Tom Graham – How an Englishman Saw Genius in the Philippines’ Poor
Last updated August 15, 2019
In this podcast, we are having Tom Graham as our guest speaker, He is an English guy who moved to the Philippines over 4 years ago. He is an author, owns a conscientious travel company and works with Gawad Kalinga – which is a charity helping alleviate poverty in the Philippines.
- The book titled The Genius of the Poor was written by Tom Graham, who was inspired after spending a year in the Philippines.
- Gawad Kalinga which is founded by Tony Meloto is a charitable organization that helped build homes for over two hundred thousand Filipinos.
- Filipinos are caring and peaceful individuals. There are brilliant people out there who just need an opportunity for them to become a better version of themselves.
- Company MAD Travels purpose to have people from all over the world to come and experience the Philippines, to come and taste their culture and not just to read about it as the Philippines has a lot to offer, from the great beaches to the colorful villages.
- Travel plans were in place to help promote the Philippines as a destination for social tourists.
- The Philippines is a great destination to experience, both for Leisure and Work-related purposes.
- Travel partners and other corporations were inspired by Gawad Kalinga on ways to help improve their companies
- Filipinos need a chance at expressing their values and to show the world that they are capable of doing great things.
- Social enterprise is about finding the perfect balance between profitability and helping communities develop.
Derek: Hi and welcome back to another episode of the outsource accelerator my name is Derek Gallimore. Today we are joined by Tom Graham, this guy is super interesting, he is an English guy from London and he came out to cover a story here one day and didn’t return home, that was a few years ago and the essence of that story was to interview a guy called Tony Meloto who founded Gawad Kalinga which is this incredible charity organization here in the Philippines and they have now established over two and a half thousand communities not just homes but homes within these communities, they have built over two and a half thousands communities in the Philippines. Now the Philippines is dealing with a huge amount of poverty, Tom mentions here that over twenty million people are living on less than two dollars a day. Poverty is very real here in the Philippines and it’s not helped because of the disparate provincial nature of the Philippines there is over seven thousand islands here and I think logistics can prove pretty difficult to get services out to people so you know there are issues are being faced here in the Philippines Tom is tackling this front on, he is a bestselling author he has written a book called The Genius of the Poor and if you wanna learn more I really recommend you read it and we talked to Tom about his journey, how he found himself here, why he settled here and what he is doing. Tom has worked with Gawad Kalinga now, he has written this book The Genius of the Poor, he has also set up his own ethical high conscience travel company which he talks a little bit more about here. If you want to get in touch with Tom Graham if you want to know anything more about Tom Graham or this podcast go to our show notes at outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode9, enjoy.
Derek: Right, so Tom Graham, it’s great to have you, thanks for your time.
Tom: Thanks for having me.
Derek: Today we are just really going to introduce you because you’ve got an incredible story and it’s funny that we both find ourselves sitting here in Manila, in the Philippines, probably neither of us ever really have much of a plan to do this but now that we’re both here, we are enjoying it. So I want to hear a little bit about your story how you got here and of course you are now a published author and I just want to hear a little bit about that.
Tom: Sure, so I arrived from the Philippines about five years ago, expected to stay a couple of months, I was doing business reports on the country and I was visiting different emerging economies around the world and shortly before I was due to leave the Philippines and head on to somewhere else, I interviewed a man called Tony Meloto who is the founder of one of the biggest NGOs or charities here in the Philippines called Gawad Kalinga and Gawad Kalinga has built homes for about two hundred thousand Filipino families all across the country. I interviewed the guy Tony Meloto and that interview changed my life, he inspired me to, well he challenged me, should I say to go out and discover the genius of the Filipino poor so I ended up quitting my job and quitting the kind of comfortable lifestyle I’ve had until then to spend one year visiting these communities of Gawad Kalinga and learning just what he meant by the genius of the Filipino poor, so that’s the title of my book The Genius of the Poor.
Derek: Right, and what was it exactly that captured your, or changed your life, you know, was it Tony, or was it Gawad Kalinga mission, was it meeting the Filipinos?
