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Bridging Societal Divides: A Bridging Leadership Journey in the midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

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Before anything else, allow me to discuss a bit about Bridging Leadership. For those who may not have come across this concept of leadership yet, Bridging Leadership involves three main segments: building ownership of the response, developing co-ownership with other stakeholders, and together engaging in the co-creation of better, more inclusive societies.

In the Philippines, the Asian Institute of Management-TeaM Energy Center is a pioneering institution of this concept of leadership. It has its roots in a global research project that was conducted by Synergos Institute in 2000. The project brought together practitioners from different parts of the world to articulate this leadership approach through the development of some 20 cases on Bridging Leadership and a paper by Steve Pierce entitled, “Bridging Differences and Building Collaboration: The Critical Role of Leadership”. This inspired Prof. Ernesto Garilao, then of the Asian Institute of Management, to continue the research and application of Bridging Leadership through the Center (formerly called the Center for Bridging Societal Divides). Since then, Bridging Leadership has grown and developed under AIMTEC.

Photo from Sharewin Sapian's FB account.
Photo from Sharewin Sapian’s FB account.

I have always had this interest to further enhance my skills and know-how about leadership. AIM’s Facebook posts about Bridging Leadership being taught to Local Government Officials, Non-Governmental Organizations, Community Leaders and Developers, Think-Tank group, Officers and Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other recipients in Mindanao and in some provinces in the country have piqued my interest about this kind of leadership. This was what fueled me to join their youth program called the Future Bridging Leaders Program (FBLP) last year.

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Fortunately, after several phases of rigorous screenings, I had the rare privilege to have participated in the AIM-TEC’s FBLP cohort 3. It was September 2019, when I got an email from AIM-TEC stating that I made it to the cut. The feeling was certainly overwhelming. Out of more than 500 applicants all over the Philippines, only 28 youths were selected to participate in the said program.

We practically started our year-long Bridging Leadership journey through our Workshop 1 (Ownership) which was held last October 2019 at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City. Then we had our Workshop 2 (Co-Ownership and Co-Creation) last January 2020 still at AIM campus. However, things changed for our Workshop 3 – Public Recital and Project Pitching.  We were very much looking forward for our last and final workshop which was supposedly set on May 2020 however this COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard.

Consequently, the Center decided to conduct it via Zoom classes from June-August 2020. The feeling of doing it online was weird. It was challenging for some of us. Digital divides and technological gaps bombarded some of us to religiously attend our sessions. It was tough. But as Bridging Leaders, we were taught to soldier on despite the odds, especially if it is for our community. And so, we all did. We were all able to finish our academic requirements for Workshop 3.

At the present milieu, all of us are implementing our individual pilot projects. We tackle different societal divides that we want to address. In my case, I chose the Out-of-School Youth sector.

My project is under The COOLab Project, a community and advocacy arm of WIN&Co. Strategic Development Consulting which I founded. The project title is BALAY O.S.Y. which was initially set to be implemented in the Municipality of EB Magalona. But due to the limitations and challenges brought about by the pandemic, we pivoted and instead partnered with Carlos Hilado Memorial State College through the help of Mr. Rhoderick Samonte. Our chosen students-recipients are those who have been struggling in their finances. These students are eager to learn because they want to help their families survive this pandemic and still continue to go to school to finish their degrees. That is why we named this project as, LEARNxHUB – Learn and use the newly-acquired skills to Earn and eventually maximize our online HUB in order to help others who are in the same (or even worse) situations than them. We will be a hub of Leaders creating more Leaders.

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What we basically do is that, we teach these students basic English grammar, sentence constructions, basic BPO etiquettes, how to apply for work, personality and leadership mentoring. We have been conducting our online sessions through Zoom. We also have our own private group to share knowledge and experiences in the BPO industry. It is where we post assignments and readings for them to do. On the other hand, The COOLab Project has its Facebook page to update the public about what we have been doing and to hopefully partner with us in the future.

