Manila City—two cities later, the Youth 4 Sustainable Cities tourbus finally makes its last stop in Manila. With a population of about 13,923,452, this number is only expected to increase. And with half of the population represented by the youth, it’s vital that young people are prepared to meet this shift and well-equipped to build a future that is sustainable for years to come.
We held the two-day training from February 22-23 in the Manila Sensespace, the headquarters of makesense Asia that also doubles as a 100% free co-working space open to teams working on social impact. We met our 19 selected ambassadors here, thrilled at the mix of backgrounds that joined us: from a founder of a fashion social enterprise, an urban planner, an advocate for biking communities, to a UN Representative to the Vatican, we’re confident this batch of ambassadors are a well-mixed, diverse group to represent Manila’s next generation of changemakers.
Ecosystem Mapping Session
Context is key in designing urban solutions, and the ambassadors dug deep and collaborated to map Manila’s unique ecosystem, identifying the available resources, partners, barriers to action, and other important clues.
When asked to describe Manila’s city personality, some answers were imbued with a layer of humor. “Dying but diversifying” one wrote. Another said living in Manila was both “a hustle and a hassle.” Other answers were indicative of different lived experiences: “Super-connected” one said, while another called out its “lack of empathy.” Someone wrote:”Lack of cultural heritage”, which was quickly challenged by another ambassador, excited to share the hidden pockets of culture Manila has to offer, if only people took a closer look. Vibrant, busy, loud. Finally, another one that drew empathic reactions: #Strong.
For the Manila ambassadors, these were the issues they considered major societal and environmental challenges: Expensive and inaccessible healthcare, poor walkability, lack of public spaces, waste segregation and management, expensive energy, traffic/transportation, and the illusion of progress.
Many acknowledged the availability of incubators, public programs and events dedicated to address these issues, but many factors such as the lack of time, lack of incentive to attend, lack of awareness and publicity, and distance to location proved to be a barrier to collaboration.
A good kind of chaos: Manila’s ecosystem map
In response, these were the issues they wanted to solve: Transportation and mobility, social housing, engaging more people in urban farming, and creating a circular economy.
The Road So Far
We’ve trained our ambassadors in several methodologies they can apply as community developers, such as the social enterprise workshop and the modified panel discussion. Next, it was time we introduced them to a more participant-driven methodology: the barcamp!
The barcamp is a crowd-favorite that allows anyone to build the agenda of the workshop. We asked them to nominate topics they were interested in sharing, for the benefit of anyone in the room. Here were the selected topics:
Topic # 1: Tricia on how she shifted from life in the city to life in the moutains
Especially interesting for urban citizens longing for life away from the city, Tricia’s testimonial was an enlightening peak into her experience a few years ago when her family had to settle into life in the mountains. The transition was far from easy: she had to learn a completely new language of the Iriga people, a sub-dialect of Bicolano, adapt to a new culture and religion—her stories about the aswang were very interesting—and finally, overhaul her meal plan by learning how to grow their own food.
Now back in the city, looking back at her immersion only grew her desire to return and help them build new systems to make mountain life even more sustainable, especially in making food more accessible.
Topic # 2: Jo on activism and dealing with harrassment
As an advocate for inclusive development, Jo has had her fair share of challenging experiences. Activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai all faced harsh pushback and even threats of physical harm when taking a stand against the status quo, and Jo took us behind the scenes to see how she handled the situation.
Taking a stance is daunting, especially when your personal wellbeing is on the line. Once, she discovered a group on Facebook had used a picture of her in a rally and transformed it into a meme. She also spoke about other experiences of targeted harassment, such as one terrifying instance when her family was involved. These were realities not just Jo but many other people continue to face when protesting on a public platform. When things grew increasingly difficult, she would stop and ask herself: “Lagi’t-lagi, para kanino?” (Always remember: who am I doing this for?)
Now, Jo continues her advocacy through her ambassadorship with makesense, which she believes is another impactful way to engage with the community. She called everyone who wanted to help people like her to, beyond just emphasising behind the screen, to join on the ground and share in the fight.
