Philippines Fellowship: 2 weeks in

It’s Monday morning of the 2nd week in the Philippines. We’ve had our (not awkward at all) introductory meetings with our entrepreneurs, but it’s this week that we are given the task of a) getting to know them and their businesses, and b) teaching them about the Business Model Canvas and finances. Bearing in mind that we only finished learning the curriculum ourselves 2 days ago, the week ahead was daunting to say the least. Surely we’re too young and inexperienced to add any value to these businesses? Was one week really enough to learn the programme in enough depth to then teach it the week after? Will we know enough about the Philippines to think of appropriate innovations? These questions were the reason for my apprehension on this Monday morning.Philippines 3

It’s not often that I can say that I am happy to have been proven wrong. It is now Friday of the 2nd week – 4 days later – and I have been surprised by what one 3-hour conversation with one person can generate. Not only have we started to get an understanding of each of their businesses, but we’ve begun to think about how to innovate them. Our youth gives us a different perspective on problems that have been tirelessly looked at from the same angle and being from a different country gives us a varied set of experiences from which to draw ideas. We then work with the entrepreneurs to adapt these ideas in accordance with their knowledge of market demand and regulations in the Philippines. One of our entrepreneurs has been stuck on how to advance his business – a directory for small businesses in the local area – which is currently running at a loss. In our first meeting we brainstormed similar companies in the UK and what they do differently, deciding on advancements in reviews, ranking and revenue models. I’m beginning to understand the value of the Balloon programme; the innovations that we’re generating are the product of a combination of similar but different cultures, working together to improve companies that exist in both of our countries.

The other shocker of the week is how lovely and grateful the people are. We were greeted not only with home-made cakes and thank-yous, but also invitations to meet families and join them for dinner. I came to this programme having been treated with hostility when travelling around China for 2 weeks, therefore this kind of reception was not expected to say the least. We’ve been shown around Benguet State University and given an insight into the lives of 3 of our entrepreneurs (which are associated with BSU), meeting the President, the coffee plantation, the strawberry fields and even the native pigs. We’ve been given the opportunity to harvest lemons at our entrepreneur’s lemon farm and treated for dinner at an art gallery by the local directory owner (the man in the know of the best places to eat in town), eating exotic dishes whilst looking out onto gorgeous views of Baguio.

Philippines 4The most rewarding part of this week, however, has been the entrepreneurs opening up and trusting us with these businesses which matter so much to their lives. It’s almost intimidating how grateful they have been; the generosity that they show us and the confidence in the things that we can do to improve their businesses – and therefore lives – reminds me that we have been given a huge responsibility by the Balloon programme. After this week, I really hope that we can live up to these expectations.


Ellie, Balloon Fellowship, Philippines Summer 2016