Ashoka, together with Globe Telecom, recently recognized social innovator and chief executive officer and founder of BagoSphere, Zhihan Lee, as an Ashoka Fellow. With this recognition, Lee will receive further support to provide high quality digital and soft skills training to rural and out-of-school youth through his work in BagoSphere.
In 2017, Globe engaged Ashoka as the implementing partner for the Globe Future Makers: a nationwide social innovation program for initiatives that are using technology to help solve social problems. The program was patterned after the social innovation program of the Singtel group of companies within the Asia Pacific region. Launched in 2016 in Singapore and Australia, the program seeks to recognize the most innovative technology-enabled solutions focused on solving social issues in Singapore, Australia, and the Philippines.
To further enrich the social innovation ecosystem in the Philippines, another aspect of the Globe Future Makers initiative was to support the election of a tech-focused social innovator into the Ashoka Fellowship. Through Ashoka’s lifetime Fellowship, Zhihan gains increased global visibility, a 3-year needs-based personal stipend, and lifelong personal and professional support through a global network and programs tailored to his needs as a social innovator.
Lee’s BagoSphere was founded with the idea of working directly with employers to develop programs and training that equip rural and out-of-school youth with the necessary professional skills needed by companies. Lee knew that higher education was a prerequisite to becoming a skilled and successful individual. However, he also knew that not everyone could afford it, especially in a country like the Philippines where 70 percent of high school graduates are unable to pursue higher education, while 40 percent of those who manage to go to college eventually drop out.
Through BagoSphere, the students who graduate are placed with partner-employers while providing dedicated support in continuing to explore other job and career opportunities. Even if the youth were not able to gain access to higher education, they can still acquire high-demand positions in emerging industries such as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies with the promise of a better future for themselves and their families. Through its “last-mile education” model, BagoSphere also established partnerships with microfinance organizations for a “study now, pay later” financing option for poor but deserving and talented students.
“By enabling support for Lee and BagoSphere together with Ashoka, we know that he can reach out to more out-of-school youth in the country and spread his philosophy of ‘transformative higher education.’ With this, we also hope that he can spark a social innovation revolution not just in the Philippines but also throughout Southeast Asia, where access to higher education is still inaccessible for many. We hope he can inspire others as well in making social innovation a byword in this era of globalization,” said Yoly Crisanto, Globe Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications.
At present, Bagosphere has 1,054 graduates with an 85 percent employment rate since 2013, while job placement is currently pegged at 95 percent. BagoSphere’s firm focus on transparent impact indicators helps to track their graduation performance, a key indicator that is often missing in higher education.
“Youth unemployment is deeply exacerbated by the acceleration of change happening in the workplace. We are grateful to work with Globe and Ashoka to tackle this global problem and bring a successful model to many other cities in the Philippines and South-East Asia,” said Lee.
Pioneering the field of social entrepreneurship in the 1980s, Ashoka is the largest professional network of social innovators in the world. With over 3,500 Ashoka Fellows from 93 countries, Ashoka helps accelerate social change through its global community of changemakers from across causes, disciplines sectors, and borders.
To be inducted as a fellow, Ashoka gauges nominees through the global selection process involving extensive research; series of interviews; local and international evaluations; and advice from key experts in related fields. This way Ashoka is able to assess whether a candidate’s proposed idea has potential for systemic change. The selection process also considers projected rate of success by taking a closer look at the social innovators themselves. Candidates must be highly adaptive, resourceful, practical, and ethical for their proposed social innovations to work.