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If each of us takes part in caring and sharing, the overwhelming challenge of poverty can be addressed. Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.

Building a Better World Together: Microsoft and GK Host “Innovate for Good” in the Philippines

[Date Created: August 13, 2013]

by Gia Leanne Luga

In this world of technology where almost anything is possible, ideas can easily come to life. All the innovations we know are here because someone saw a pressing need and thought of an idea to address it. More importantly, someone was bold enough to turn that idea into reality. But what if these ideas were ALL funneled towards innovating for the common and greater good? What if our efforts to innovate are focused on addressing the biggest challenges of today’s world? What if we put the youth, the biggest stakeholders of tomorrow, in one room and inspire them to brainstorm solutions, together with speakers and mentors who have walked the talk? What if?

Last May 18-19, 2013, we found the answers to those questions when Microsoft and Gawad Kalinga hosted the first ever Microsoft Innovate for Good in the Philippines. More than just two logos placed side by side, the event was about two organizations fiercely committed to inspire the youth to innovate and build a better world. And because we can't do it alone, we brought in some of the most innovative social entrepreneurs we know (Anna Meloto-Wilk of Human Nature, Mark Ruiz of Hapinoy, Ron Dizon of Bayani Brew, Lynn Pinugu of Mano Amiga Pilipinas) to help us out, giving the participants an experience that truly reeked of innovating for good – from the speakers and mentors down to the food that they ate (served by the GK Enchanted Farm Café and Bistro 3846) and the kits that they took home (bags printed by Payatas Trese). More than just speakers, mentors and suppliers, they served as examples of those who have truly chosen to innovate for the greater good. This made it a weekend that overflowed not only with inspired ideas but also with an awakened passion from the youth to build a better world.

More than just speakers and suppliers, these social entrepreneurs served as examples of those who have truly chosen to innovate for the greater good. [L-R]: Luis Oquiñena (Gawad Kalinga), Anna Meloto-Wilk (Human Nature), Mark Ruiz (Hapinoy), Ron Dizon (Bayani Brew), Lynn Pinugu (Mano Amiga Pilipinas)

[L-R]: Anjo Joaquin of the GK Enchanted Farm Cafe, Michelle Sta. Catalina and the Bistro 3846 team

Using Technology to Spark Change

“Microsoft Innovate for Good, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, is a global community enabling youth to collaborate, inspire and support each other while using technology to make a difference in their communities.”

>> Read more about Innovate for Good in Microsoft’s website

During the two-day workshop, participants were asked to come up with solutions for specific challenges. To show them how technology can make their ideas truly come to life, they also got to do SpeedGeeking, where teams went around 4 stations showcasing the use of technology to spark change.

SpeedGeeking with 4 stations that showcased the use of technology to spark change

[Clockwise from Left]: Team ByImplication (Imagine Cup 2010 World Finals Winner) with Wildfire, Team Dividedbyzero (Imagine Cup 2012 Local Finals Winner) with KidCAMP, Windows 8 Devices, and Blood Donors Network (Apps for Asia 2013 Winner)

Three stations presented apps that addressed challenges such as poverty, unequal education opportunities for students with disabilities and unmet blood collection needs. The fourth station featured interactive learning with various Windows 8 Devices. Clearly, Microsoft is serious about using technology to build a better world, and through the years, they continue to be there to provide technological solutions for those with the ideas.

The Heart of the Matter

Technology can provide solutions, but before even thinking of solutions, one has to have the genuine heart and desire to address the problem. Microsoft Innovate for Good presented 9 teams with some of the most pressing challenges our country faces today in the fields of Education, Active Citizenship, Environment, Health and Productivity. They were asked to study these problems from different vantage points, challenge and reframe them if needed, brainstorm on possible solutions, and pitch their final idea to a panel of judges.

The workshop was devised this way because it truly begins with properly identifying the problem. One group, when presented with the challenge of how we can utilize technological advancements to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, decided that the real problem we need to address is apathy. They then reframed the problem to say “How can we utilize technological advancements to fight apathy against persons with disabilities?”

