MANILA, Philippines—There’s the unlikely town mayor: a tanned, svelte 24-year-old, who left her job at luxury brand Chanel to serve her hometown. And then, the outspoken 23-year-old marine protection advocate, now preparing the speech of a lifetime she will deliver before heads of state, royalty, business leaders and other people of power and influence.
They round up the power party of nine, the first batch of young Filipinos selected to join the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Young Global Shapers.
Launched only last year, the YGS is envisioned to jump-start a community of young people working together to pursue change initiatives in their home countries and represent the youth voice in the WEF, the Geneva-based nonprofit committed to improving the world.
The WEF is best known for its annual meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos which brings together some of the world’s top business and political leaders, selected intellectuals and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world.
Designed to gather exceptional people aged 20 to 30, YGS is the younger sibling of WEF’s Young Global Leaders (YGL) program, which brings together “exceptional young leaders” 30 to 40 years old “who share a commitment to shaping the global future.”
“If you think mayor, you’ll never think of me, right? But I think it’s good [because] it’s more important to change the norm to really inspire people,” said Young Global Shaper Maria Carmela Alvarez, the mayor of San Vicente, a town in northwestern Palawan.
“You don’t have to be a certain type or what’s expected,” said the Boston-educated mayor, noting how people invariably looked past her when told the San Vicente mayor had arrived.
Beyond their age
Indeed, this year’s crop of Philippine YGS represents what young Filipinos are doing now, far beyond their age.
Alvarez aims to introduce sustainable projects in her scenic town of 30,000 that is “huge in land” but is poor in income.
Anna Rosario Oposa, a University of the Philippines graduate, established the “Save Philippine Seas” movement to protect the country’s marine biodiversity.
Adopting a school system in Latin America, Eleanor Rosa Pinugu found a way to provide quality kindergarten-to-12th grade education to poor children in Taguig City even before the Department of Education initiated its own basic education reforms.
Ponce Ernest Samaniego, 21, jump-started a social enterprise “to serve those who serve,” providing business expertise to nonprofits.
Apart from taking hospital calls, Dr. Bryan Albert Lim is a program consultant at the Asian Institute of Management and also established a festival for films themed on health issues.
Law student Mildred Ople, 25, organizes the youth in her native Hagonoy, Bulacan, to pursue local development projects, particularly boosting farm yield through new agricultural technology.
Alexandra Eduque, 21, has been working with Habitat for Humanity for seven years now and founded its youth council. Television host Bianca Gonzalez takes time off from show business to work for child welfare.
And 30-year-old Jay Jaboneta was moved to help when he learned of Zamboanga City schoolchildren who had to swim to go to school. Through social media, he raised funds to provide boats for the children’s daily river crossing.
Show the world
Of the select group, only Oposa, Pinugu and Alvarez will be flying to Davos, Switzerland, next week to join the global forum.
“We can show how we can stand as a developing country, where we have so many inspiring young leaders,” said Alvarez.
“Very often you can say that Filipinos, when they go work abroad, they stay there because of better pay. But you have young people like myself who come back. And I think that says something, about who we are and what we can do for our country,” she said.
Oposa has been invited to speak at the opening plenary, a “most honorable role” and rare opportunity for a young global shaper.
Oposa has yet to write her speech but she already knows what kind of message she would like to bring across to her high-level audience.
“My driving point would be that the decisions that they make there will affect what we’re gonna see in the future, the condition that we’re gonna be in. So there’s an intergenerational responsibility,” Oposa said.
The YGS Manila hub is expected to meet regularly and pursue, as one, development programs in the country.
Broadcast journalist Karen Davila, a 2010 WEF Young Global Leader, served as a founding curator for this year’s YGS.
“I felt inspired for I feel this will give opportunity to talented Filipinos to connect abroad. They’ll have a global platform and that helps our country,” she said.
“I really want WEF to appreciate, and feel Manila, Philippines, now. I want WEF to see that we have very talented people that can contribute on a global scale, that can be heard and that they can take it back to the Philippines,” Davila said.