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Building Puerto Princesa’s Social Impact Sector for a Reimagined Palawan

Ashoka Philippines

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Building Puerto Princesa’s Social Impact Sector for a Reimagined Palawan

Ashoka Fellow Kevin Lee opens Arampangan, a gathering of social impact leaders in Puerto Princesa

Ashoka Philippines

Last September 7, Ashoka Fellows Kevin Lee and Amina Evangelista-Swanepoel co-hosted Arampangan, a gathering of social impact leaders with the theme of “Reimagine Palawan,” at Holiday Suites, Puerto Princesa. The event was attended by changemakers from CSOs (civil sector organizations), NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and grassroots organizations, the local government, academe, and the private sector. Arampangan stems from Kevin and Amina’s common goal of nurturing a locally driven Social Impact and Innovation space where a diverse group of impact leaders can share ideas, collaborate, build synergies and complementarities. 

Kevin Lee, Co-founder & Executive Director of A Single Drop for Safe Water, kicked off the event with his opening remarks. “Reimagining is about breaking down where we are and how we got here.  It’s about an honest examination of why we are not living our best lives,” he said. He emphasized that Arampangan was a space for open dialogue because much is lost when we don’t listen, including different perspectives that could improve our work and empathy for those most affected by the social issues we are addressing.

Kevin observed that Typhoon Odette which ravaged the region in December 2021 was a turning point for Palaweños. “I think for many of us here in this room, we have started to look at how we can make even more of difference for our home island, as the threat of climate change has just been made very real and not an abstract concept we think we should be upset about.” To end, he shared his own reimagined Palawan, one that had easy access to basic services, reliable transport networks, robust job opportunities and governance systems, and flourishing natural habitats.    

Ashoka Fellow Amina Evangelista Swanepoel introduces the panelists for Arampangan.

Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, Founding Executive Director of Roots of Health, then introduced the night’s panel – Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek, Shellemai Roa, and Gerthie Mayo-Anda. The three Palaweñas spoke about their vision of their home province.

For Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek, Executive Board Member of the Puerto Princesa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the theme of reimagining is more than relevant when it comes to the world-famous tourism industry of Palawan. Too often there is an “all eggs in the tourism basket” approach which can lead to devastating economic effects as illustrated by the pandemic. A restaurateur herself, Jane opened up about her struggles with keeping her business afloat and providing daily salaries to her employees during the height of the lockdowns.

Instead, Jane proposed that locals to think about integrating tourism with other industries and for Palawan to invest in experience-based or cultural tourism as much as the current destination-oriented undertakings.  As closing advice, she encouraged cultivating the entrepreneurial mindsets of Palawan locals so that not only can they secure their family’s financial future, they can also bolster the local economy. 

Nature takes on center stage for the vision of second panelist Shellemai Roa, Deputy Project Director of Project Zacchaeus. “A green city with a blue ocean” is how she describes an ideal Puerto Princesa. It is no surprise that she is overseeing Eco Kolek, a program of Project Zacchaeus that equips informal waste collectors in barangays with the training, gear, and mindsets to be “eco-warriors” at the forefront of addressing Puerto Princesa’s waste disposal problems.

“Co-create” is the key word for Shellemai. She believes involving beneficiaries in designing solutions to social problems, something she was conscious about when developing Eco Kolek. Shellemai cites SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 17 or “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development” as the way forward for Palawan, especially when it comes to the numerous and complicated issues that its residents face.    

Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek, Shellemai Roa, and Gerthie Mayo-Anda share their reimagined Palawan.

Gerthie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, contributed several elements to a reimagined Puerto Princesa. Core to it is good governance which Gerthie defines as everyone being aware of their rights and roles. Palaweños should also be able to take pride in where they come from and in the region’s indigenous culture. Creating change would mean that each person would be able to champion the values that govern their life.     

Gerthie clarified that this dream was not impossible. In fact, seeing grassroots efforts including youth campaigns and citizen patrols has kept the hope inside her bright and alive.

After the panel, Suzie Agustin, Venture and Fellowship Manager of Ashoka Philippines, shared the organization’s vision of everyone a changemaker – a world where everyone is powerful and contributes to change for the good of all. She echoed the insights of the panelists, stating that this grand ambition is only achievable when leaders across sectors and organizations work with each other.  

Ashoka’s Suzie Agustin discusses an “everyone a changemaker” world. Photo by Amina Evangelista Swanepoel

Arampangan attendees mingled before and after the panel, sharing their initiatives and learning from individuals whom they did not necessarily approach normally for collaboration. There was unanimous sentiment from participants that only the surface had been scratched by Arampangan, and that there would be great benefit in holding succeeding gatherings like this. From simple conversations and connections, Palaweños of diverse backgrounds and sectors discovered seeds of opportunities to amplify and innovate their existing efforts. Events like Arampangan underscore the power in listening and learning from different perspectives, which becomes even more resonant when it is propelled by love for one’s hometown.

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Arampangan was made possible through the global partnership of Ashoka and Lenovo’s Kind City initiative. Learn more about Lenovo’s Kind City

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