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Shaping Tomorrow Today
BagoSphere is a social enterprise set up by three Singaporeans in the Philippines to help build a better future for the country’s underprivileged youth through job training.
BY DESMOND NG
n 2008, while they were students at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Singaporeans Ellwyn Tan, Zhihan Lee and Ivan Lau volunteered for projects in the Philippines and Laos. They quickly realised that many solutions to poverty in developing countries were either too slow to take effect or simply unsustainable. For instance, Tan says, some corporations or foundations give out scholarships to the needy but these stop abruptly when funds run out.
In 2012, the three friends, all aged 31, decided to start a social enterprise in the Philippines called BagoSphere to address rising youth unemployment. It offers affordable vocational training in English to high school and college graduates so they can better match their skills to the demands of the job market, and secure better jobs (at call centres, for example).
At BagoSphere, youth undergo a two-month job preparation course to learn digital skills such as basic computer operations. The course also teaches financial literacy and English communication skills. Most students are aged between 20 and 25, and about 80 per cent are high school graduates.
“If not for BagoSphere, I would probably still be working on the farm and still struggling to support my family. Now that I have a stable job, my wife and I are saving money to buy our own farm land.”
Markel Serva, recruitment assistant at BagoSphere
A two-month full-time course costs 18,000 pesos (S$530), which students can pay through a deferred payment scheme. BagoSphere works with Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that provides microfinancing and developmental services to the poor in central Philippines, to provide micro-loans at affordable rates with friendly loan repayment terms.
For a loan to be approved, a student needs to find a guarantor who will have to undergo a credit evaluation. Both of them have to understand the liabilities involved in taking up the loan, and sign an agreement before classes start. Students are given three months to find a job before they have to start repaying their loans. The guarantor will be liable for the payments if a student fails to pay on time.
BagoSphere also links students to potential job opportunities. Tan says that approximately 85 per cent of its graduates find employment within six months of completing its programme. Most of them find work in the business process outsourcing industry, mainly at call centres located in their home city or a neighbouring one.
As of November 2016, 762 graduates have completed its programme. Tan says: “They are paid a minimum of US$225 (S$318) to US$350 a month, depending on the call centre and their tenure. Others work in the service sector, such as in hospitality and retail. We have also hired a few of our graduates, who have grown tired of working night shifts at call centres, in administrative or recruitment posts.”
Filipino Markel Serva, 34, from Bago City is one of those whose lives have been transformed through BagoSphere. He used to work as a farm labourer and tricycle driver before he joined BagoSphere’s training programme in 2013. He now works as a recruitment assistant at BagoSphere.
He says the training helped him to build a better future for his family. He adds: “If not for BagoSphere, I would probably still be working on the farm and still struggling to support my family. Now that I have a stable job, my wife and I are saving money to buy our own farm land.”
BagoSphere was one of four teams awarded seed funding as part of the Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs programme in 2012. The programme aims to inspire and enable young people of different nationalities to embark on social enterprises in Singapore and beyond. Today, some of BagoSphere’s key investors are Kickstart Ventures, a leading venture capital firm in the Philippines; incubator Small World Group; and Elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization, a Swiss philanthropic impact investor.
Currently, BagoSphere is focused on growing in the Philippines over the next three years, says Tan. But it plans to expand its programme to other sectors and countries in the future. Tan says: “While training will remain our focus, we see ourselves collaborating with governments, universities and civil society to transform education and make it relevant for the future of our children.”
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