Michi Ferreol: Empowering Philippine Students through KadaKareer’s Journey of Guidance and Inspiration

agosto 28, 2023

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your experience.

In 2006, I received a full scholarship to attend the International School Manila (ISM), the premier international school in the Philippines. As the daughter of a typical middle-income family, this opportunity changed my life. ISM showed me the power of education as a “great equalizer”. If not for ISM, I would not have gotten accepted at Harvard for college and be able to live overseas, or access opportunities to travel, explore my interests, and meet people from all over the world. Since then, I have devoted my entire professional career to education. This journey has taken me to 3 continents across multiple education ventures, from an ed-tech company in the U.S. to a start-up university in Africa to an impact investing firm focused on social enterprises in Southeast Asia. 


The power of community and connection has been a driving force that has propelled me for my entire life. In 2016, when I was forced to restart my job search, I turned to my network of friends and colleagues to help me find my next opportunity. Without them, the process was harrowing and difficult. I didn’t know which resources were best to use, how to pitch myself correctly, and especially how to navigate the Philippine job application process. My community helped me find my way.


3 years later, I met a young college student named Bless who shared with me her struggles with job searching and career preparation – her story felt all too familiar. I realized then that millions of other students in the Philippines also lack the proper support and resources to launch their careers and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for their families.


This is why we were inspired to build KadaKareer.


After receiving a multitude of experiences and blessings in my life, my north star began to launch an education venture in the Philippines to maximize the potential of a growing population of Filipino youth. No organization has been able to accomplish this without sacrificing at least one of the three pillars of education–quality, affordability, or scalability, but I hope to keep trying with KadaKareer until we get there.


Please describe your company story. What led you to start your social business? How did you come up with the idea to start your social business? 

In July of 2019, I met a young, energetic, inspiring young woman named Bless Chavez at a faith-based conference for high schoolers in Manila. Bless is currently a third-year BS Education major at Laguna State Polytechnique, a provincial university in the Philippines, and since we met, we have been in touch – I consider her a little sister and I have tried to help her navigate her own university and career decisions. On a phone call this past summer, Bless shared with me her confusion and worries about the job search process and her lack of knowledge and understanding of the opportunities available to her. She told me: “The most stifling thing is the opinions of other people – I have lost confidence and faith in my dreams when all that I can listen to are other people telling me that what I want to do is not worth it or not a good job.”


Talking to Bless helped open my eyes to a crucial problem in Philippine education today: HEIs are ill-equipped to guide their students through the school-to-employment journey, and lower-income students especially are left without the exposure and support they need to discover what they’re good at or to pursue careers can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Exploration is not encouraged in traditional Filipino schools, leaving students in majors and jobs that do not match their skill sets or bring them fulfillment.


My path would have been similar to Bless’ experience had I not been lucky enough to receive a scholarship to attend the International School Manila for high school. The guidance counselors at that school were globally trained and well-equipped with knowledge, connections, and resources to help me navigate both my job application process and my budding career interests. Bless and many others do not have this, which is why we were inspired to start KadaKareer.


What is the main challenge you want to solve? 

Young Filipinos face immense career pressure due to the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty in the Philippines. In 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked the Philippines as 61st out of 82 countries in terms of social mobility. In fact, over half of Filipinos indicate that they are earning only the same or even less than their fathers did. Since the Philippine youth unemployment rate has hovered around 15-17% since 2005, the pressure to land a job is high. In a country where 40% of individuals live on less than 3 USD per day (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2018), this severely affects a household’s quality of life.


Sadly, this lack of social mobility disproportionately affects Filipinos in rural areas, who are 4 times more likely to be in the bottom income quartile relative to their urban counterparts (World Bank, 2020). Yet, while it is widely known that acquiring high-wage, long-term jobs is the key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, rural youth earn 50% less and are 1.5 times more likely to be underemployed compared to their urban peers, even though tertiary education attainment is roughly the same (World Bank, 2020). This continues to occur despite the fact that technology has opened up more opportunities for online work in rural areas, with the Philippines named the world’s 6th fastest-growing market for freelancers (Payoneer, 2019 Global Gig Economy Index).


