not telling the truth that we actually lived behind that structure, in what I referred to as ‘the dungeon’,” he mused.

Through challenges and roadblocks

He continued studying at the private school with his benefactors’ help until he reached his second year of college. “I was already studying a communications course at a university, when my father’s employers had to cut their tuition support. Little did I know that my mother had started to incur big debts to further my studies,” he shares. “I was too concerned about school that I only found out about it after I graduated.”

Even when he found work at a telco company and rose through its ranks, they continued living in the driver’s quarters because they had to pay off debts.

Finally, it seemed that things are finally going well so Jeffrey took a short break to visit relatives and take a short professional development course in the U.S. when he was again given a huge blow. His father’s employers were selling their property and his family needed to move out immediately. “I was vacationing in San Francisco, and little did I know that my parents were already looking for a new place to live.”

The family had to live with relatives before Jeffrey was able to save enough for a down payment on a new home.

These were all difficult times for him, he says. Nevertheless, they are the memories that fill him with gratitude as he looks back at how far they have come as a family.

Creating an impact and paying it forward

In 2011, Jeffrey was offered a position in Meralco, the country’s largest private sector electric distribution company. “I never thought I would become its Chief Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Officer and at the same time, the President of the Meralco Foundation,” he said.

“The company was undergoing massive transformation under a new ownership at the time and I saw how I could add value and redesign the programs in order to have a bigger and–this being an electricity provider–brighter impact on communities,” he grins.

He knows how integral electricity is, which is why he says 70% of their projects are about electrification of communities, particularly public schools in far-flung areas.  He says that faces of teachers and students “light up” when they experience having electricity for the first time.

He likes going around the project sites to see this for himself. “I guess, it comes from that part of me where I have struggled with my own challenges. It’s a warm feeling, being able to give back.”

A step back to move forward

He heard about Australia Awards through a friend who was an alumni of the program and it caught his interest. With the idea of giving back and creating a bigger impact in mind, he applied to the scholarship and was accepted to be part of the 2017 intake.

His one year stay in Australia helped him develop his skills towards bringing about transformative change. “I am very clear about my mission in life, which is to be a facilitator of growth—whether it is in the organisations I work for or with the people who work with me.”

Jeffrey took up Masters in Sustainable Development at the Macquarie University because he felt that this was needed in the Philippines. He also enrolled in a technical course on sustainability reporting–or reporting on the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by the organization’s everyday activities–an expertise which he also felt was lacking in the country. “I was so fortunate to have learned so much from experts with new ideas and different experiences, and that is something you rarely get for free in the Philippines. I was very lucky that all my professors were practitioners and legends in their fields!”

His Re-Entry Action Plan or REAP is on sustainability reporting and how it should be standardised according to formal sustainability measures. “We are already doing it at Meralco, but not in the way other companies are doing it. Further on, it will also help smaller cooperatives with their own reporting. The end goal is to show that it is not just a series of reports given to the CEO but a tool to empower more leaders of organisations to take responsibility about sustainability.”

His takeaway from his studies: growth has boundaries. “This was not taught to us in school. What was taught is that you can always grow–but the planet has its own boundaries. There are those who will be impacted positively or negatively by continuous growth, so we have to manage ourselves and find out if we are already abusing our resources. These are leadership decisions and we need to develop strong leaders within ourselves and across society.”

Jeffrey is also thankful for the Australia Awards because it allowed him to take a step back from what he was doing at work. “Sometimes, my calendar gets so overwhelmed with appointments, that it just becomes a matter of checking off all the to-do lists. In Australia, I was able to reflect on what I was doing and where I was going. These reflections, combined with all my learnings, have helped me shape a new approach to development. Environment was not my strongest specialisation as I was always on the socio-economic side. Now, I see the environmental side of things, not only with my job at Meralco, but also in my lifestyle.”

It is because of his background that Jeffrey finds his work fulfilling. Through the Foundation, they have provided electricity to 223 schools and are targeting to add two more by the end of 2018. “Numbers can only tell your output in a statistical sense. But when you receive an email from a teacher, instead of snail mail, you see progress coming into the community.”

