Tom Graham – Unlocking the Potential of the Filipinos

Ep 020 Tom Graham

Today, Derek is once again joined by Tom Graham, a very inspiring guy. They will briefly talk about the untapped potential of the Filipinos and the ‘walang iwanan’ popular saying within the Philippine community.


• Tom Graham is an English guy, who grew up in London and came over to cover a story here. He is an author of a book called “The Genius of the Poor”. He’s also the founder of a Travel Company called Mad Travel and he works with Gawad Kalinga.
• They talked about the massive untapped human resources of the Philippines.
• There are roughly 20 million people in this country living in less than $2/day. It is not because they’re lazy or they’re unable to learn. They’re just not given the opportunities in life.
• In Gawad Kalinga villages, children are learning to speak French because there’s a partnership between the France education institutions and Gawad Kalinga. Gawad Kalinga is in partnership with about 25 Universities from Europe
• Nothing says that you care for these people more than being there for them. It means so much more than money.
• Tom also mentioned that he sees a very bright future for the Philippines and wouldn’t change being here in the Philippines, helping Gawad Kalinga.

Key Points

• Social enterprise is really important, it is not only about accepting and giving handouts. It’s about giving an opportunity to as many people as possible and making sure that everybody is empowered to act and  do something with that opportunity.
• The Filipino value “walang iwanan” or no one left behind is very important because when people make it as entrepreneurs, for example, they could help other people to create a much larger change in their community.
• Filipinos, when given the chance, can make something out of themselves. They just need an equal opportunity.




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Hi and welcome to another episode of Outsource Accelerator. My name is Derek Gallimore. Today we are joined by Tom Graham again. Now, we first spoke to Tom Graham in Episode 9, you can go back and listen to that and that is a bit more of how he became a part of the Philippines and the mission that he’s on now. So, Tom Graham is an English guy, he was brought up in London, only near to London. And he came over to cover a story here and pretty much hasn’t been back and he is an author of a book called ‘The Genius of the Poor’. He’s also the founder of a travel ethical, conscientious Travel Company called Mad Travel which he touches on briefly here and he’s quite intimately involved with Gawad Kalinga which is a huge really inspiring charity. Building communities and bringing people out of poverty in the Philippines. Now, today we talk about the massive untapped potential of the Philippines. So, there are a 110 million people here. And there are many, many of that 110 million are living in near poverty but there is a huge penetration in the adoption of English and these are really bright people and if they can be harnessed then there’s huge potential here. So, we explore that and more. If you want any, if you wanna get in touch with Tom, if you want any, if you wanna buy his book go to our show notes and you can find that at

Derek: Okay, Hi Tom Graham, we’ve got you back again. Thanks for your time.

Tom: Hi, good to be back.

Derek: Today were gonna talk about the Human Resource potential of the Philippines. So, we’re obviously gonna be largely talking about BPO and using or taking advantage of the massive Human Resources potential here and you’ve seen it very much from a different view. The Philippines, I think has an incredible opportunity here because there’s 110 million people here and the average age is very low. Isn’t it? It’s a very young population. Relatively highly educated, incredible level of English and they’re very culturally aligned with their Christianity and sort of cultural alignment. So, huge potential, so many from a BPO and outsourcing point of view. From your point of view now, you’ve just a recap, you’ve worked here five years, you’ve worked with Gawad Kalinga. You have your book being written, The Genius of the Poor. And you also have your Travel company Mad Travel which is concentrating on social enterprise and conscientious travel. Now, what are your thoughts on resource potential for the Philippines and your making up targeting or looking specifically at the University Graduates or more of the masses.

Tom: Yeah, well as you said there’s sort of 20 million people in this country living in less than $2 a day. And not because they’re lazy or they’re not able to learn. They’re just not given the opportunities in life. And I guess I’ve seen through the work of Gawad Kalinga. Because Gawad Kalinga is one of the biggest NGOs in the Philippines and they’ve come alongside over 2500 communities are being built where once there were slums. People living as scavengers or you know with no jobs etc. These communities are being, or these informal settlements are being transformed into colorful communities but if this is just about building a home and you know painting the houses nice color and you weren’t changing the people themselves weren’t being transformed, then of course that change is not very sustainable in the long term. But what I’ve been amazed through one year I spent living in these communities with Gawad Kalinga is that when you give Filipinos a chance in life. So many of them just dying flat, desperate to have that one chance to make it. If you like, at least be able to make something of themselves, Filipinos will grasp it. They really will be able to.

Derek: With these communities, is it a chance that you’re giving them? Or is it a combination of the chance but also a structure to work with a value system possibly to help guide them is it.

Tom: Yeah, everything starts with values. Even an opportunity is not gonna fully taken advantaged of but if you’re not working with people with the right mindset, right values. So, the Gawad Kalinga approach really looks at even before they get a home they have to do a values formation program where they learn what their values are sort of communal living and bringing out the best in ourselves and also in each other. So, it begins there. Once you give, once these communities are given a chance there are so many programs which Gawad Kalinga is actually working on which really give Filipinos a chance to shine. So, this place where I live part of the time. Half of my week is spent in Manila, the other half is basically with the enchanted farm, it’s a Gawad Kalinga Community but there you have the kids, maybe their parents are farmers and yet they are now speaking French. And even some of the best educated kids from Manila are probably not speaking French.

Derek: And they’re speaking French because there’s quite a connection between farms and the France education institutions and Gawad Kalinga.

