(Originally published in Inquirer Blogs)
It was an ordinary Thursday night, and yet Warehouse 135, the hip warehouse-turned-club on Yakal Street in Makati, was filled to capacity. Only it wasn’t filled with clubgoers and party scenesters—it was filled with young professionals, creative minds, thinkers, and dreamers who all dared to ask a question that would set the tone for the entire evening’s talks: Why not?
The WhyNot? Forum, according to founders Mark Ruiz and Bam Aquino, is a “smorgasbord of great, brave ideas—an open-source innovation soup that will hopefully inspire other Filipinos all over to connect adjunct thoughts, take impactful action, and weave together new breakthrough ideas.” Inspired by the TEDTalks of the United States (www.ted.com), it is based on the simple idea of gathering some of the best minds in the country to share their respective ideas for 15 minutes each. By asking The Question and challenging outmoded assumptions, it is hoped that WhyNot? Forum will spark a thought revolution that will encourage people to “think new thoughts, share big dreams, do brave things.”
Seven Great Minds, One Big Question
The first WhyNot? Forum, held on September 27, gathered a group of leaders, achievers, doers, and dreamers from diverse fields. There was Dondi Gomez, the “Marketing Maverick,” who is the youngest-ever Managing Director of Unilever Philippines at age 35; Gang Badoy, the irrepressible and bubbly lady behind RockEd Philippines, tagged the “Alternative Educator”; Professor Jay Bernardo of the Asian Institute of Management, the “Rainmaker” and “Entrepreneurship Guru” who owns the distinction of being the first-ever Filipino to have been named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) by the Junior Chamber International; “Technologist” Dr. Greg Tangonan, who teaches Innovation and Technology at the Ateneo de Manila University and has garnered 49 patents and numerous awards for his inventive work; Brian Tenorio, the creative genius behind the designer shoe label Tenorio Manila; Quark Henares, the “Filmmaker-on-the-Edge” who directed his first feature film at age 21; and Fr. Ted Gonzales, SJ of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM), labeled the “Dreamer Priest.”
Even the creative forces running the event are achievers themselves: Ruiz and Aquino are part of the visionary group behind Hapinoy, an aggregated value network built around sari-sari stores, microfinancing institutions, and key partners in industry and civil society; event documenter Ditsi Carolino is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker ( Minsan Lang Sila Bata, Bunso, Riles); and guest performer Radioactivesago Project is a groundbreaking musical act that fuses jazz, funk, and spoken-word poetry in discussing a variety of social issues. Supporting the project from behind the scenes are industry giant Smart Communications, Web and multimedia company Softrigger Interactive, and Young Public Servants (YPS), a group of young, dynamic individuals focused on promoting “Good Governance and Democratic Citizenship among the youth.”
In opening the forum, Ruiz asked the audience, “What does the world think of when they think of the Philippines? … Maybe the WhyNot? Forum can be our megaphone to the rest of the world [to showcase the ingenuity and the innovative spirit driving us Filipinos]… Why not?”
Of challenges, opportunities, irritants, rock, beauty, passion, and baboy
Gomez, in defining “maverick marketing” in the experience of Unilever Philippines’ groundbreaking campaigns for Rexona, challenged the audience to adopt a non-conformist stance when it came to developing and presenting their ideas. “Great marketing gives people a taste of what could be… It provides imagination and courage to hope and to dream.” He cites the worldwide success of the out-of-the-box campaigns First Day Funk and its follow-up, First Day High, which set record sales figures, won for Unilever Philippines numerous global awards, and established Rexona as the market leader in deodorants.
Dr. Greg Tangonan, for his part, discussed the worldwide movement marking the early 2000s the “Decade of the Mind Initiative.” He shared experiments in mind control, mind mapping, “out of body experiences” in the virtual world, and other brain experiments. He ultimately asked: “[If brain activity could be measured,] could the Filipino concepts of hiya (shame) or pakikiramay (empathy) also be measured? Can this be our contribution to the ‘Decade of the Mind Initiative?’ Why not?”
When it was Gang Badoy’s turn to speak, a technical glitch disabled her from using her Powerpoint presentation, but she masterfully held her own and gave the crowd an entertaining and engaging talk about the experiences that led her to found, and therefore commit herself to, RockEd, an alternative education movement that seeks to get young people involved in social issues through music. “We don’t have to unite to progress,” she challenges. “Even if we don’t get along, as long as we get the job done, it’s okay.”
True to her signature style, Badoy brought along a group of musicians to drive home her point and entertain her audience. Radioactivesago Project rendered the thought-provoking intermission number, singing their hit songs “Gin Pomelo” and “Gusto Ko ng Baboy (I Like Pig),” among others.
The next speaker, Fr. Ted Gonzales of CEFAM, seemed to have been struck by Sago’s quirky lyrics, often quoting them in his talk about integrity, passion, and “[embracing] the inner movements of your heart.”
“Hindi tayo mga baboy (We are not pigs),” he asserted. Fr. Gonzales was the obvious crowd-drawer in the room, as many of the audience members were “graduates” of his hit retreats Life Directions, Agimat, and On Fire.
During designer Brian Tenorio’s 15 minutes, the audience was transformed into an intimate group that listened closely to his ideas on love, luxe, lust, and beauty. Ironically, this shoe meister, who has gained fame for his beautiful and bewitching creations, maintained that it’s not what you wear or the details that you place on yourself that matter as much as what’s going on around you. “Beauty is not oppressive,” he states. “Beauty unifies… It should allow growth. Beauty should allow love.”
Unfortunately, the natural beauty around us is constantly being threatened by natural and man-made disasters. Mr. Ramon Isberto, Head of Public Affairs at Smart Communications, disclosed a groundbreaking project meant to help local communities around the country prepare for storms. “The Philippines has the highest number of Category 5 typhoons in the world,” he reveals. “Why not be prepared for it?”
Likewise, entrepreneurship guru and AIM professor Jay Bernardo encouraged budding entrepreneurs to develop business ideas by seeking solutions to “irritants” around them. Citing the Chinese word and symbols for the word “crisis,” he urged his listeners to “look at the opportunity before looking at the dangers… because once you see the opportunities, you will no longer see the dangers.”
Quark Henares might not have been a student of Prof. Bernardo, but he exemplified the attitude of risk-taking in his talk about the experiences that brought him to the forefront of the filmmaking world. From the psychologically disturbing movie that he saw at age 11 (David Lynch’s Eraserhead), to his “Eureka moment” after watching the cult classic Pulp Fiction, to making the movie that bombed at the box office but was praised by his idol, Quentin Tarantino ( Keka), Henares’ candid insights proved to the audience that some rewards can simply never be equated to fame or fortune.
Why not more?
Although this event is only the first of what promises to be a long-running series of thought-provoking discussions, it seems to be coming in at the right time. Regardless of their inclinations, educational backgrounds, or lifestyles, Filipinos simply have become tired of turning to the government (or to the streets) for answers to society’s nagging questions; they are now looking to themselves to develop long-term solutions to problems that have unfolded over several generations.
Indeed, the world is teeming with opportunities. Prof. Bernardo cites the “kanto boys” whom people look down upon during ordinary days, but who become reliable comrades and trusted allies in times of calamity, pushing cars and shuttling pedestrians over flooded waters for a small fee that anyone would be willing to pay. Anyone can achieve great things; anyone can make a difference. It only takes one simple question, and the guts to embrace the answers.
The next WhyNot? Forum will be held in November 2007. For more details, email[email protected], call (0928) 5055713, or SMS ‘whynot’ to 2948. All videos from the WhyNot? Forum will be posted on www.whynotforum.com and may be viewed free of charge.