He adds that even though he does not have to go on site visits with his team, he will never tire of being on the ground and talking to people to help find ways to improve their lives. It is his way of giving hope to schoolchildren and helping them achieve their own dreams – by lighting their way.

Reaching the Next Generation

Australia Awards Alumna Sabrina Ongkiko seeks to reform the educational system with stakeholder engagement.  It was a light bulb moment for Sabrina Ongkiko when someone asked her if she wanted to be a teacher. “That was when I started thinking about it. Looking back, I realised that I was in education all those years. I was the kind of child who played teacher with her playmates. I even went as far as buying a record book so I could record their quizzes,” she said. She also took charge of their family library, lending out books to friends and going after errant borrowers.

Australia Awards Alumna Sabrina Ongkiko seeks to reform the educational system with stakeholder engagement. It was a light bulb moment for Sabrina Ongkiko when someone asked her if she wanted to be a teacher. “That was when I started thinking about it. Looking back, I realised that I was in education all those years. I was the kind of child who played teacher with her playmates. I even went as far as buying a record book so I could record their quizzes,” she said. She also took charge of their family library, lending out books to friends and going after errant borrowers.

From playing teacher with her neighbours, she has embraced the actual vocation. Sabrina is now in her 9th year as an English and science teacher and a resident librarian of Culiat Public Elementary School in Quezon City.  “For me, there was an intersection between skill, passion, and a call to respond to a need. I really felt that it was my calling to teach and that there was a need in the education sector that I wanted to solve.”

The teacher as a learner

Sabrina was looking for opportunities to study overseas when she learned about Australia Awards. She applied and was accepted for a Master of Education degree at the University of Melbourne. “Studying in Australia gave me the opportunity to step back from the context that I was immersed in and reflect on it further through researching, reading journals and attending lectures by Australian experts whose works I had been reading previously.  I was actually fangirling on these professors whose papers I had read prior to going there!” she said.

Ongkiko photo.pngShe considers herself lucky to be guided by brilliant minds and find friends in the academe who were more than willing to have her observe their classes. “It is a year I would always go back to,” she said.

While in Australia, Sabrina, whose subjects in the university were mostly about educational leadership, wrote different papers on school leadership. Her papers focused on “teacher leadership” and “distributed leadership” because she felt they were crucial in effectively implementing School Based Management (SBM), which was one of the biggest school reforms of the Department of Education (DepEd) then. One of her papers even won a recognition from the University of Melbourne – the first for a Filipina.

In terms of teacher leadership, I wanted to emphasise teacher agency – that teachers have ownership of the reforms – rather than compliance. In terms of distributed leadership, I looked into strengthening stakeholder engagement and building professional learning communities. I felt that our schools need to feel that they are given more power and support to address their own challenges, which is the spirit of our law (RA 9155: Governance of Basic Education Act) from which SBM was based.”

 

Advocating reforms

On her return to the Philippines, Sabrina joined DepEd’s newly established office, the School Effectiveness Division (SED), which oversees the implementation of SBM. Her team was given the opportunity to create an office culture where distributed leadership is a practice.

“We made sure that school stakeholders are always part of the policy making process. Through the office, we are able to understand the school contexts better and create better policies, especially those strengthening SBM. We started with improving the school planning process, strongly emphasising the voice of the stakeholders in finding out the root causes of school problems and in designing solutions.”

She recalled, “There I was, a young teacher, talking to principals and district supervisors. It was scary.” What was on her side was the research and exposure that she had done in her study in Australia. “I came with the papers and articles that my professors shared. I knew I was not going there blindly, and I felt that I knew what I was talking about.”

Sabrina’s passion and advocacy led her to do talks that encourage support from other stakeholders. “I give talks to partners from the industry to show them why we need to help our teachers and students. DepEd cannot do educational reforms alone. In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the whole community to provide quality education. The problem is information – a lot of people want to help but don't know how or don't know what is needed. Partners from the private sector can provide additional support and resources and can help educate our learners beyond the walls of the classroom. We need to have conversations with our industry partners.”

