It’s Happening

It’s been months (yes literally!) since I wrote about the process of building Habi. I’ve been trying to be religious in documenting my thoughts and interactions in this initiative, but actual work does get in the way. Since my last posting, I have:

  1. Returned to the Philippines. It feels great to be back. There are only so much things I can do for Habi while still in NY, so getting my butt back here is actually the main reason why Habi has progressed really quickly. Since arriving, I’ve only been to the beach once. Weekends, weekdays, they don’t exist—they’re all just days now. Haha.
  2. Networked with, had coffee/lunch with, picked some brains of, exchanged emails with, and learned from a lot of individuals and organizations who are working in the same space. It’s exciting to meet all these change makers and creatives who are doing amazing work in technology, non-profits, entrepreneurship, research, art, performance, community building, design, and most especially education. I am thrilled to connect with them, and to open areas for collaboration with Habi. Hopefully we can mobilize this wonderful community and just get to know more people, maybe create a venue (digital/physical) to exchange ideas and explore opportunities to work together.
  3. Organized 8 workshops in 6 schools/organizations. They are our first partner institutions, the ones who are open to new ideas and who trusted Habi’s vision and passion. I talked to them with just a curriculum framework and ideas, and I’m so grateful that they enthusiastically agreed to work with us to improve our approach to school innovation. Thanks to Raya School, Museo Pambata, St. Edward Integrated School, Krus na Ligas High School, Pasong Tamo Elementary School, and Philippine Science High School. They gave us awesome feedback on our material, so we’ve been iterating on the workshop (from the format, time, space, worksheets, approach, ice breakers, games, size, etc) since day 1.
  4. Translated and adapted design thinking for local audiences. Doing away with jargon, changing the methods to seem more approachable, trying different activities that are more culturally appropriate, and most importantly creating Filipino versions of the text. With the insights of the co-facilitators who have diverse backgrounds (theater, consumer research, science teaching, policy, community development) we are constantly improving our work, reflecting immediately on feedback and incorporating them for the next workshops. Using human-centered design to design a workshop on human-centered design.

I’m currently writing the case studies for all 6 schools so we can put it in the website already. Meanwhile, visit our new Facebook page to see immediate updates and photos from our workshops.


Behind the Name

Probably one of the most trivial and difficult challenges in forming a new organization is naming it. It’s a simple detail that has a profound effect on the direction, mission, and brand. I spent a good two weeks brainstorming and consulting my friends, tossing ideas and asking for feedback, before ending up with what it is now: Habi Education Lab.

I wanted a name that is local and expresses the grassroots spirit of the organisation, while still emphasizing the experimental and project-based work that we do. Education Lab or Design Lab as suffixes satisfied the latter requirement, thus the hunt for a unique Filipino name that gets across the personality and spirit of the organisation. Here was my list of the name ideas that I scrapped:

  • Iño – A wordplay between inyo (yours) and inno (innovation), while incorporating the distinguishable Spanish/Filipino letter ñ for an added local flavor. I liked this a lot, especially because it was simple and smart, but I feared that it sounded too colonial and elitist.
  • Sibol (growth/germination) – This was another name that resonated well with one of the main principles of the project: that learning and experimentation requires a growth mindset, a sense of optimism that motivates you to improve and find new solutions. Unfortunately, sibol was heavily used by a lot of schools and organizations already, which might be a source of confusion in the long run.
  • Kapwa (other/fellow) – Usually used to refer to someone you associate with, it’s a great name to draw attention to empathy as a key mindset successful designers need. That ability to understand their needs and motivations in order to design solutions that would address them.
  • Tanglaw (torch) – As the main symbol for education, this seemed like an obvious name for an education-based non profit. But the name did feel a bit too righteous, that there’s only one way, one correct solution.

And the winner, Habi, is Filipino for the act of weaving. I loved how the name wasn’t a literal symbol for education or design or innovation, but was a beautiful metaphor for how the organisation works. To habi is to weave indigenous fabrics, which are famous for the intricate patterns and sturdy craftsmanship. It’s a cultural icon among various indigenous groups, showcasing the diversity of each geographic region. The designs are also intentional, the complex patterns have meanings and symbols embedded in them. And the act itself is difficult, interweaving different colors of string to build a beautiful piece of cloth. Those resonate well with the lab’s projects, that ideas should be locally relevant, intentionally designed, and synergistic in nature. Thus, Habi Education Lab is born.



