5 lessons from a social entrepreneur who went back to school

Introduction by Allister Roy S. Chua

At Roots Collective, we truly believe that partnership and collaboration are crucial to achieving our mission. All the social problems we try to face are complex, and as I often say, none of us can be arrogant in claiming that we can solve everything on our own – that ability is reserved for God and God alone. And as social enterprises have increased in number and prominence, so has the social enterprise’s intervention landscape – institutions and organizations that may not be social enterprises in the front line per se, but whose own mission, in one way or another, are focused on getting their colleagues MSMEs scaled up to achieve more impact.

One of these institutions is the Ateneo Graduate School of Business (AGSB), which in 2017 launched a social enterprise-specific track of its Masters in Entrepreneurship (ME) program, called the Masters in Entrepreneurship – Social Development Track (MESEDEV), in partnership with Bayan Academy. It is very practical, where students’ own existing social enterprises are their projects that they must improve throughout their stay at AGSB. Far from being too academic or theoretical in nature, the course makes them even more practical to make their investments work and work better at it – in this respect, the instructors are more akin to extensive consultants.

While I have not yet taken up the program (and thus got Roots Collective with me), some of the social entrepreneurs in our community have done so, and we have had a glimpse of life in MESEDEV, especially their experiences under the leadership of the late Dr. Eduardo A Morató, Jr., who was also the founder of Bayan Academy. One of them, our good friend Maan Sicam, CEO and founder of Happy helpersbecame a gold medalist in his class and was chosen to represent MESEDEV to write an exam response for their upcoming delayed exam next Sunday, October 17, 2021.

Although the top student in another program was finally chosen to give his talk on Sunday, we are pleased and honored to present the text of Mommy Maan’s speech, exclusively through this column and ABS-CBN News. We have proofread and very easily edited it to avoid redundancy, but we have otherwise preserved most of the text in the form in which she wrote it.

(Degree Answer from Marianne dC. Sicam for the Ateneo Graduate School of Business Starting Exercises, October 17, 2021)

In July 2018, I submitted my claims to the registrar’s office and paid my fees to the cashier at AGSB to complete my claims on MESEDEV. I was then a missing 40-year-old registrar-carried my 3-month-old son and dragged my second, 4-year-old son around the buildings-asked people for directions and waited for the elevator that seemed to take forever. As I walked around the buildings, I began to question my decision to sign up. I had not been to any classroom in the last 20 years; I had two middle school daughters, a child, a newborn and a start-up company struggling to make ends meet. How could I handle all of these things, plus the strain on the upcoming program?

September 2018 came and our classes finally started. I was so excited that I bought a new bag, notebook and pen. I was so excited to be a student again, learn and listen. It took me weeks – ok, months – to get used to hundreds of pages of readings and case studies. It was hard work but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was great to be surrounded by like-minded and like-minded people. Being in the same room with people, many who were significantly younger than me, who were eager to succeed in their social enterprises, gave me hope that our country has a bright future. To have amazing teachers and mentors who constantly challenged us to be more than bleeding hearts and become great leaders for our own social enterprises.

I will definitely miss the halls at Ateneo Graduate Business School. Our classrooms were on the 4th floor on the left side of the school. I thought, after 18 months of climbing the long and steep stairs, that I would be able to climb the stairs without stopping to rest. I never achieved that goal, but it will always be a dream. Being back in school brought out the spirit of cooperation and competition in all of us. For example – how to get to the copier first before the law students arrived.

And I am grateful for my trip to Ateneo and MESEDEV, for how it has shaped my leadership and for who I am today. I would like to share the lessons I will never forget from my MESEDEV life:

1. We do not know all the answers. It is a very humble experience to listen to every class discussion. It’s not just about the teacher imparting knowledge or challenging our opinions, but listening to my own classmates’ brilliant ideas. “Bakit di ko naisip yun? [Why didn’t I think of that first?]“Was my usual first reaction.

Being in class taught me to listen to others – to really, really listen and understand how an idea can be from someone else’s perspective. How can we learn to listen? Stop talking. And if you knew me personally, you would know that this was a difficult task. “Listen with the intention of understanding”, to quote the Stoic philosopher Zeno.

As leaders, we are not expected to know the solutions immediately. When we give others the chance to speak, we not only get new ideas, we also strengthen our people. This means that they are important and their voices are heard.