 

Inclusivity is key

In her classroom, Sabrina emphasises inclusivity, where stronger students help those who are struggling. “Teaching around 50 kids a day, I have to multiply myself. I have to teach kids to become teachers to other kids. Peer mentoring has always been mentioned as an effective strategy so I decided to incorporate it as part of my classroom routine.”

“I noticed that students began to care for one another – they were suddenly concerned about their classmates and less focused on themselves. This helps us achieve our goal in class, "lahat gagaling" (everybody will excel).”

This hope for inclusivity goes outside her classroom. “When you think about it, this generation of students will grow up to be the future citizens of the country. They will be the ones who will work, who will build, who will vote. I have 200 kids in my classes every day. If each teacher has that passion for his or her own 200 kids, then we will be able to build a powerful society. We will have Filipinos who will be able to think and solve problems. The future brings so much hope if we could just develop our kids.”

In 2016, Sabrina was named as one of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWN) for her dedication in educating children, empowering teachers, and contributing to reforms in the Philippine education system.

Putting the “Human” Back in Health Care

Dr. Raffy Marfori shares his thoughts on how the health care system needs to evolve with people’s needs.  Three years after earning his Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne in 2015, Dr. Jose Rafael “Raffy” A. Marfori, together with like-minded colleagues, is setting up a company in Manila called “health&human”, which specialises in primary care.

Dr. Raffy Marfori shares his thoughts on how the health care system needs to evolve with people’s needs. Three years after earning his Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne in 2015, Dr. Jose Rafael “Raffy” A. Marfori, together with like-minded colleagues, is setting up a company in Manila called “health&human”, which specialises in primary care.

Marfori.jpg“A primary care physician is sort of your guardian angel throughout all life stages and all health system contacts,” Raffy explained. Primary care addresses most health conditions. It is generalist in orientation, which means primary care doctors are in the best position to coordinate the care of a patient. They refer the patient to a specialist only if needed. Moreover, primary care systems provide continuing care. Even if the primary care doctor refers the patient to a specialist, he or she remains involved no matter where or from whom the patient receives treatment.

The goal of health&human is to improve people’s health not just through medical services – medical consultations, laboratory tests, treatments – but also in other parts of daily living. This means that a person gets the care he or she needs even after leaving the doctor’s clinic.

“To patients, we are a network of primary care providers and health coaches who will help them achieve their health goals. To doctors, we are an extension of their practice. To companies and health management organisations (HMOs), we are an outsourced primary care and wellness program,” he said.

Through health&human, Raffy hopes to accelerate the Philippines’ transition to primary care-oriented systems. Such systems would address what he describes as “fragmentation” and “maldistribution” in Philippine health care. “It is fragmented in the sense that the parts of the Philippine health care system are working separately. Being uncoordinated, it is more expensive and less efficient. That’s hard for patients,” he said. “It is maldistributed in the sense that it doesn’t match needs. It’s concentrated in some areas, sparse in others,” he added.

 

‘Unleashed’

Raffy’s Australian experience and education provided inspiration for health&human. “First, primary care systems are stronger in Australia. Second, health is everywhere in ways that go beyond medical services, especially in Melbourne,” he said. Technically, primary care covers medical services only; anything beyond clinics and hospitals is primary health care, which is much bigger. But Raffy believes health&human can – and should – bridge the two.

While in Australia, he lived in Melbourne – the most liveable city in the world according to The Economist Intelligence Unit – which was conducive for the study of public health. He cited the city’s clean environment, wholesome food, bike trails, and vibrant civic sector as factors that positively influenced the health of Australians. “Health is influenced more by these day-to-day factors than by medical treatment as we know it.”

