‘I live by integrity, empathy, compassion and excellence’

‘I live by integrity, empathy, compassion and excellence’

A young women leader, Eleanor Rosa Pinugu from Philippines, co-founder and executive director of Mano Amiga Academy, a social enterprise focused on providing affordable high quality education to low-income communities, sustainable livelihood for disadvantaged women, and innovative education advocacy programs talks with Business Bhutan reporter Dechen Dolkar on women leadership. She is also co-founder and operating officer of She Talks Asia from 20 and a member of the Obama foundation leaders in 2019. She is the recipient of the high commendation for social entrepreneurship in 2019 at the Women of the Future Award Southeast Asia, recipient of 2017 Asia Society 21 Young leaders  and recipient for education and social entrepreneurship, 2013 in The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service. She was in Bhutan to train women journalists and others in civil service and NGO on leadership.

Q. What inspired you to open the Mano Amiga academy at the young age of 23? How did you go about achieving your dream?

My passion for education and social change began in 2003 when I received Journalism scholarship that enabled me to study for free University during her last two years of college. This came at an opportune time- just a month after my Mom lost her job. To earn my allowance, I joined the workforce at 18 and worked as a part-time Public Relations Assistant for MTV Philippines. For two years, I balanced my studies, my part-time job, as well as my internship in BusinessWorld which assigned me to help cover stories about the President as as a condition of her scholarship. After graduating, I decided to devote one year of my life as a Youth Missionary. I was assigned to a poor area in Guanajuato, Mexico where I encountered a non-profit school that provides quality education to disadvantaged children. Deeply touched by their mission and vision, I committed to put up a similar school in the Philippines.

Though I didn’t have any formal background in Education or Nonprofit, my drive to learn as well as openness to feedback enabled to me to put up Mano Amiga Philippines in 2008. I hired a team, some of which are seasoned educators, to localise low-low-cost education practices in Mano Amiga Mexico but also by other innovative low-cost educations schools in other parts of the world. The pilot school increased student-learning achievement, provided employment opportunities to the women in the community as teachers and staff, and increased health outcomes of the families

As Mano Amiga’s Executive Director, I am responsible for constantly refining  our innovative education model, and for constantly scaling up the reach of our programs. Since 2008, Mano Amiga has expanded into nationwide teacher training, regional youth summits, and digital literacy programs. We have also set up Bistro Cafe, a cafeteria and catering social enterprise that employs the parents of the Mano Amiga students and donates 100% of its profits to the Mano Amiga scholarship fund. Bistro Cafe also provides livelihood opportunities to the Mano Amiga community by training and employing Mano Amiga parents to be cooks, cafeteria managers, and maintenance staff.

Q. How do you change fixed mindset to growth mindset at an i) individual level and ii) organizational level? 

I think it starts with honesty and self-awareness. You can’t change your mindset if you cannot admit to yourself where your fixed mindset tendencies lies or if you can’t articulate what is stopping you from achieving growth mindset. Once you are able to acknowledge these factors and situations, then you can work on changing the limiting narratives in your head and to turn it into an opportunity for learning. 

For organizational transformation to happen, it requires two things: a commitment to a growth mindset culture led by the people on top, and constant training for the entire organization to understand the importance of a growth mindset and to help keep them in track. I firmly believe however that the latter is very easy to achieve if the employees see their leader as someone who’s genuinely ‘walking the talk’, and creating an environment where employees are given a safe space to learn and innovate, and not to be immediately judged/ treated in a demeaning way when they commit a mistake. It requires leaders to adopt intellectual humility- an acknowledgment that they don’t have all the solutions and they have much to learn from the members of their team; Leader who nurture curiosity, encourage people to push boundaries, and welcome feedback from the team without taking it personally.

Q. What are your values, how do they define the leader in you?

I live by integrity, empathy, compassion and excellence. Integrity guides all my decisions and gives me clarity when faced with a difficult or ambiguous situation. Empathy enables me to suspend judgment of others and to see people’s different perspectives and background as an enriching opportunity to learn. Compassion allows me to treat the people around me, as well as myself with kindness. My commitment to excellence means I do not settle for mediocre work and I am invested in the constant growth of my people. 

Q. What is your advice to future women leaders?

Many women are afraid to pursue leadership positions because of the fear that they are not good enough. Unfortunately, at an early age, women all over the world have been conditioned to think that they are a ‘weaker’ gender, and that they need to be ‘perfect’ (look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way) in order to be good enough.  

My advice to future women leaders is to choose bravery, over perfection. Know that your self-worth is not based on external validation, and that you don’t need to be perfect in order to be an amazing leader. Because nobody is. 

Instead of focusing on perfection, have courage to go after your goals, and constantly seek out learning. 

Q. What is She Talks Asia about? Why inspired you to initiate this show?

In 2017, I co-founded with four friends a women empowerment media platform called She Talks Asia, with the goal of elevating the discourse on gender-based issues, and translate the talk into concrete actions, policies, and grassroots initiatives. While WEF ranked the Philippines as one of the most gender equal societies in Asia, this drives many Filipinos into a false sense of complacency that systemic inequalities don’t exist, glossing over gender-based issues such as income wage gap, vulnerability of Filipino women and children to sexual abuse and trafficking,  and the increasing teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality rates. We put up She Talks Asia to amplify diverse voices, and more importantly, to catalyse genuine dialogue: avenues where people coming from different perspectives could engage in respectful discussions and learn from each other-making it easier for people to find common ground in order we could co-create actionable solutions in addressing gender-based discrimination & violence.