This is the most practical learning we can do constantly, not only in our work, but also in our lives. And yes, this is for listening to your wife, husband or partner. It can work wonders.

2. Focus on the process – the result will follow. We all signed up for our programs to learn to think, plan and work more strategically. How to lead and how to collaborate with others. To learn to create a vision and work towards that vision. To have critical thinking.

We all received tools to facilitate our work to become better leaders. We may forget every detail of these tools, but it is the discipline that is embedded in us that we should never let go. Focus on the things we can control, and that’s the process.

3.Constantly express your gratitude to the people who have taken you to where you are now. We have all made sacrifices to be able to attend our lessons. Letting go of the daily work I had and delegating it to my colleagues and staff was very difficult for a person who loves to be in control. But because of this, I had more time to learn to be a better leader, while those who remained became better at what they do as well. I’m speaking in front of you because of them.

First of all, I want to thank my mentor, our guru, the late Dr. Eduardo A. Morató, Jr., for always challenging and questioning everything I do. Find a mentor who would push you to your limits because of pure love. His dream now lives on in all of us who strive to make our social enterprises bigger and better.
Thank you to my business partner, Joanne Endaya, and all our staff, for all the support they have given me, and their constant belief in the dream and vision of our company.

To our professors, thank you for your patience and understanding. Even though we were master’s students, we were still like children, hungry for knowledge.

To my classmates who are now my lifelong friends, thank you for being my ballpark until now. I’ve learned so much from all of you. You give me the strength and hope that there are many people out there who look at the marginalized and see what can be and how we can serve them.

And of course to my loving husband and four wonderful children. Thank you for giving me space and support so that I can do better.

4.Our late guru always said, “Make yourself obsolete every day” – a lesson I first only heard two years after the first time. Making yourself obsolete every day means learning continuously, always striving to be the best version of yourself. Making you obsolete means training and empowering others so that they no longer need you.

To every presentation, to every answer to his question, he always asked back, “So what?” Constantly hearing it can be so frustrating and annoying at times. But asking “so what” forces you to think further, to go in different directions. As he had said, if “so what” is not asked, then you will always get stuck on the same level.

Which brings me to my last learning point:

5.More so. We are Athenians. We can be more and do more, to love others and to love God.

Magis is a Latin word meaning “more” or “bigger”. Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, once said that “the person who tries to follow the magic is not just a person who works harder and harder. But he is a person who is willing to serve others and accept the pain and suffering that comes with serving others. ”

In the final defense of my business plan, the first question our guru asked me was, “How committed are you to doing this?” It shook me deeply. After 18 months of struggling and hard work, he still asked me if I was engaged ?! It was only when I left the room that I realized what his question meant.

WHY? Why? Why? Why?

We all need to find our purpose, our WHY. For it is when we do our purpose well that we will find great joy. He asked me if I could see my purpose in what I was doing.

As a social entrepreneur, I constantly try to be more for others. You do not have to be a social entrepreneur to do good – we can do business and do good at the same time. “Makakabuti ba sa nakararami?” In every decision you make, in every product you launch, and in every meeting you preside over, ask yourself, “Will this benefit everyone?”

We on the MESEDEV program were notoriously called “bleeding hearts” by our late guru. He called us many names, for which he is notoriously famous, most of which will truly remove every ounce of pride from your body. We were called “bleeding hearts” because we only knew the social part of social entrepreneurship. He taught us that the company is the noun, the social is just the adjective. How can we help others when we can not make our companies survive, let alone thrive?

Four years later, I can say with certainty that I did! I could handle all these things and there was no regret. Because this is my PURPOSE. If I could do it again, I would do it. Yes, including having more children – and going through my MESEDEV program again. It not only changed the way we do our business now, but it definitely changed me as a leader, as a person, as a human being.

The pandemic we are experiencing now is just another challenge. How well we meet the challenge as leaders will be the true test. Ateneo has armed us with the right mindset, skill and heart to face everything. We are the leaders today who will shape our country’s tomorrow. Even though our life at school has ended, our work has just begun.

Thank you so much, and have a good, happy day!

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Marianne “Maan” dela Cruz-Sicam is the co-founder and CEO of Happy Helpers, a social enterprise that provides housing and commercial cleaning services to poor mothers in the cities, elevating their lives and families in the process. Also part of the Roots Collective community, their range of all-natural cleaning products (also used by their cleaners) is available at https://www.rootscollective.ph.

Warning: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect ABS-CBN Corp.

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