At the age of 17, Maritess de la Peña had to drop out of college and leave Negros Occidental to work as a kasambahay (housekeeper) in Metro Manila.
She did not want to, but De la Peña had no choice but to leave after her first year as a business administration student at West Negros University in Bacolod City because her family simply could not afford it.
“My family could no longer support my studies. I was a scholar but only my tuition was free. I still had to worry about money for fare and miscellaneous fees,” she recounted in Filipino.
But after two years of being away from her family, De la Peña decided to go home. Her pay was not enough and she felt she was not making full use of what she had learned in school.
Fortunately, her mother learned about the “Study Now, Pay Later” program of BagoSphere, an education-to-employment system that equips disadvantaged youth like de la Peña with the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitude to secure a job at a call center agency in Negros Occidental.
Zhihan Lee, co-founder and CEO of BagoSphere, said, “If you look at the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2017, the no. 1 risk where most countries will be affected is unemployment. It’s not terrorism or metro disasters, so I think this (unemployment) is a very big issue not just in the Philippines but the whole of Southeast Asia.”
Around 11.2 million Filipinos or about 10 percent of the population remained unemployed in the last quarter of 2016, according to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
BagoSphere addresses the problem of unemployment through a multi-sectoral approach that engages the government, microfinance institutions (MFIs), call center agencies, and youth and their parents to invest in a dual training system that will help boost the local economy, ensure companies of skilled labor force, and provide disadvantaged youth a pathway out of poverty.
BagoSphere aids talented urban and rural students through micro-funded education in digital and soft skills
Since 2013, BagoSphere has produced 900 graduates. On average, around 85 percent are employed two months after graduation.
De la Peña, who was among the second batch of graduates, said, “I never expected to be a call center agent because I wasn’t fluent in English and I had low confidence.”
BagoSphere changed all that.
After the two-month program, BagoSphere trainers accompany graduates from one job application to another to give them words of encouragement and assist them throughout the process, she added.
The former kasambahay said her income had quadrupled since she graduated from BagoSphere in 2013. With her above minimum salary and bonuses, she was able to immediately pay her student loan at BagoSphere, build a house for her parents and buy a motorcycle that she plans to turn into a tricycle for additional income.
“Maybe I’ll go back to school next year and pursue a degree in Business Administration,” she said.
Her dream is to put up a piggery and a poultry farm someday, said De la Peña, the youngest daughter of a farmer.
Like De la Peña, Edgar Salas’ life has changed since he graduated from BagoSphere. The eighth of 13 children, Salas had to leave college to give way to his older brother who was in second year college at that time.
Salas, 27, said he couldn’t last in a job before because it was hard for him to adjust to the work environment. But today, he works at Panasiatic Solutions, Bacolod City’s biggest call center agency
“WE HAVE THE ABILITY BUT LACK THE SELF-CONFIDENCE. BAGOSPHERE BOOSTS OUR SELF-CONFIDENCE FOR US TO WORK.”
Apart from teaching English and basic computer skills, BagoSphere creates a call center environment in school so students could easily familiarize themselves and adapt once they get employed.
Among the activities is role-playing, which allows students to know what it is like to work in a call center agency, he said.
Through sharing sessions in class, Salas was able to overcome his shyness and improve his English communication skills. He continues to work with BagoSphere as a program ambassador, who encourages the youth to take part in the program.
“It would be better to have BagoSphere all over the country so every youth will have the chance to have a job and gain confidence,” he said. “We have the ability but lack the selfconfidence.
Lee said BagoSphere’s goal is to have branches in different parts of the Philippines and across Southeast Asia so it can impact the lives of more youth. It plans to expand to Metro Manila in the next 12 months, but the bigger vision is to train 10,000 students in the Philippines and around Southeast Asia.
However, Lee said that Bagosphere was still experimenting with different ways to finance and scale up the social enterprise.
BagoSphere’s current financial program is the “Study Now, Pay Later” where it works with microfinance institutions so students can pay the P18,000 tuition in affordable monthly installments after employment.
The payment from graduates allows BagoSphere to operate and serve more youth, and also taps the entrepreneurial mindset of the youth. Employing a philanthropic model would not be sustainable because BagoSphere want students to see the program as an investment, not a dole-out. “Our course completion rate is 98%, and we would have much lower completion rates if we provided the training for free.” he explained.
For Lee, recruiting students and encouraging them to invest in their education is the biggest challenge. College education is still seen to be more prestigious than a TESDA NCII program. But despite the challenges, he continues to keep it working to solve the “very big problem” of unemployment.
“I don’t think those who want to make significant change will find it very easy. In fact, it’s going to be hard,” he said. “There’s always a possibility of failure. But I think I am a stubborn optimist.”
This story is part of a series of articles written by GO NEGOSYO writers being published by GoodNewsPilipinas.com as part of our support to Philippine businesses.