No Place in the World like Manila

By Marvin David De Leon De Santos, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

The Pearl of the Orient. This was the name bestowed upon the city of Manila, Philippines, due to prosperity that it evoked in the mid-1900’s. While it has endured some difficult times, it has been slowly earning back the moniker that was bestowed upon it. It has become a land full of growth, opportunities and development, while maintaining the roots of its Filipino heritage. This made it the perfect place for us, the students in the SMU-X Overseas course, Corporate Culture and Values, to immerse ourselves in one of Singapore’s Southeast Asia neighbours and fully understand what it means to be truly Filipino, in the land they call their home.


ROOT-ed in Relationships


Manila airport

Upon Landing in Manila


Imagine landing in what was, for most of the students, a foreign land only to be greeted by the hustling and bustling of buses and jeepneys, accompanied by the smoke belched from their exhausts, as well as the busyness caused by the country’s National Elections, at that time. Yet, despite the chaotic image I have portrayed upon you, we were constantly welcomed by the biggest and warmest smiles from some of the kindest people one can ever meet, embodying the spirit of “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.


De La Salle University

A Tour of De La Salle University by their student ambassador


Living right beside the campus of our partner university, De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila, it was just right that we familiarised ourselves with the area and the people. Lucky for us, the students from DLSU were more than up to the task. While walking under the heat of the sun and going up and down the different buildings of the school, we were able to interact with them and get to know them better—their stories, experiences, and what life in Manila was like for those who stayed there. From icebreakers to conversations, we experienced the warmth of Filipino hospitality.

Of course, it was two-way traffic (an apt metaphor given the heavy traffic in Manila) with us, SMU students, sharing about our uniquely Singaporean traits and qualities, such as the practice of chope-ing seats, and managing the cultural diversity present in the country. This exchange enabled us to better contextualise each other’s experiences and deepen the relationships we had just formed.


GROW-ing Together

With the seeds planted and roots established, we hopped onto our chartered bus and began our company visits to further grow our understanding of Filipino culture and corporate practices, over the course of the next three days.


awad Kalinga Enchanted Farm

A Tour of Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan


Plush toy making at Touring the hands-on making of plush toys at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm

Touring the hands-on making of plush toys at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm


After a nearly three-hour journey up north, our first stop was Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. This was where we learnt about how Gawad Kalinga seeks to help solve poverty through its entrepreneurial initiatives, and providing families below the poverty line a community to grow and foster in. Through cheese-making and plush toy-creating classes, we were able to witness first-hand the different businesses that have sprouted from this.

Furthermore, from experiencing and tasting their local products to walking through the community village, we were able to assimilate ourselves in what life was for the locals there. Through the sharing sessions from some project managers of Gawad Kalinga, we were better able to consolidate all that we’ve seen and understand the volunteer and community spirit that fuels its success.


Jerome Avondo, Founder of Silicon Verified

Jerome Avondo, Founder of Silicon Verified, Giving a Presentation About the Company


Next stop was a trip down south to meet and learn from Jerome Avando, the founder of Silicon Verified (SilVer)—the second of our three partner companies. He emphasised the importance of not only making the company prosper, but how he and the management team can aid in the development and growth of their employees. From the pizza and exotic coffee they provided to the openness and approachability that he exuded when we would ask him questions about life or the company, it was apparent that he practises what he preached. He explained how a highly familial approach is used in SilVer where relationships are at the forefront of success, and where the individual is as important as the collective.


It’s Showtime, Manila

On the set of the noontime show, It’s Showtime, right before it aired live


The curtain call of our company visits was to the heart of the Philippines’ show business at the headquarters of ABS-CBN, the largest Media & Entertainment company in the country. Through an in-depth discussion with the head of HR and the Global team, we were able to understand how the company tailors its offerings and content to not only satisfy Filipinos all over the world, but also foster lasting relationships with them, by being available at multiple touchpoints. Through its volunteer initiatives and fan-engagement events, the importance of having a relationship beyond that of company­–consumer was apparent. We experienced this first-hand when we were given a tour of the company’s facilities and show sets where we saw hundreds of jubilated live audience members eagerly awaiting to take part in the afternoon show delights. With these, ABS-CBN is able to embody Filipino hospitality and make everyone always feel at home.


The FRUITS of our Labour

The following days were gruelling ones spent working on our projects. After which, we headed back to where our trip began, in DLSU, for our project sponsors’ presentations. Using everything we’ve learnt about Filipino culture and the companies’ insights, we provided recommendations to the representatives of each company on how they can improve from a global millennial’s perspective. While it’s safe to say that the project sponsors were more than pleased with our presentations, I’d say that what we’ve gained throughout this trip was beyond that of their approval or a passing grade.


Group picture with the students of DLSU

Group picture with the students of DLSU


I firmly believe I’m speaking for all the students on this trip, when I say that it’s the relationships we’ve formed and nurtured throughout these 10 days that we’ll remember the most. From all the laughter and joy to the long hours spent on working on the projects, it was the time we spent with our new friends, both from SMU and DLSU, that has made this trip special. It is what’s made this journey to a foreign land valuable and memorable. It is what’s enabled us to firmly say that, in fact, there is no place in the world like Manila.