The education he received from the University of Melbourne unleashed, as Raffy put it, his potential for working in the field of public health. His professors and classmates inspired him, and the courses he took opened his eyes to the many aspects of health care. Aside from giving him the tools he needed, his Australian education strengthened his resolve to take the road less travelled, giving him a sense of empowerment and creativity to attempt career moves not typically expected of medical graduates.

“When I looked at the university’s innovative and powerful courses, I said to myself, ‘This is why I had to leave the country for a while—to unleash this potential for public health in the Philippines,” he recalled.

 

‘Health is a right’

Invigorated by his experience in Australia, Raffy returned to Manila where he joined Philippine Primary Care Studies (PPCS)—a research program on primary care of the Department of Health, PhilHealth, and the University of the Philippines. PPCS pilot tests changes in the Philippine health care system towards primary care. Conducted in urban, rural, and geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, it forms primary care teams out of doctors, nurses, midwives, and barangay health workers, among other innovations.  It allows PhilHealth insurance benefits to “follow” patients real-time across separate clinics, pharmacies, and laboratories. It pays for a wide range of services regardless of the patient’s diagnosis – a design once considered unthinkable in Philippine health financing.

PPCS was also the host organisation of Raffy’s re-entry action plan (REAP), which focused on the development of a pilot study protocol for the most challenging PPCS site or a geographically isolated disadvantaged area. This protocol describes how PPCS would design and simulate a working primary care system that would move the population towards universal health care.

Raffy completed this protocol and it is now being financed by at least two national government funds. “We're about to launch the implementation year in Bulusan, Sorsogon after much preparation.  Its findings will teach the country a lot about how our health systems can or should evolve.  For me, the REAP was quite the undertaking, one that taught me a lot for health&human and my other roles,” he said.

Raffy’s inspiration from Australia and his involvement in PPCS, coupled with equally passionate comrades, jumpstarted the development of health&human.

“Our goal is to bring people’s understanding of health closer to how it’s been defined since 1946: that health is not just the absence of disease but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” he said, quoting the WHO definition of health.

With health&human, Raffy and his team will be that much closer to fulfilling their dream of putting the “human” back in health care.

Enhancing Governance through a Values Program

Mark Malitan talks about the importance of values in good governance. “I believe that values can really solve the problems that we have in society,” said Mark. “We need to know our foundational values: patriotism, integrity, excellence, and spirituality. This is now the thrust of the Civil Service—promoting the public service values of a civil servant.”

Mark Malitan talks about the importance of values in good governance. “I believe that values can really solve the problems that we have in society,” said Mark. “We need to know our foundational values: patriotism, integrity, excellence, and spirituality. This is now the thrust of the Civil Service—promoting the public service values of a civil servant.”

History has shown that the best civil servants are those who have the people’s interest at heart. Such civil servants are what the Civil Service Institute (CSI) aims to develop, said Mark Malitan. As the CSI’s Supervising Human Resource Specialist and a valuable team member since 2011, Mark has imbibed the institute’s slogan: Shaping the Servant-Hero toward Public Service Excellence.

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The CSI, which is the research and training arm of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), has been rolling out Human Resource and Organisational Development seminars and workshops since 2013. Among these is the Public Service Values Program (PSVP), which aims to provide government agencies a better understanding of public service values, use them in decision-making, as well as to improve individual and organisational performance.

“I believe that values can really solve the problems that we have in society,” said Mark. “We need to know our foundational values: patriotism, integrity, excellence, and spirituality. This is now the thrust of the Civil Service—promoting the public service values of a civil servant.”

 

Learning first-hand

Mark’s advocacy for public service values led him to develop and implement an evaluation tool for the PSVP as his re-entry action plan (REAP) for Australia Awards. It is based on the Kirkpatrick model, which aids trainers and facilitators in understanding the effectiveness and impact of the training they give based on four levels: Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Results. Mark’s evaluation tool focuses on the change in behaviour of PSVP participants.

Developing and implementing an evaluation tool for behavioural change meant looking at the manifestation of values in participants or measuring how they were able to apply what they learned during the training when they are back in their offices.

