Women of Innovation and Empowerment: Being the Change You Want to See

24 March 2024

In commemorating Women’s Month and the upcoming World IP Day, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Center for Intellectual Property Management invited ten accomplished Benildean alumnae from diverse fields to a panel discussion on March 12, 2024. Entitled “Benilde Women Changemakers: Pioneering Sustainable Futures through Creativity, Innovation, and IP,” including graduates from the programs of Information Systems, Fashion Design and Merchandising, Interactive Entertainment and Media Computing, Production Design, Industrial Design, Technical Theater, Consular and Diplomatic Affairs, and Music Production spoke about their experiences and career trajectories since leaving student life and contributing to their respective industries.

In her Keynote Address, Nicky Templo-Perez, Vice President for Lasallian Mission and Student Life, recounted her upbringing with three other sisters, “We were allowed to be whoever we wanted to be (but) we were not allowed to be helpless.” Deeply rooted in a family tree adorned with tales of formidable women, she remains steadfast in her hopes of raising independent and socially responsible professionals as she raises her three daughters.

Drawing parallels between her family’s legacy and St. La Salle’s transformative journey, Templo-Perez underscored the pivotal role of women in shaping Lasallian Education history.

From Perrette Lespagnol, De La Salle’s maternal grandmother and godmother, a devoutly religious woman who raised her daughter, De La Salle’s mother, to share the same devotion to Madame Jean Debouis Maillefer, a generous benefactor, familiar with Adrianne Nyel’s work of starting schools for poor boys in Rouen and provided Nyel with a letter of introduction to take to Sister Françoise Duval, the headmistress of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus in Rheims, set the scene for Nyel’s fateful meeting with the Founder.

“Women have always been innovative change makers,” she shares. “They are part of the 305-year Lasallian heritage history with about 1,100 institutions worldwide and approximately a million students, including 91,000 students here in the Philippines. Today, as we spotlight these extraordinary women, we honor their contributions, celebrate their achievements, and pave the way for a future where gender equality is not just a dream but a reality.”

Expertly guiding the panelists through in-depth questions and insights, Ms. Maria Jocelyn “Joey” Garcia-Zawig, PhD, Full Professor at Benilde’s School of Multidisciplinary Studies, agreed that the chosen panel members by their respective program chairs and school deans are true inspirations for students and young women in the audience. Doreen Odvina Malbas, Founder and Owner of Doreen Odvina Custom Shoes, used her knowledge from her almost two-decade career in corporate IT and e-commerce as an Information Systems graduate to launch her line of couture and bespoke shoes, “I can handle my own business in all areas at the same time pursuing who I am. The first person I met in the (fashion) industry was Francis Libiran, who encouraged me to put up my shop. It’s a very nice location. I’m now at the Peninsula (Manila), and I think being there is already good branding for my shoe line.”

Alessandra Michaela Gutierrez, Co-Founder of REPAMANA, a circular social enterprise that repurposes discarded hotel textiles into ready-to-wear garments, credits her years as a student, “I was a student leader. This experience opened up concepts of social justice, inclusivity, and sustainability, which I eventually applied to work in the fashion industry, looking at working with garment workers, workers’ rights, and sustainability again.”

Danni Ann Taylan agrees with Gutierrez about her experiences as a student leader. As the co-founder of Yangyang Mobile, an indie game studio that creates narrative-driven games from the Philippines, a board member of the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP), and the co-organizer of the Philippine Indie Games Initiative (Project PIGI), a program that supports Filipino indie game developers through mentorship and publisher connections, she shares, “meeting the industry members before, even as a student, that are now my colleagues. I wouldn’t have had a positive relationship with them if I hadn’t met them before I was a student.”

Jozette Anne Tuquib, Business Relations Manager for the 3D AAA Console team of Secret6 Manila and part-time faculty with Benilde for the last eight years, was in the same batch as Taylan, “my experience is unique. I was a scholar of the institution. I was part of Romançon (grant) and the second game design and development batch. Everything was very fast-paced; everybody collaborated to make a footprint in the Philippine industry as a pioneering batch. I’m very proud, but it’s blood, sweat, and tears. I have 14 Triple-A titles under my belt, and I’ve been in the industry for ten years, creating for the US, UK, and other international clients.”