Tom: I guess it was a combination of everything, Tony is quite an inspiring person to interview, so I showed up to this interview expecting to be in and out in (sort of) half an hour, and three hours later I was staring back at this clipboard of questions, and realizing that he is the one asking the questions to me not me to him, so he was asking me, Tom, why are you writing these reports If you don’t really believe in them, you know what’s your purpose in life? Those kind of questions, the big questions, which I guess got me thinking and I was probably going through an early mid-life crisis myself at the time and I wanted to change anyway so that was the hook, was interviewing Tony, but really what’s kept me in this country was the people themselves and these amazing communities, communities of former slum dwellers and people who used to be scavengers and today are entrepreneurs and these are peaceful communities.
Derek: And you pretty much initially aligned with Gawad Kalinga is that right because it’s incredible, they’ve had incredible achievements actually building homes for two hundred thousand people.
Tom: Yeah, even more than that. They’ve got quite a broad kind of human values behind Gawad Kalinga. It’s really all about, it’s not one of these like foreign development models you know, where we are getting money from NGOs coming from abroad, it is really Filipino inspired and it’s the values, living to the highest value of being a Filipino, so all of these values that you associate with the Filipinos like, the caring and sharing nature which Filipinos have, it’s really prioritizing those in life and realizing that this country has no excuse to be poor if the Filipinos really live to those highest values it’s called “bayanihan” here which means solidarity. So we need some values which even as a foreigner, I think you discover them for the first time and you are like, you know what, this is really, we need more “bayanihan” or solidarity in the U.K where I am from and of course all across the world right now.
Derek: The Philippines is an intriguing country isn’t it, because you know, this we are here talking about the podcast is about the outsourcing and BPO and BPO sector now employs nearly a million people and its contributing massively into the economy it is a huge boon but there is about another hundred and nine million other people in the Philippines and the vast majority are striving on a very meagre income it’s a country of huge disparity, with also huge potential and they have incredible resources.
Tom: Yeah, I mean, one thing when I first interviewed Tony, he said this country has no excuse to be poor and I thought, of course it does, it has loads of excuses, it has corruption, infrastructure challenges, education, all of these things and yet you see through the communities that I visited, I saw how if Filipinos are given a chance in life and so many aren’t really given a chance, they are desperate for a chance but they just can’t break out of those sort of chains of poverty but when you give people a chance, Filipinos can be absolutely brilliant and so many of them have it, I spent a lot of time in the US, this thing I’ve got different Filipino families who are welcoming pretty much every different city of the US now and they are doing incredibly well, they actually perform better than even Caucasian-Americans statistically they do, All doctors and lawyers, because they are given an opportunity there so there is so much potential in this country which if only we were to extend those opportunities to more and more people, this country would transform within a generation.
Derek: And, I mean Tony himself has some pretty wild expectations for the Philippines but also for his process but what was your journey then from initially meeting Tony, you spent time with Gawad Kalinga and then wrote and then researching for your book?
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Tom: My book is really based on my one year journey living in these communities all across the Philippines so I was twelve months sort of experiencing life as a Filipino with as you say a meagre income at the time, because I quit my job and I spent the following six months sort of editing and finalizing the book and we published that book about The Genius of the Poor about I guess eighteen months ago something like that and then I’ve also set up a social enterprise since then called MAD travel or make a difference travel which is really all about, I didn’t want people to only read about this really exciting move in the change of the Philippines, I want them to come and experience it for themselves, so come to the Philippines and you know of course, visit the beaches, have a good time but why not make it a really meaningful trip and visit the communities of Gawad Kalinga, and I know you visited a couple of those communities right?
Derek: Yeah, incredible communities and so, one the key anchors I suppose to your work the book and also to Gawad Kalinga is the social enterprise aspect and then it is the enchanted farm, which is one of the, I suppose the crown in the Gawad Kalinga project to show the social enterprise.
Tom: It symbolizes the next stage of GK or Gawad Kalinga, the (that) first stage was all about kind of a charity phase, transforming communities and turning slums into these colorful villages with values and little landscape gardens and whatnot but the enchanted farm is really looking at where do we go next from here, so it’s not enough to just out of charity to build someone’s homes of course that means a lot
Derek: and so what is the essence of social enterprise and how does it apply, how do you feel that it can be best applied, I suppose with MAD travel, you’re a travel fan but now people can engage to make a difference and also for people to help themselves make a difference and so.