At KadaKareer, we believe that a lack of school-to-employment resources and support for low-income and rural students is one of the core reasons for these career inequities and one of the key drivers behind stagnant social mobility. In a survey we conducted with 1,600+ respondents, young rural workers were 3x more likely to blame unemployment on a lack of career resources and support (KadaKareer, 2020). Rural students also receive 4.3 hours less of personalized help per year from career counselors, and only 22% of them claim to have access to proper career information (Asian Development Bank, 2017). Even more shockingly, only 15% of all students claimed to have any mentor or coach in their career journey (KadaKareer, 2020).


We have broken down the lack of social mobility among rural communities into three root causes:

~ Exposure Gap: Students do not have access to the proper information and resources they need to make proper career decisions that match their personal and professional contexts.

~ Network Gap: Students do not have individuals in their network who will provide insight and advice into the job recruitment process, or advocate for them for opportunities.

~ Skill Gap: Students are not being trained and prepared appropriately by universities with work-ready skills that are sought after by employers.


How did you first hear about the social business concept? When did you realize you were leading a social business?

We realized that KadaKareer could be a social business when we looked at the impact we could make on students and small businesses. We have developed a Virtual Apprenticeship Program and Platform, which provides small businesses with a chance to engage with young, fresh talent while also providing Filipino youth with their first real work experiences. 


The Virtual Apprenticeship Program addresses the pain points of both SMEs and students. With KadaKareer, we help companies acquire talent with lower cost, shorter time, higher quality applications, and better screening processes; we also help students get work experiences that are: hands-on, based on the real world, easy to apply for, and free. Most importantly, we are able to sustain the program as businesses pay us to engage with our talent and improve their recruitment effectiveness.


What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? And the least? 

As an entrepreneur, I feel blessed to be working with some passionate, dedicated, talented individuals on a day-to-day business. My favorite part of the journey has been collectively discovering and redefining a shared purpose and vision, and cascading this across all parts of our community. This experience has shown me the power of a common cause and a strong desire to make a positive impact on the world.


The key challenge I am facing today as a founder is how to balance driving towards impact vs. monetization. As a social enterprise, our team cares deeply about the impact we have on our students, first and foremost, but is continuously having to evaluate trade-offs on growing our revenue streams, which strains our team.


What is the most important lesson you learned in your journey as a social entrepreneur so far?

The most important lesson I have learned so far is to meet our users where they are. As social entrepreneurs especially, we can get so wrapped up in our ideas and our vision that we actually forget the incorporate the opinions of those we are hoping to serve. This is why KadaKareer prides itself on being youth-driven — we want to be able to empower youth to own their experiences and be part of the movement that is aiming to change the system for the better.


How did you hear about the Y&Y Fellowship Program?

I heard about the Y&Y Fellowship Program from another Filipina — Angelica Misa — who participated in the program a few cohorts before. The more I found out about the program, the more I was intrigued and excited about the possibility of joining a community of young changemakers who were devoted to creating an impact through sustainable social businesses.


What motivated you to apply?

The main reason I applied was because I was craving to be part of a community of peers who want to make the world a better place in a sustainable, impact-first way. I wanted to learn, share, and work together to amplify each other’s missions and grow our businesses to impact more people.


How has your journey as a Y&Y Fellow been so far?

My journey as a fellow so far has been incredibly eye-opening! I have learned so much from the speakers, my mentors, and my peers, and I feel much more aware of the questions I will need to answer and the difficult decisions I will need to make as a social entrepreneur.


Why is it important to have the support of a mentor?

Mentors help an individual achieve a set of clear near-term objectives or goals while reflecting on the process and learning more about how they can improve their problem-solving approaches. Mentors can employ skills such as powerful questioning, listening, and reframing to help individuals unlock their own potential and progress in the desired direction.


Mentors are important because they support and assist individuals to become who they want to be or attain what they want to achieve. They bring out the best in the individuals they mentor to be able to reach the results that they want to see.


What advice would you give to a young person who is starting a social business?

Understand the trade-offs that will arise for you on your journey, both personally and professionally. This is not an easy process, and it’s important to be able to jump into it with your eyes wide open. The journey will demand a lot of you and will force you to make decisions that will test you, but that is why it is essential to have a solid foundation of values and principles. With this, you will always have a “core” and a “north star” to return to when the going gets rough!


What advice would you give to someone considering applying to the Y&Y Fellowship Program?

Enjoy the journey. The application process gave me space to reflect on my path so far as a social entrepreneur, and gave me several nuggets of realization/insight that I was grateful to have, even before I even got accepted into the program! Additionally, this program is one where “you get what you give” — so the more you can immerse yourself in the experience and make yourself available to others, the better.

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