Northern Samar as the Silicon Valley of the Philippines? It can be done, says CodePhil

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The author (far right) with CodePhil’s Kai Feliciano of Columbia University and another student.

The author (far right) with CodePhil’s Kai Feliciano and Ace Velarde.

By Angelito Cabigao

It was 9 a.m. on a Saturday when I met up with Kai Feliciano, who is a student from Columbia University based in New York. Cool note to know that Kai was born and raised in the Philippines.

In my work as Human Resources manager for TaskUS Philippines, I get to meet many Filipino students in the U.S. who are exploring ideas and looking to do something meaningful in the Philippines.

Kai was part of a student organization called CodePhil, which is comprised of students of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds from Columbia University and MIT or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kai informed me that CodePhil aims to teach, empower, and connect the next generation in Northern Samar through digital literacy skills. Their initiatives will allow low-income high school students to learn the valuable and marketable skills of coding and web development, generate interest in technology careers, and create technological solutions for community- building.

One of the projects that they are working on is the first-ever Innovation Summit on August 26-27. In this event, Columbia and MIT USA students will partner up with University of Eastern Philippines students to hold the largest technology event in Northern Samar where more than 150 high school students, college students, and professionals are expected to attend. Kai said they chose Northern Samar because it is one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

After listening to Kai’s insights, she asked for mine, from an employer perspective. Two things caught my attention.

CodePhil pilots in Lavezares town in Northern Samar. Survey showed that 82.5 percent of the students were more comfortable using a computer after the sessions. Codephil photo

CodePhil pilots in Lavezares town in Northern Samar. Survey showed that 82.5 percent of the students were more comfortable using a computer after the sessions. Codephil photo

First, the unexpected location in the Philippines that the students picked. I loved the idea of seeing the promotion of Americans of the Philippines on a student level working together for a project focused on developing individuals. Just as intriguing to me, was the location these students from highly recognized and coveted Ivy league schools, chose. Northern Samar is not so highly recognized area. Chances are the general public would think of places like Manila, Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, and Davao when they hear about the Philippines.

For those who are not familiar with Samar, it is a province in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Also, a fun fact that I have heard is that it was the first island sighted – but not landed — by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Google Samar, and you will likely find a variety of beautiful beaches. However, you will also find news that indicated the poverty problems in Samar. This already could turn off potential visitors from exploring this area.

Kia informed me that despite the poverty levels associated with Samar, the talent level that Columbia and MIT students saw was topnotch. They even associated Samar area as having the potential of a “Silicon Valley of the Philippines”! That was the answer I was looking for: Being different and looking “beyond the cover” to unravel great potential. As a FilAm, this is a concept I hope we all realize: that our country of origin is facing great challenges and we should come forward to help each other, encourage each other, and look beyond what we initially hear and see.

Second, the prevalence of good ethics in the workplace. In general, our society faces division in thoughts, places heavy focus on hitting the bottom line, and is looking toward a future where the workplace is automated. However, these students from both countries are learning the importance of valuing people in the organization.

The takeaway from my talks with Kai is the power of the ‘people first’ experience. As an HR manager for TaskUs, I find it fitting to use one of our core values: “Teamwork makes the dream work” to further explain this. First, people look toward social events to build teams. The people we met during fraternity and sorority events formed connections for our future careers. The people I met in my Human Resources discussions led me to Kai, a student with big dreams for her country.

Angelito Cabigao is Human Resources manager for TaskUs Philippines, an outsourcing tech company with offices in Bonifacio Global City, in Quezon City, and Cavite. The New York-born Gino studied at Montclair State University, and came home to his parents’ birthplace where he found a fulfilling career with TaskUS.

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm

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