Tom: In terms of my understanding of social enterprise, at its very heart, business is about money and of course you need to be profitable and the danger of that of course is if you are too focused only on the profit then there can be a lot of social environmental consequences of that. At the opposite end of the spectrum you have charity which is all about giving stuff away, giving your money away, that’s not really sustainable either because sooner or later if all you do is giving away money, you’re going to run out of money or you are going to find it difficult to raise money in the future, so social enterprise is finding that medium somewhere in the middle saying that, we are gonna be, we are going to create, it’s a business model, which makes enough money to grow and it continues to grow but the question is what do you do with that social, what do you do with your profit, do you keep it all for yourself or do you reinvest that profit in the people around you. So that’s what we are trying to do for MAD travel. The idea being it must be a viable business model in itself so we believe that travelers now a days are more and more interested in not just seeing country from a very sort of superficial perspective but actually going off the beat and track and we believe the experiences that we can create in these communities are of real interest to tourists. So it is a business, there has to be fundamentally, it has to be (sort of) viable from a business perspective but then through working with the communities we can provide them with training we can develop infrastructures which they need in those communities and of course there’s the financial benefit because if we are bringing tourist from just being in the hotels to actually visiting communities, eating in communities, even doing home stay experiences or learning, let’s say taking a cooking class in the community, then these are all opportunity for the community to earn money and it’s an opportunity for us to create jobs.
Derek: What are some of the, because to me the Philippines is, to the size of it, it’s a little bit off everyone’s radar, everyone knows about Thailand, everyone knows about Vietnam but no one really talks about Philippines, with your clients, they come to the Philippines, what are some of the surprises, some of the findings, that they find from their experiences on your tour.
Tom: On our tours, I mean, everywhere you go they’re probably gonna find something different as you say, it is quite a diverse place the Philippines with seven thousand one hundred and seven islands. In terms of the experiences with us I guess there is the cultural things so they’re not aware of if they should take their shoes off before entering a house, but then again a Filipino will still say don’t worry about it, come in, come in anyway but deep down you kind of know we have to tell our guests you really should take them off, you should be respectful because that’s what Filipinos will expect of each other, so we should offer the same, those are other things that our guests will be surprised by, probably the fact that a conversation goes would go longer than a couple of minutes before someone will ask you if you’re married, and if you’re not married they will ask you why you’re not married and then knowing you’re neither married nor in a relationship, they will then try to set you up with someone like whoever it be,
Derek: very accommodating?
Tom, very, very accommodating, there is also some kind of very personal questions, that our guests might be asked which couldn’t be considered politically correct back home, but it’s all a part of the fun and most people end up loving the Filipinos.
Derek: Good, and then, so where are you now, so you’re building MAD, you’ve got your book, (I think) you did a book tour recently, what is your (sort of) extended mission?
Tom: Ok, so in terms of the book it is being translated into Japanese, this year.
Derek: Wow, why Japanese?
Tom: I don’t know, someone decided that they wanted it in Japanese and so we are working with a university press in Japan and that will be coming out later this year, so that’s quite cool.
Derek: What about Korean?
Tom: No Korean takers yet, so if anyone is listening, so yea that’s from the book’s perspective. MAD travel is keeping me really really busy, probably too busy actually but it’s a good sign I think that we are getting quite a lot of interest from you know partner travel agency, even a lot of corporations now are coming to the enchanted farm to learn about this different approach to business and inspiring their teams through the values that are taught through Gawad Kalinga and how these values can really inspire their teams to become more thoughtful, more innovative employees so we worked with a lot of corporations and that is also keeping us quite busy because they are bringing groups to the farm, on a very regular basis so that’s cool and then travelling, I’m gonna be back in Europe later this year, be in Australia and I will be in Japan as well, you know really building more partnerships with like-minded people and like-minded organizations that would like to help us to really promote the Philippines as a destination for social tourism
Derek: Fantastic, Thank you Tom, thanks for your time.
Tom: Thanks a lot.
Derek: Ok I hope you enjoyed that chat with Tom, we were in a bar, I am coming clean on that one so I apologize for any background noise, I apologize for the telephone going off but I think there is good learnings there, if you want to know any more about Tom Graham, if you want to get in touch with him, go to our show notes that is at outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode9.