Part I – ‘Black swan’ Philippines: From disaster relief to clean technology advocacy and commercialization

In Fall 2009, a series of seven super typhoons and tropical storms struck the Philippines between August and October–a 3-month period that reshaped the trajectory of my life and career. Fall 2009 is my ‘black swan’ event, to borrow a term from Nassim Taleb. This post is part of a series in which I will bring order to my journey since 2009, from anti-poverty crusader to running a CleanTech incubator for the grass-roots. The resulting series will show how I sought meaning from the chaos.

It Began with Chaos

That those seven extreme weather events wreaked havoc in three Northern Provinces where I have relatives was news too heavy to bear; yet, I could not help but be drawn to and consumed by the news. I binged on cable news, Youtube videos, and online news that brought coverage.

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The impact on me was part shock, part paralysis; I also remember feeling a deep sense of empathy, nationalism, and love for a community that raised me from birth but had to leave as a young boy. And there was also anger and drive. That my people were dying first, in high numbers, and frequently was deeply maddening; it left a living mark on my soul that prodded me to reinvent my work and, in the process, my self.

I was in professional limbo for many years immediately after Fall 2009, having lost faith in social work as a helping profession capable of responding to climate change. I was full of questions.

What is the point in human service delivery if the field were impotent in addressing the macro-level root causes of extreme weather events?

What is the point in a profession that helps others “feel good” and “cope adaptively” after the fact, while at once mute and irrelevant in decarbonization?

What is social work good for if it cannot proactively protect those who are imperiled? If it is technically ill-suited and technologically unprepared as a solution-maker in the Information Age?

As a social worker, what am I good for if I’m impotent in dealing with the social welfare issues tied to the climate crisis?

It took several years to heal and regain my center, reclaim the sure-footedness I lost. I forced my self to extract fulfillment from the work I was doing, but as I contrived the meaning-making, I just felt further out of love with social work. I wanted a major change. I wanted to transition to a field more consequential.

Now, even as I still find myself reinventing the work with others, I am buoyed by the prospect of solid, muscular hope. I am building my tribe through CYPHER. And for the first time in a long time, our invented work can be magnified, made as sharp as a spearhead, with AASWSW GC8: Harnessing technology for social good.



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