Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
According to a report by the International Organization on Migration (IOM), over 10 million Filipinos – more than 10% of the Philippine population – live and work abroad. Close to half of these migrants are temporary contract workers. 80% of OFWs are working in the service and production industry, mainly as domestic workers, laborers, seafarers and factory workers although there is an increasing number of OFWs in the field of Nursing.
A general trend among OFWs is the mismatch between occupation and education levels. It is common for OFWs to have completed at least a high school level education, with many even having college degrees. However, majority are compelled to take less skilled occupations abroad due to the lack of economic opportunities in the Philippines. Despite higher income levels, studies have shown that OFWs struggle to build longer-term financial stability and break free from the cycle of poverty and migration.
More than 23% of Filipino households receive remittances from OFW family members. However, most of these amounts go towards supporting the family’s daily consumption and basic needs, with the family members having built a dependency on the OFW as the main breadwinner for the home. Although most OFWs are on contracts of two years or less, the tendency to renew their contracts and find other ways to extend their stay abroad is high.
Aside from the difficult working conditions, OFWs also experience emotional and psychological stress. Many express feelings of isolation and helplessness as they face difficulties in adjusting to the language and culture of their host countries. Extended periods away from home place a strain on personal relationships and family dynamics – a particularly stressful element for Filipinos who highly value close family ties. In many countries, there is also a social divide between OFWs who work in the service and labor industries and their fellow Filipinos who are professionals, managers, and expats in the host countries.
A number of initiatives led by Philippine government agencies and civil society groups aim to address the problems that OFWs face. These commonly take the form of one-off financial literacy seminars, entrepreneurial or technical skills training, personal counseling sessions, or workshops on migrants’ rights. There is also the establishment of general OFW “help desks” or legal services for those in crisis. These initiatives are generally positioned as assistance programs or services that are offered to OFWs by other organizations. The challenge is that OFWs have very limited resources and time off from work to attend these activities. It becomes difficult to sustain the impact of these programs and help the OFWs translate the classroom or workshop-based learning into action and personal transformation.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In many countries around the world, Filipinos compose some of the largest migrant worker communities. More often than not, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are employed as low-skilled labor despite having relatively high levels of education. Financial challenges in the Philippines force these workers to spend many years separated from their families. These personal and economic challenges lead to low self-esteem and the disempowerment of OFWs. They are unable to recognize the significant contributions they are making, not only to their families, but to the Philippine economy and society as well.
The Philippine embassy and citizen organizations abroad usually offer financial literacy classes or personal counseling to assist OFWs. These efforts have had mixed results. Tina Liamzon realized that the key to long-term impact was to be able to transform the mindset of OFWs from one of self-pity and low self-esteem to that of being proactive citizens. She and her husband, and their colleagues in the LSE Migration and Development Consortium, enable them to become part of a larger movement and vision for driving change in their own lives and in their community. The Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) Program combines financial literacy training, personal counseling, leadership skills and social entrepreneurship classes to achieve a more holistic transformation of OFWs. The migrant workers enrolled in the program learn to address their personal and financial challenges with entrepreneurial creativity rather than become passive recipients of assistance and services.
Perhaps the most crucial lesson for empowerment comes in the manner in which the LSE programs are designed and conducted. Over six months, the migrant workers help coordinate the classes themselves and arrange for continuous mentorship and support for alumni. During the sessions, the migrants explore how they can address social problems in both their host country and the Philippines with many students choosing to continue their initiatives after graduating from the program. Completely volunteer-run, the LSE program merges the resources of the Filipino diaspora, academic institutions and the local Philippine embassy or consulate and overseas labor offices.
The sense of ownership and empowerment of the students has led to a very active alumni community. Since 2008, the LSE Program has been active in 5 Italian cities (Rome, Naples, Milan, Florence, and Turin) and has expanded to Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris, Brussels, The Hague and Macau. Over 750 migrants have graduated from the program worldwide. The alumni have also encouraged their own families in the Philippines to participate in a parallel local program. The first LSE Programs within the Philippines, called FLSE, have been organized in Manila, Davao, Iloilo, and Cagayan de Oro City.