“I felt it was time to go beyond the types of evaluation that we were using, which focused on measuring the participants’ satisfaction of and acquired knowledge from the values program,” he said.

His REAP was his primary motivation in choosing his program and university. At Griffith University in Brisbane, Queensland, Mark studied Training and Development. The curriculum included a course called “Vocational Assessment,” which was perfect for his needs. “I wanted to study abroad and understand first-hand what the best practices in the field of Training and Development are,” he explained. “It was important for me to be embedded in a culture that applies these best practices—more than just theoretical or conceptual knowledge.”

Mark’s experience in Australia both fuelled and satisfied his thirst to learn and discover new things. He appreciated the open environment for sharing which allowed him to see how Training and Development was practiced in other countries. Aside from lectures and presentations, discussions with other students taught him the systems, practices, and tools of a Training and Development practitioner. This helped him retool and develop competency in the field. “I learned the practical application, enriched with valuable insights from classmates all over the world,” he said.

Going back to school in a foreign country also taught him discipline – discipline in submitting papers on time, in prioritising things, in handling finances, and even in small things such as following bus schedules. This made him realise how crucial it was for public servants to have discipline and commitment in their work.

Among his many takeaways, he has brought into CSI the work ethic and standards he learned in Australia. “We have to do something, I now say, ‘Let’s see if we can apply and contextualise these standards here,’ or ‘Maybe we can try it this way,’” he explained. “You can raise the bar higher because you’ve been able to benchmark in a country that has a lot of these best practices,” he added.

When he returned to the Philippines, he became even more of an asset to the CSI. His mentor and then-Executive Director of the CSI, Ms. Agnes Padilla explained, “He now has a global perspective of his work and a broad network of practitioners in the field. I know he will go far”.

 

Contributing to transformation

According to Mark, the skills and competencies he gained while in Australia contributed to achieving the transformation he envisioned for the public sector.

Mark got management approval for his REAP. He conducted focus group discussions with regional directors and PSVP focal persons in the rank and file, from CSC offices in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and from the CSC Central Office.

Previously, there was no assessment of the impact of the PSVP. “This was the start,” Mark said. “We were able to get positive responses to the program,” he added. He cited the manifestation of positive values and the changes in the participants’ behaviour as a confirmation of excellence and integrity—two of the values the PSVP aims to develop.

Through the evaluation tool for evaluation change which Mark developed, CSI saw the need to develop CSC’s Core Values Program guidelines, which would further strengthen the measurement of values. “This had already been discussed, but the evaluation on behavioural change was the trigger,” Mark said.

As a values advocate, he’s happy to talk about the PSVP and even facilitate trainings about it. His largest training to date was for a group of 500 participants, which he co-facilitated. “I have faith in the program,” Mark said. “I really believe that if public servants know their values, all problems in our government will be solved—corruption and all.”

As a result of his Australian education, Mark said he now understands Training and Development better—together with its possibilities. “I have come to love the field even more,” he said. “I felt engaged because I learned a lot of best practices, which will help me develop my craft as a Learning and Development practitioner. Aside from this, I met a lot of other practitioners and learned new tools. I really see myself loving this field for many years to come, because of my experience in Australia.”

A Global Perspective on Local Products: Australia Awards alumna Monica Co weaves new stories for Philippine handmade products

Before Monica Camille Co, co-founder of social enterprise C&C Home and Gifts, went on her Australia Awards journey to study Marketing at the University of Melbourne, the millennial was at a loss with which career path to take. “My college degree was Management Economics, and I was working as a personal banker.”

Before Monica Camille Co, co-founder of social enterprise C&C Home and Gifts, went on her Australia Awards journey to study Marketing at the University of Melbourne, the millennial was at a loss with which career path to take. “My college degree was Management Economics, and I was working as a personal banker.”

She wanted to go into business because she was familiar with how her parents run their own enterprise. “I told my mom that I wanted to study abroad, so she was helping me look into where I could apply. My mother found out about the Australia Awards, and we sent in my application.”

