First Help Initiative Wins the Inaugural Social Innovation Challenge

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders,” Inigo Paolo Lagunilla concluded, when I asked him to sum up the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) which saw Michael Fua and his First Help Initiative become the inaugural winner of iVolunteer Philippines’ 28-week ideation program for social innovators and new leaders in the social development sector.

It was June of last year when we first announced SIC to our followers and fellow volunteers. It was as exciting as it was nerve-racking for the team. Most people knew us for Go! Volunteer, BayaniRun, and Time Please but we didn’t know how many were ready for what was then a new and intriguing challenge. We were confident with what we could bring to the table but we weren’t sure if the innovators we’re looking for would want to embrace this new 28-week journey. After all, letting an incubated idea wander outside of its comfort zone for the first time, is no easy task even for trailblazers and leaders.

But alas, by the end of July we’ve found seven (7) innovators who eagerly took the challenge of bringing their brightest social idea to life:

  • Bettina Malveda – Urbayanihan (sustainable spaces)
  • Cynthia Huet – Dugtong Tulong (capability-building for NGOs)
  • Ethel de Borja – KaBaBe (mental health for kids)
  • Justine Manalili – Urban Garden (green living and waste management)
  • Lawrence Carandang – Aklatahanan (backyard libraries)
  • Mike Fua – First Help (mental health)
  • William Chua – Manila Blocks (eco-blocks for housing)

For three-straight weeks, the innovators under the guidance of iVolunteer’s own leaders underwent a series of training to help them hone their ideas and gain a wider perspective in the social development sector. It was a fast-paced start to the 8-month program but everyone passed the test of attrition and eventually made their first pitch to a panel of corporate partners last August. That was, however, just the beginning.

For the next seven (7) months, the SIC participants were put to the task of implementing their ideas.

iVolunteer Philippines, for our part, facilitated monthly checkpoints to impart a wealth of knowledge to our innovators and maintain a support group that can help them polish their thoughts and push them forward. We also invited some of the most charismatic individuals in the volunteering community to share their stories and advice such as Rey Bufi of The Storytelling Project, Jay Ancheta of Habitat for Humanity, Teri Jayme Mora of Ashoka Philippines, Kritzia Santos of Tulong sa Kapwa Kapatid (2KK), Monica Aclan of Project Pearls, and Cora Jazmines of Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC).

Answering the challenge

Everyone is familiar with the term déjà vu but how many of us have heard “vuja dé?”

Most of us remember the late George Carlin for his edgy comedy, but few know him from conceiving one of the most powerful terms in business and innovation. “The strange feeling that, somehow, none of this has ever happened before,” he once told his unsuspecting audience, most of which convinced he misspoke. But right then and there, the viewers were introduced to something novel. Something innovative. They just didn’t know it yet.

Innovation, at its core, is pretty much like the vuja dé. In fact, those who went on to change the world are those who once looked at their surroundings as it was and saw something different. The Social Innovation Challenge as we learned wasn’t just about empowering volunteer leaders and social innovators. It was us, iVolunteer Philippines, rediscovering ourselves in the process and bringing forth a new way of strengthening our community and spreading the concept of volunteerism in the country.

One of the most important traits we noticed from each of our innovators is their ability to look at a familiar situation with fresh eyes, and with that new perspective develop a new line of sight into the future. The one who stood out in the end, however, was Michael Fua’s First Help Initiative.

Fua admittedly struggled at first, as he tried to put his idea in a box and think of ways on how he’d be able to measure its long-term success. Like the rest of the innovators, he wanted to help, but more than that he also wanted to do it right. A few weeks before the end of SIC, the box was gone and he found himself standing in the same building with hundreds of mental health advocates, peers, and volunteers — an event that came straight out of his vision.

Leading the change

Here’s Mr. Lagunilla, Director of Volunteer Ambassador Development, iVolunteer Philippines short message for everyone who participated, followed, and supported the first Social Innovation Challenge.

We just concluded our first-ever Social Innovation Challenge and I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. As project manager for this event, I am very much attached to all of the participants — I have seen them grow, struggle, get disheartened, and ultimately fly with their respective projects. In their own right, everyone was able to accomplish what they set out to do — to be a leader of change — and I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. I believe that 

Our seven innovators and even most of the iVolunteer staff, myself included, learned a lot over the course of the 5-day workshop and the monthly checkpoints. 

We would like to thank our corporate partners, Globe Telecom and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (special shoutout to Arianne Munar and Clarie Aguilar), for truly believing in the program and iVolunteer’s thrust of engaging more volunteers.

We would also commend the Corporate Partners and NGO guest speakers that took time out of their busy schedule to actually listen, talk, and give insights.

We look forward to seeing more innovators in the upcoming Social Innovation Challenge 2.0.

Thank you, everyone, from the bottom of my heart.


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