Tom: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, so those partnerships are about 25 Universities from Europe, most of them from France. And so, the French are coming over here in waves now and learning about social enterprise, volunteering for different social enterprises, learning really from the community is what they do well. And also giving something back like teaching French. It’s amazing what. I mean, I guess this shows how you know when given the opportunity, if somebody who was once a scavenger, or had to drop out of school early can now speak fluent French. it just shows how there was so much potential in this country.

Derek: What is the Human Resource potential and what is the sort of key aspect of The Genius of the Poor without you needing to give away the key answer to the book but that can provide the exit route for these communities. So that they’re no longer on $2 a day and they pull themselves out of poverty. Is it an intrinsic economic change that happens or is it them speaking French so they can trade up and get better jobs.


Tom: I think at first it takes us, us who are not necessarily poor to go to the poor and to really come alongside them and help them. This is not just a formula. I can’t just give you a formula which we can study and you know in an airconditioned office or in a nice University and the just pass that on to today’s people who are living in desperate situations but whom we want nothing to do with. The most fundamental I guess, principle is the power of presence. It’s about solidarity. It’s not actually about. Nothing says that you care for someone more than being there. That means so much more than money, and so that’s the first thing I think we need to do is to come alongside communities and people who have been left behind. And in so, doing when we give opportunities or when opportunities are given to communities that previously have so little, it’s so important that it’s combined with the right values. One of the key values of, it’s again, it’s a Filipino value known as “walang iwanan”, which means no one left behind. And what’s common at the moment in the Philippines, people are forgetting, they’re forgetting “walang iwanan”. They’re forgetting the sense that no one should be left behind. If one person, let’s say one out of a thousand of the poorest Filipinos will get a scholarship, will get an opportunity and will end up studying at a good University and getting a good job. Now, that person may forget all of the people that he left behind because it’s natural, it’s human nature in a way, to do that. But that’s why this value in “walang iwanan “is so important, because if we can not only give opportunities to a small number of people but then those people really do rise are determined as entrepreneurs for example to bring other people with them that’s when you can really start creating larger, larger recourse of change.

Derek: And the Filipino communities that were in the structure are more inclined to do that, is that right? Because they, funds do go back in to the money. Funds go back in to the family and then back into the community, is that right?

Tom: They do, as long as it’s done in a sort of entrepreneurial, with an entrepreneurial mindset. Because one of the other problems or challenges of the Philippines is if one person makes it, he will send money back even if he doesn’t make. Even if he becomes a domestic worker abroad for a slightly higher salary, the reality is he’s gonna sacrifice a lot of that salary for his own family. So, there’s the flipside there actually that Filipinos will, they may forget all the people of society around them if they make it but they won’t forget their family. They’ll send all the money back to their family but then one of the constants of that is the fact that those people may become dependent upon the money being sent to them from abroad by someone else. That’s why social enterprise is really important. This is not just about handouts. It’s really about giving an opportunity to as many Filipinos as possible and making sure that everybody is somehow empowered to act and to do something with that opportunity as opposed to sort of just receiving something, or hoping or waiting for something from the government or from a wealthier relative or whatever.

Derek: And what are some of the results that have been seen from Gawad Kalinga or and the social enterprise generally and how these communities rise through these actions.

Tom: I mean it really depends, I don’t want to say that every GK village or Gawad Kalinga village I visited was in a perfect stage of development. I mean, some of them are doing a lot better than others and some of them have you know almost everybody’s in work and all kids are in school. Stuff like that. But that’s not always the case in all of the communities I go to, some of them still have a lot of challenges. I guess what I could say is that almost every village that I went to still had that spirit. That spirit of what I was saying “walang iwanan”, the spirit of no one being left behind. These communities themselves, they don’t feel left behind anymore. For so long they were considered to be sort of scared of

Derek: Almost the untouchables.

Tom:  And now they know they have to be proud of their homes. They have little landscape gardens, they have. They know that people from Ails France actually really care for them and it helped them to achieve something which is a dignified place to live. That spirit doesn’t, I don’t think ever leave but doesn’t need to say it or, all sorts of challenges which they continue to face. Just as I guess some of them are faced by us all.

Derek: It’s gonna be the natural distribution. Any sort of any success story

Tom: Yeah, Yeah

Derek: Fantastic, I suppose in summary do you see a bright future for the Philippines?

Tom: Of course, yeah. No, I do, I mean the world’s in a strange state at the moment, isn’t it? And you know I do, I wouldn’t change being here in the Philippines anywhere in the world right now. I’m not saying that it’s, you know it’s the tough.

Derek: Wow

Tom: I know the Philippines still has a lot of challenges and I’m not blind to that but what inspires me to stay in this country is I really, I’ve met so many interesting people and really inspiring people that are committed to finding solutions to some of the big problems that we see around us. And you know, there’s so many smart people and I, in this country and I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here that I just feel this is the best place for me to be and I feel that it’s a good place to be. I thought it’s a country that has been poor for a long time or at least unequal for a very long time that I feel like it’s on the rise. That’s what makes me more optimistic to be here than maybe somewhere else right now.

Derek: Fantastic, thank you Tom. Thanks for your time.

Tom: Thanks a lot.

Okay, I hope you enjoyed that. Tom’s a great guy he knows a huge amount about aspects about the Philippines and motivating the Filipino people and getting things done on a very different level so he’s a great resource. If you wanna get in touch with Tom, if you wanna read his book, if you wanna buy his book or come traveling by his Travel company ‘Mad Travel’ check out our show notes to get in touch with him and that is at See you next time.



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