“Lagi’t-lagi, para kanino?” (Always remember: who am I doing this for?)– Jo, Manila Ambassador
Topic # 3: Vince on the walkability (or unwalkability) of Manila
To prove a point about how unwalkable Manila is, Vince did an experiment: every Friday, he would take a different route across Manila without changing his mode of commute and recorded his findings. Once, he walked for four hours from Makati to Quezon City, and it did prove his initial thesis correct. What he discovered was that central business districts, like Bonifacio Global City, contained more walkable paths.
“Walking is the best way to know a city,” Vince said, noting how it was another mode of way-finding: where to buy food, where to stop and enjoy the weather, where to find shade. To be able to map out routes and pockets of the city that are yours, to mark a city with the unique ways we experience it, is a highly personal endeavour that no one can accomplish for us. And how else can we establish a connection with a place if it is not accessible for us to do so in the first place? If we cannot walk safely in our own cities, in our own neighborhoods, then there is no future to create there.
In the end, Vince discussed how improving walkability is the most economical and inclusive way to improve Manila. Most of all, walking is free, and requires no fuel, no additional expense—just you and your city.
“Walking is the best way to know a city,” Vince said, noting how it was another mode of way-finding: where to buy food, where to stop and enjoy the weather, where to find shade. To be able to map out routes and pockets of the city that are yours, to mark a city with the unique ways we experience it, is a highly personal endeavour that no one can accomplish for us.
Topic # 4: Paolo, on how to write your name in Baybayin
Fun fact: did you know that Juan Luna’s signature in his famous Spolarium uses Baybayin characters?
A hands-on talk that called for participants to immediately apply what they learned, this Baybayin workshop was a fun and interactive demo to highlight the importance of preserving and cultivating our cultural heritage.
Initially inspired to learn the language when he saw how fervently Koreans subscribed to their own culture, Paolo enjoys teaching Baybayin to anyone who wants to feel closer to their Filipino roots.
Only a few days after their two-day training, our Manila ambassadors launched two events: a modified panel discussion on February 27 to tackle the waste management issue in Manila, and a workshop on February 29 to help people create social enterprises on agriculture in the Philippines.
Navigating Waste Around the Metro
This panel discussion gathered people to discuss ways Manila’s waste management issue can be improved. Our panel speakers were Krishia Ellis and Donna Formalejo of the Refill on the Road, a mobile refilling service that provides affordable and accessible staple goods and household product refills for condominium residents. Another speaker the ambassadors invited was Glenn Ongpin, the founder of Cloop, the winner of the Philippines’ first Climathon. It’s a social enterprise that seeks to preserve the environment and provide economic opportunities for the underserved by setting up small-scale recycling centers that produce high-value products. Glenn was joined by Rage Gonazales, the founder of Wayste PH, an on-demand waste pick-up for homes and businesses.
According to Rage, there are so many issues that our LGUs are trying to implement—such as programs for PWDs, for health, for instance—that oftentimes, it becomes a game to see which sector will be served first. In the end, the waste issue is always put on the back-burner. She also discussed how it’s important to apply a standardized method of segregation that everybody recognizes and can abide by.
In the end, the importance of collective action in tackling this issue imbued by personal contribution was highlighted as we continue to rally for change in the Metro.
Planting the Seed: The Future of Philippine Agriculture
Because Filipino farmers continue to be reluctant to use modern technology in farming, the craft remains to be labor intensive and unsustainable. Not to mention that farmers are also the most food insecure, ironically being food providers themselves. With these facts in mind, the ambassadors organized this event to be a step forward in creating new solutions to support the future of farming in the Philippines.
Three amazing projects were born: the first was project was Pig Coop, a consolidation of backyard pig raising for better bicosecurity management and localized feed material sourcing.
The second was pest busters, a full spectrum lightbulb incandescent that could divert insects away from eggplant where the light attracts the insects.
Finally, the third project pitched was was Bukid-know, an interactive app to encourage adolescents to learn more about agriculture.