DAY 1: Framing the Problem and Solution Brainstorming led by Workshop Facilitator Claire Ericta (Marketing, Gawad Kalinga)

DAY 1: Visual Prototyping Workshop by Karl Satinitigan (Social Entrepreneur and Teacher, Mint College)

Gawad Kalinga (GK) knows a thing or two about looking at the problem differently and getting to the heart of the matter. When GK started more than 10 years ago, nobody was talking about ending poverty and giving free homes to the poor. Under the visionary leadership of Tony Meloto, a bunch of young radical people stepped in and said we’re going to address poverty first by realizing that it is NOT an economic problem but a behavioral one. Many Filipinos are poor not because we lack resources but because we have forgotten to care and share.

GK Executive Director Luis Oquiñena underscores this point by saying “The issue of poverty is a crisis of values that has economic consequences. It’s when people begin to leave each other behind, when we begin to just aspire for ourselves.” So that’s where we begin: by changing the hearts not only of the poor but also of the rich, by transforming a dole-out mentality to one that builds empowered communities through the spirit of
bayanihan and Walang Iwanan (leaving no one behind).

The decision to address poverty through an innovation called Gawad Kalinga has found its way to over 2,000 communities all over the country, but we could never have done it without the heroic partners and volunteers who have taken this journey with us. As the organization grows, the challenges are also multiplying, and Microsoft has been there to equip GK with tools and software to make backbone operations more efficient, helping ensure that programs and services are provided to the poor communities that need them the most.

>> Learn more about the Microsoft-GK partnership here

The Youth Building a Future for More Than Just Themselves

The challenges given to the teams are some of the most pressing challenges that this generation faces. A key takeaway from the workshop is that to be able to pitch an idea effectively, one has to make it personal. If you’re not genuinely affected by the problem, you can’t convince others to empathize with you.

One of the groups pitched an idea that addresses how we might increase access to college education among aspiring candidates. The pitch was opened by Ellen Bacolcol, a SIGA youth from GK Baseco and a graduating scholar from De La Salle College of St. Benilde studying Business Administration. Speaking from the heart, she mentioned the opportunities that brought her where she is today, and how she hopes these opportunities are made more available to so many others who need it. The team proposed a website that matches aspiring candidates to available courses and scholarship opportunities. But what made the pitch compelling was Ellen’s story and how the innovation can personally affect other students like her. Ellen is only one of 13 GK scholars (9 scholars from GK-DLSU and 4 from the GK Enchanted Farm) who participated in Microsoft Innovate for Good.

9 GK SIGA - La Salle Scholars joined several youth leaders in brainstorming for solutions to our country's problems and dreaming for a brighter tomorrow

The crowd favorite also opened by putting themselves in the shoes of the people directly affected by the problem. Their challenge was how to effectively manage information to facilitate relief and support for disaster situations, and they spoke from the perspective of the typhoon victim about to lose hope, the willing volunteer who wants to help but doesn’t know how, the donor who wants to share but doesn’t know where. They then proposed a unified website that will centralize all information and efforts not only during disasters but even before they strike.

DAY 2: After the Idea Pitch Workshop by Mark Ruiz of Hapinoy, the teams pitch their solutions to a panel of judges that included Microsoft Philippines' Raul Cortez (Legal and Corporate Affairs Director) and Dondi Mapa (National Technology Officer)

These are just some of the stellar ideas that came out of the 2-day Microsoft Innovate for Good event, and they came from the hearts and minds of young people who have learned to be more aware and to empathize, to seek first to understand rather than be understood. These are young people who refuse to be bystanders and do nothing about the social issues hounding our world today. This event was just the catalyst, the starting point. Beyond that, these young people are now part of a network with an endless stream of opportunities and tools to build a better world.

In closing, Microsoft Philippines Legal and Corporate Affairs Director Raul Cortez told the youth, “You hold the key to your future, and you should not let go of that. You should hold it to your heart and make sure that you think about the future not only for yourself but also for the whole world… Innovation is something that requires not only brilliance but commitment as well. What I would just like to reiterate is the fact that we are here for you guys. Microsoft is here, we have the technology, we have the expertise, we have the manpower, we have the commitment. With partners like GK, I think we can make a better future for everyone.”


Gawad Kalinga is not a charity, rather, it's an organization that aims to end poverty by building sustainable communities. This would not be possible without the partners who have journeyed with us in transforming the lives of others. Like Microsoft, you too can help the poorest of the poor and partner with us in dreaming for the country and inspiring the youth and many others to dream with us. For more information, visit this link.


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