Makings connections
in Manila

Leadership Network members attending the Asia New Zealand Foundation's Manila Hui learnt about the challenges and opportunities of the Philippines – but also forged new connections over waiata and karaoke.

Take a tour by bike through the streets of manila and learn about the hui

The hui brought together 12 members of the Leadership Network for a week of leadership development; briefings about the economic, social and political environment; and interactions with Asia New Zealand Foundation contacts in the Philippines.

Foundation programme manager for entrepreneurship and leadership Adam McConnochie says Leadership Network events help New Zealand’s future leaders feel more confident in their interactions with Asia – and share the knowledge they gain with their workplaces and communities.

“Despite New Zealand’s growing ties to the Philippines, it’s not a country that’s on the radar for many Kiwis.”

The Manila Hui kicked off with a bike tour of the walled city of Intramuros run by social enterprise Bambike Ecotours. Tour guide and history buff Griselle explained the country’s successive waves of colonisation under Spain, the United States and Japan.

The following day, the leaders attended briefings by New Zealand Ambassador David Strachan; Asia New Zealand Foundation Honorary Adviser Bill Luz; political scientist Aries Arugay; and economics professor Ronald Mendoza.

They also visited social enterprises Rags to Riches and Ritual, and had the opportunity to organise their own activities according to their interest areas – variously opting to visit to the Asian Development Bank, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, an orphanage and a children’s NGO.


For Chloe Thompson, a solicitor in New Zealand’s Office of Human Rights Proceedings, learning more about the Philippines socio-political landscape was one of her key aims. “For me, one of the biggest takeaways of this trip was that the greatest resource of the Philippines is its young population. It’s in a demographic sweet-spot. It’s in a country of 100 million people where the median age is 23 years young.

“This is the largest young population in the world outside of Africa. It’s that same young adult working population who are going to dictate the shape of social and political reform, and are going to drive consumption and economic growth in the future.”

Ben Trieu and Mabel Ye take in the sites

Ben Trieu and Mabel Ye take in the sites

The Leadership Network members also repeatedly heard about the importance of inclusiveness in maintaining its high rate of economic growth, she says.

The group also visited social enterprises and interacted with Filipino entrepreneurs who have previously visited New Zealand through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative. Their programme also overlapped with that of five Kiwi tech entrepreneurs also being hosted by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Auckland’s Ben Trieu, who works in fleet strategy and corporate finance for Air New Zealand, says these interactions consolidated his view of business leadership being more than just “the traditional pale, male and stale person in a suit rising to the top of a corporate.

“This trip has really brought to life the idea for me that business leadership can be much more than that . . . more than just making money but also doing really good things for society and starting social enterprises. It doesn’t have to be someone who has been doing this for decades; it could be someone straight out of university. I’ve found that really inspiring.”

Mabel Ye, a Prime Minister’s Scholar for Asia based in Taiwan, had recently visited the Philippines as a tourist, but found the Manila Hui offered an entirely different experience. “I’ve been able to understand the culture and history of the Philippines in a completely different way from coming in a tourist, learning about it online or at school.

“I’ve been able to connect with other Leadership Network members in a different way as well. We’ve been able to learn about the Philippines together, and also learn about each other’s backgrounds and areas of expertise. Every person who has attended this hui has learnt lot about themselves, about other people, and about the Philippines itself.

Pania Matthews, national programme manager at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, spoke about the Leadership Network members’ experiences to guests at a New Zealand Embassy function. “The people of this country have been welcoming to us, and we’ve been able to learn about the history, being colonised by three powers and still trying to understand what your national identity is.”

She and her fellow Leadership Network members had been struck by the resilience and optimism of the people they had met, despite the challenges the country faced.

She shared a Māori proverb: “Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina. That translates as “seek out the distant horizon until it’s close. With those that are in reach, hold fast to them”.

“To the people of the Philippines, those who have looked out for us … continue on the path to the dream that is and can seem so far away ­- and celebrate the successes you are able to achieve on the way.”