Meet the Changemakers of Manila
Paolo Tunay, 27
A web developer by profession, Paolo Tunay is deeply interested in the place where culture and technology intersect. In university, he centered his thesis on an app that helped volunteers easily discover opportunities and have fun while they help out, all through a gamified experience. Right now, he is working on a project to cultivate a precolonial writing system called Baybayin as part of his advocacy on cultural preservation and propagation.
As for when his passion for the language came from, Paolo cites an experience when he wanted to learn hangul, the native Korean script, to impress a Korean girl he liked. Slowly, he began to realize how culturally rich Korea was and what implications this had on how we in the Philippines related to our own culture. He started researching; he found out that even before the Spaniards arrived, pre-colonial Philippines already possessed an education and culture on their own. Now, the question that remains is: how do we reconnect to those roots?
Aside from teaching Baybayin, Paolo is passionate about biking. As much as possible, he tries to avoid taking private transportation and enjoys finding new paths to take on his bike.
“(My personal goal for Manila) if I were to go really crazy, is that no one would be using private transportation,” Paolo tells us, imagining a commuter-first Manila. “Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t do this because most building owners don’t allow people to park their bike.”
He’s also saddened by how foreigners comment on the westernization of the Philippines whenever they visit, how we don’t have a lot of culture to show. “We do, but a lot of it is hidden,” Paolo says. That’s why part of his vision is to have street signs written not in English, but in Baybayin!
Prince Ventura, 28
Prince is a graduate of clothing technology from the University of the Philippines Diliman and currently the founder and CEO of Wear Forward. He champions sustainability, circular fashion, and collaborative consumption, and he’s also the spokesperson of Fashion Revolution Philippines and the auditor of the Filipino Fashion Designers and Organizers Association.
When he was a student, he realized how unsustainable the fast fashion industry was and thus vowed not to contribute to this movement once he graduated. Primarily, his passion is how to eliminate textile waste in the industry and transform it into something with greater environmental value.
“In ten years, I hope that 30% of the clothes that are just sitting in our closets right now will be reduced to maybe just 10%. I hope for a city where manufacturers and fashion brands produce clothes that are just enough for people’s consumption and have the end use in mind—that they are already thinking about how to recycle or upcycle them so we can eliminate waste and recover valuable resources together.”
Jo Badong, 22
Jo is currently the PR Specialist for the Cultural Center of the Philippines, working on developing digital projects that democratize access to Philippine art. Her main advocacies are inclusive development—including how culture and the arts can uplift communities and strengthen place-making. She’s passionate about making art accessible and rooting out gatekeepers. Aside from this, she’s also a volunteer teacher of Lumad Bakwit School, teaching entrepreneurship to indigenous children displaced from their communities.
“My personal advocacy is to leverage the culture and arts and make it the heart of urban, sustainable development,” Jo said. “You group cultural workers and policymakers so they can collaborate to create places that are more liveable. Through community art, for example. If you’ve seen the murals in Makati, that’s one real example of how we can own places. Like street dance! Things like these are what I plan to do in the future.”
“I hope in 2030 that there will be a lot of development projects going on. A lot of people are being resettled into places that aren’t really connected to them, or the places that are being created end up becoming alien to people who will eventually live there. So I hope, by 2030, that we have spaces that actually make sense. Places that breathe life, where people are more involved, where culture is alive, and art is present in the development of cities.”
Youth 4 Sustainable Cities is a free program created in partnership with Citi Foundation and our strategic media partner GMA Regional TV that aims to inspire and support the Filipino youth in transforming its cities into more sustainable and inclusive places.
This program is the first step of Philippines based, Pathways to Progress initiative that seeks to engage and involve local youth with the Sustainable Development Goals and urban sustainable development.
Youth 4 Sustainable Cities has 3 phases: 1) the call for youth ambassadors, 2) the roadshow and call for projects, 3) and icubation program of selected startups!
Follow the road:
GMA RTV: www.gmaregionaltv.com
Pathways to Progress: https://www.citigroup.com/citi/foundation/programs/pathways-to-progress.htm