Staying relevant and original is something Ma. Ellawyn Cruz, alumna and Chair of Benilde’s Production Design Program, scenographer, production manager, and local design associate of Tony-award-winning set designer David Gallo for Sweeney Todd, Waitress, Saturday Night Fever, and Nine, can relate to. “People say there’s nothing purely original now,” she explains, “But how do you turn that peg into something suitable for the play or the musical you’re serving? How do you tweak it to stay true to the original and guarantee that you want to put your mark in it as a local designer? Make sure you put your touch into something you’re making.”

Sheena Lee Palad, singer-songwriter, model, host, and co-founder of Magnify Entertainment, talked about breaking into the entertainment industry. “Even if I’ve won back-to-back awards, I’m still a newbie. It’s one of the reasons why we built Magnify Entertainment. Our battle cry in the entertainment industry is for us to be valued as professionals, like attorneys and doctors. Musicians are also professionals. We want to continue giving you the excellent music you want to enjoy. This is business. I’m a singer and musician, and it’s a profession. While in Benilde, I worked with my professors and tried to emulate the excellence they taught us in my career.”

Meredith Lichangco, Creative Director, Chini Studio, shared that the years as a student in the Industrial Design program were excellent training. “After each of our classes, we would have an exhibit. It’s good to finish something and show it around in the campus hallways or the cafeteria.” The designer who once worked with Kenneth Cobonpue advised, “Always be curious. Try to experiment, and don’t give up. After designing, there’s marketing and sales and a path.”

Angeli Almeda, owner of Anj Almeda Events, carved her path after a career in theater and started her own business in events management planning. “During the pandemic, this shut down, so when it came back, it was a challenge for those who took this as their professional career. It’s because, for those who took it as a racket, their prices were a very low blow. So it’s about setting your standards and rising to the occasion to stick to this kind of market. It was a good decision because my bookings eventually returned with more high-profile clients.”

Anne Gaw, co-owner of Kangkong King, a start-up food and beverage service and manufacturing company that opened in 2019, shared similar pandemic challenges with Almeda. “We’re proud to say we were the first flavored Kankong chips brand in the Philippines. During the pandemic, many businesses copied our product. We decided to just focus on the bigger picture. Our goal is to provide more work to our local farmers and community. We shifted our perspective and thanked these competitors because they contributed to the company’s goal. And well, imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Atty. Ashyanna Alexine Adia Amira-Labi Bangcola, a Foreign Service Officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs, believes in the power of stories. “I think there are a lot of common messages that you can always integrate into your day-to-day life. Even in a field like government, stories are important because they help communicate the message. Arbitration is complicated, but every Filipino can resound with that narrative of fighting against a bigger power and fighting for one’s home.”

Moderator Dr. Garcia-Jawid summed it up perfectly: “There’s just one way to describe you (panelists). Truly amazing. Each represents a unique journey filled with determination, passion, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. Their contributions to their respective fields have reshaped industries and serve as beacons of inspiration for aspiring creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs everywhere.”

To wrap up the annual event, Atty. Ma. Janice R. Tejano, Director of the Center for Intellectual Property Management, gave her closing remarks and thanked each panelist by name. “ I hope this event allowed you to meet your fellow Benildeans and be inspired by their stories. We’re so proud to hear your stories and know how you did it after Benilde. You know, you did it so well. You’re articulate and passionate. It’s just very personal. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so open to sharing.” Br. Michael Valenzuela FSC, Benilde’s Institutional Lasallian Animator, whose role is to promote spiritual formation, said a few words, “I think we all need to support one another in promoting the change we want to see in the workplace and the world. One of the things that I’m very passionate about is the idea that professions are not just about earning a living. Professions are really about creating the world you want to see.”

For more information on Benilde’s undergraduate programs, contact us at (63) 2 8230 5100 local 1801 or admissions@benilde.edu.ph. You may also visit our website at www.benilde.edu.ph.

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