Moreover, with regard to our initial prototype, it is clear to me and to our Municipal Officials/partners in EB Magalona that once this pandemic is over (or at least contained) we will proceed with our BALAY O.S.Y. program for the Out-of-school-youth to bridge them into better opportunities by empowering them through education.

The reason why this is my chosen facet in the myriads of social divides is because this is what I know, as I personally did go through this struggle. This was when I went back to school (University of St. La Salle) after 2 years of hiatus in Manila where I worked in the BPO industry. When I enrolled back to school in June 2011, I took BA Political Science degree under the College of Arts and Sciences while working in one of the BPOs in Bacolod City.

If I may walk down memory lane a bit, I could vividly remember that my work shift starts at 10PM and ends at 7AM. I would however need to go to our workplace around 9:30PM to avoid being late as I needed to pull up all tools necessary before the first call at 10PM. Additionally, this was the shift I bargained to the big bosses, in order to continue to finish my studies, with the promise that I will deliver significant outputs for the account. After logging out at 7AM, I would hurriedly catch my 7:30AM class and stay at school until around 3:30PM. I would then go home and that would be the only time get to lie in bed and get my good night sleep. At school though, I would sneak in some sleep at the Library or in our classroom. I would only ask my friends/classmates to wake me up when the teacher arrives.

Looking back, I could not help but feel bittersweet of the small triumphs and victories and the many failures and challenges during that period of my academic journey. At any rate though, my paradigm has shifted to a more community-conscious and purposeful life. These senses were awakened and fueled after our initial class at the AIM. I realized that we have to look after each other, and to especially give attention to those who are in need of a little help or a little boost to also become productive members of our community. 

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In the case of Out-of-school youth, I believe that they just needed someone or perhaps an organization to simply believe in them and in what they can do. They have to have additional skills in order to live a more productive and meaningful life not only for themselves but for their families.

The COOLab Project is convinced that in helping educate OSYs and in bridging them into better opportunities would help curb criminalities, violence, and extremities in our society. As we know it, we cannot wholly blame some of these violators. They too are victim of unforgiving circumstances. For all we know, they have been in the depths of their own labyrinth of adversities.

Imagine, what else would you expect them to do when they have nothing to eat and to feed their hungry families? Easy to say that it is never an excuse. It may be valid, but in this cruel world, what did we exactly do on our end to help them even before they are tagged as “criminals”? This is essentially why we believe that we have to have half of the blame on why there is so much violence and criminalities in our society. Perhaps, because no one looked after them when they were struggling.

This is what I believe is my life’s biggest “WHY?”, that is to Empower others through Education. Forever grateful to AIM and TeaM Energy Foundation for the Future Bridging Leadership Program for making me do what I do now. In the same vein, I am glad and appreciative of my classmates in the program as well for all the inspiration and motivation that we all get to share with each other. Our group’s chat box has been a witness about “us” and our respective pilot projects. I know, one way or the other, I will have a lifetime of guiding coalition and a rock-solid support group from this bunch of Bridging Leaders.

In conclusion, I believe that it is now, more than ever, that we all have to have a caring mindset for others in need. We have to extend a little support so others may grow and prosper. To push someone a little bit in order to help them gain momentum again. Certainly, we do not have to have all the riches in the world to help. We only need good intentions, our guiding coalitions, and the execution of whatever help we desire to do to better the people around us.

In this time of the pandemic, we cannot help but be each other’s source of inspiration…or of each other’s support…or we can even be each other’s life heroes by “bridging” them into better opportunities and chances.

We can all become Bridging Leaders. Let’s all become Bridging Leaders!

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Sharewin Sapian
Sharewin Sapian
Founder and Lead Strategist of WIN&Co. Strategic Development Consulting, a pioneer consulting firm for Politicians, Local Government Units, Businesses, Enterprises, and Capacity-building for People. Business Proprietor of COPYxSPACE Coworking, the first and only coworking space in Kabankalan. Fellow, Future Bridging Leaders Program Asian Institute of Management and TeaM Energy Foundation.

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