PTIC-SF Team with Thomas Graham during his book signing,
“The Genius of the Poor”

We have been fortunate to host, together with the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco and Department of Tourism, Mr. Thomas “Tom” Graham, Founder of MAD Travel, author of the book “The Genius of the Poor An Englishman’s Life Changing Journey in the Philippines,” and an advocate for social tourism.

I first bumped into Tom during my business development trip to Los Angeles as I am finishing up my meeting with DOT Los Angeles for alignment and collaboration that focuses on tourism and trade. As brief as the introduction was, one would already see the passion and affiliation of Tom for Filipinos. He shared with me his book, “Genius of the Poor”, with a personal note “Time for adventures that matter in the Philippines. Walang Iwanan.

Where did such love for the Philippines come from, more so from an Englishman? Curious, I took on his challenge and started by reading his stories of the Filipino communities that changed his outlook in life and even did a 360-degree turn on his career.

As British journalist, Tom visited the Philippines in 2012. He was assigned to explore and produce business reports on one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. Tom’s impression of the Philippines has been a view from the top, and the scenes before him seem to say it all – a booming metropolis, with impressive new towers. But his eyes also captured the “growing pains” of a developing country, and he delved deeper in search of the “missing middle”. His search led him to Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga, who brought him to an incredible journey through the eyes of the Gawad Kalinga communities who forged forward in making better lives for themselves in partnership with the Gawad Kalinga volunteers.

I emphasize partnerships. Partnerships lead to the discovery of Filipino’s capacity for fun, resilience in adversity, strong sense of family, the gift of hospitality, a propensity to collaborate, and resolve to overcoming the odds. These are Filipino characteristics that we, Filipinos, often take for granted. It is humbling to have this sense of pride rekindled by Tom’s stories.

Tom’s journey inspired him to establish Make a Difference (MAD) Travel, a social enterprise that creates opportunities for and with marginalized communities through sustainable social tourism. MAD Travel creates alternative travel experiences that bring together people from different walks of life, immerse them in local culture, and inspire them to make a difference.

A Trade Officer advocating for social tourism?

We have seen the potential for synergy between DOT and DTI on trade and tourism. I have met many foreign business owners in the Philippines. As tourists, they were enamored by the country’s beauty and potential, they decided to stay and set-up their businesses in the country.

There is also much alignment with advocacies on Filipino cuisine and the creative economy. However, social tourism is a collaboration we are all excited about. Social Tourism is a platform that fosters social entrepreneurship. Tom’s company, MAD Travel is a concrete example of how a social immersion inspired an individual to engage in social entrepreneurship.

I believe that social entrepreneurship is a concept better understood through the stories of those who engage in specific endeavors. Companies such as, (i) Human Nature – the Philippines’ leading brand of natural, locally-sourced and processed, healthcare products; (ii) Bayani Brew – a mainstream beverage available in groceries in the Philippines, made from partnerships with farming communities; (iii) Gourmet Keso – made from local and natural ingredients and referred by Gawad Kalinga’s French interns as the “French-approved cheese,” and (iv) Plush and Play, which offers quality stuffed toys and has become the source of income for 500 families in 2017; are among the stories of transformation through social entrepreneurship.

More and more people are beginning to see the Philippines as a viable destination to discover their purpose and passion as a social entrepreneur. Since its inception, MAD travel has arranged visits for 1,500 visitors mostly from France, UK and other Asian countries which contributed to 200-300% income increase for the eighteen (18) livelihood sources.

Through DTI’s Trabaho, Negosyo, Kabuhayan “OFI’s as Catalysts for Growth” program and the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco’s Spark Connect Empower (SCE) Movement, the 3.7 million Filipinos in the United States and FILAM organizations can all be catalysts for growth and transformation. I now echo Tom’s call to action to our TNK and SCE partners “time for adventures that matter in the Philippines.”

Trabaho, Negosyo, Kabuhayan (TNK) is a new government blueprint for decent job creation through employment and entrepreneurship. It was a joint effort of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). DTI and DOLE’s advocacy are to create 7.5 million jobs from 2016 to 2022 and support income-generating opportunities.

Spark Connect Empower or SCE is a movement intended to spark love and passion among all Filipinos (including those of Filipino lineage) – both at home and abroad–about their Filipino culture and heritage; connect them with one another; and in the process, empower them as individuals and as a community. ♦


Date of Release: 20 August 2018

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Contributed by: May Nina Celynne Layug, Trade Commissioner, Philippine Trade and Investment Center- San Francisco