Aside from wanting to pursue further studies, she sheepishly admitted that she had another reason; “I grew up sheltered, and I wanted to experience being away from my family and out of my comfort zone.”

Photos - Monical Co (145).JPGBroadened Horizons

True enough, her experience at the University of Melbourne broadened her horizons. “There were people from so many cultures and different backgrounds and everyone had a story to tell,” she said. According to Monica, she found a lot of inspiration from living and studying in Australia.

For one, her interest and passion for social enterprise were nurtured inside the classroom. “Our case studies had companies which included social enterprise and advocacy in their business models, where they reach out to underprivileged groups and marginalised communities. These companies were not only fuelled by a do-gooder desire to help, but they also had genuinely good products.”

Aside from her class readings, Monica was also inspired by her professors and classmates who shared case studies based on their own experiences in their countries. “I tried to absorb as much as I could from them. So, aside from learning the basics of marketing, I also gained a global perspective of different industries.”

Innovate and Advocate

When she returned to the Philippines, she brought back the learnings and inspirations from Australia which helped drive her re-entry action plan (REAP). The REAP outlines how scholars will use their Australian education to contribute to their workplace, community, or chosen field. Monica’s REAP focused on empowerment through livelihood. Her goal was to develop self-sustaining community-based livelihood programs for nanays (mothers) who wanted to add to their family’s income but need to stay within their communities to take care of their families. The weavers of Cutud in Pampanga and the sewers of Samata Village in Las Pinas were her partner communities for this initiative.

C&C officially started in 2015 with hand-woven baskets that they offered to delis, grocery stores, and florists. “Our weaving partners create the main product line of C&C, so it’s a true collaboration,” Monica explained. “For the sewers, we donated the [sewing] machines and we worked with them for the sewn items of C&C. At other times, they use the donated sewing machines to accept sewing projects from other companies and schools to generate additional income and turning it into a self-sustaining full-time sewing facility.

Monica believes her REAP was instrumental in achieving her dream: “C&C is a convergence of my REAP and the vision of what I want to do in my life. The dream of running a socially-centered business started when I was still in college, the whole experience of studying in Melbourne gave me the business tools and technical know-how, and it was the REAP that crystalised and validated my dream to jumpstart C&C,” she said.

Inspired by Australia

Now, C&C’s line has expanded to mats and woven planters that can be ordered online through candcph.com. “We have been experiencing a healthy growth, brought about by an awareness in the market for handmade items using natural and locally-sourced materials,” she said.

C&C’s modern designs were inspired, not only by Monica’s architect business partner’s ideas, but also by the ideas she brought back from Australia. While in Melbourne, Monica was inspired by the city’s street art, creative events, galleries, and support for and pride in local businesses. “In between classes, I would take up extra courses like paper cutting, or simply go around browsing shops. I saw how enthusiastic the Australians are about anything handmade and natural. That enthusiasm is what I want to bring here as well.”

With the business thriving, Monica is proud to say that her community of weavers and sewers are just as happy because of their steady employment and convenient working arrangement. The workplaces are close to their homes. They are family-friendly, so sometimes you will see their children visiting their parents at work after they finish school.

“This is where I put in the work-life balance aspect of what I learned in Australia,” she said. Back in the university, she was impressed by the work-life balance and opportunities for growth that the companies in the case studies were giving to their employees. This is the principle that she now applies in her own social enterprise.

Aside from helping communities, Monica also supports sustainable causes. Her goal is to continue innovating while advocating for the use of sustainable eco-friendly materials instead of plastic. “Clients are now asking us to develop a substitute for plastic bags. While I cannot qualify the impact that our business is making on a larger scale, it makes me happy to know that we are helping out in our own small way.”

C&C won Best New Product (Home) in the 2018 Stilo Arte Fino, an annual arts and crafts fair that celebrates the modern Filipino and artist-entrepreneur, and showcases locally produced products, concepts and ideas.