Because I can’t really get started until I get back to the Philippines, I am spending the rest of my time here in New York building networks. I wasn’t really good with networking; I feel very nervous talking about myself, moreso doing awkward small talk about the weather or the food, but somehow I’ve assimilated the American way of socializing with new people—shaking hands, and saying a short elevator pitch on what I’m all about. I’ve had good practice in graduate school, and also during my short stint as a Meetup whore (lol).

What I’ve learned is that networking has gotten easier once I’ve identified my main purpose of participating in it. Right now, forming partnerships and connections is my key priority. I’m looking for people who have same interests and passions who can hopefully become soundboards for my ideas, critics that can be a source of valuable feedback, mentors and advisors, and hopefully partners and co-founders. Using this as a lens to look at networking, I’ve strategized all my communications towards achieving this general goal.

I started by developing a concise way of telling my story: what the non-profit is all about, and why I’m doing it. Asking a few close friends to read it, it took a few days of editing before coming up with the current version. It had to be really straightforward, but still flexible enough to change it a bit (add or remove a few details perhaps) depending on the use (a face to face script is different from a Facebook post).

Afterwards, I created a master list of contacts using a spreadsheet from Google Drive. For each person, I listed their affiliation, contact details, a history of our communication, notes on what I’ve learned from talking to them, and most importantly, my next steps on following up for them—do I need to send them a one-pager, do I have to meet them in a few weeks? I found it really helpful to document my networking process this way, making sure to  deadlines and follow through with developing meaningful connections with people.

This systematic way of managing contacts allowed me to reach out to as many people as I can, without worrying about the difficulty of keeping track. I scoured my personal friends and colleagues  who might be interested in the project. I also went on a research frenzy online, stalking people and groups whose work aligned with my vision for the organization. Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter were very helpful. I also joined a couple of specialized Facebook groups and posted a brief pitch to attract the interest of people who might be great resources and allies.

I think doing all of these online helped my confidence—there’s less fear from being rejected or ignored in an email, and communicating asynchronously allows me more time to think about my responses. However, you lose sense of the personal nuances, the jokes and humor, the rapport, that you tend to gauge when meeting new people. I was lucky to have some people agree to doing video and voice calls—which helped tremendously—since conversations were more fluid and the exchange of information was quicker.

This experience has been a great learning experience on improving my communication style in digitally-mediated conversations, most of which with people I’ve never met in person before. It’s a different skill, involving different social norms.

Taking the Plunge

So I quit my job.

Originally, I left because I had plans of moving cross-country to sunny California and stay a few more years here in the United States. I was actively searching for positions that would sponsor working visas to international students. But after a few days of continuously pimping my LinkedIn profile, re-writing case studies in my portfolio page, and spending hours customising cover letters for jobs, I got tired of it. I realised that most of the things that I was writing was b.s.—“I would love to be a part of your organisation’s pursuit for creating great products” or “I believe in your mission to bring great thoughtful design in new technologies”—so like any other privileged millenial, I pondered on what I wanted to do. No, I did not go on a backpacking trip to an exotic place, nor did I buy a new MacBook to inspire me to create beautiful new things.

I spent the next few days reading: news, websites, blogs, journals, books. Interestingly I found my answer in a final paper I wrote in grad school, a brave and idealistic 2000-word essay titled Schools should teach kids how to fail. In that paper, I argued for the inclusion of design and project-based learning in school curriculum, less subject-matter concentration and more diversity in content and perspectives, and most importantly a spirit of embracing failure and learning from mistakes to develop grit and adaptability. “Pretty cool, how come I didn’t develop this concept further?” I thought. And that’s when it came, this idea for a non-profit that would be guided by the same principles I’ve studied and worked on during graduate school. It was clear to me that I already maximized my stay here in the US—grad school, new connections, professional experience—so I decided to finally come home and start an organisation of my own. The excitement fuelled me to work non-stop. Writing ideas down, watching videos, reading research articles, stalking people online, writing emails, scheduling calls, searching for events. I was obsessed.

Right now, while the project is still nameless, I believe it has a lot of potential. In a nutshell, it’s a non-profit organization that aims to bring the power of creativity and innovation to schools through design thinking workshops and mentorship. The long-term vision is to disrupt the top-down way of making educational policies by creating a channel for the people in the ground—students and teachers—to ideate and test new concepts that could potentially improve schools and learning. I’ll be writing updates and the different steps I’m taking to take this non-profit to fruition, the questions I’m asking, and most importantly the failures that I’m ready to face and learn from. Here’s me taking the plunge.