OFWs and financial education, the die has been castBy Randell Tiongson on April 7th, 2013
Fresh from conducting a total of 8 talks in my 11 day sojourn in the UAE, Oman and Qatar recently, I came home with fresh perspective of how our dear heroes are doing abroad. I gave a total of 5 talks in Dubai (UAE), 1 in Muscat (Oman) and 2 in Doha (Qatar) with a total estimate of about 1000 to 1200 OFWs in attendance. The talks were varied but all had a central theme which was money.
I got involved with the financial advocacy for OFWs in 2004 when the late Ka Tonyang Binsol, an OFW in Japan asked for my help to organize finance talks for OFWs who are back home for a visit. We were able to run successful talks which ignited my burning passion to promote financial education for the Pinoys. Sadly, my friend Ka Tonyang (loved by many, me included) passed away which temporarily put a stop on my outreach for the OFWs. Despite my absence in the advocacy for OFWs, I transferred my focus to pushing financial literacy to the Pinoys in general – something I have been doing and will be doing for a long time, but my desire for the OFWs remains.
5 years after meeting Ka Tonyang, I was blessed to be introduced to another OFW advocate, someone who has been a staunch supporter of our dear heroes – Ms. Susan “Toots” Ople. Toots, along with his partner Fort Jose of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center (BFO) asked me if I am interested in teaching OFWs about finances and I was so ecstatic to be given the opportunity to do so; the start of a wonderful partnership. In the same year, I was invited by Ms. Ople for a couple of speaking engagements in Hong Kong and other locations to reach out to the many OFWs who can benefit much from financial education. From then on, my passion to reach out to the OFWs has been rekindled and burning and I am blessed to be able to interact with many other advocates.
I have been blessed to speak and teach in 7 nations already namely Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar and there are arrangements being made for Saudi Arabia and Japan for this year. I am leaving again for Singapore to run programs and this year will be my fourth consecutive year speaking and teaching in Singapore. If plans go well, I may find myself in the Middle East again before the year is over – something I am very thankful to the Lord for.
Being an advocate to OFWs and the Pinoys in general is not an easy task – just ask the many other advocates. There are many hurdles but the biggest stumbling blocks would be
our behaviour and mindsets when it comes to personal finance. Our culture is a unique one and proper but basic money principles don’t seem to be ingrained in it, unfortunately. The OFWs are placed in a peculiar situation where they are earning much more than their counterparts at home and yet the financial strains they experience are just as disheartening. There continues to be problems with savings and worse, issues of debt. In my trip to Dubai, a lot of people were telling me of debt woes of the OFWs and many of them actually end up in jail because of debt. What is the most common problem of our OFWs? It is too much financial dependence of their families, which is why most of them end up remitting all their income that ends up being spent and left with very little or no savings at all. Our brothers and sisters off shore feel that they can’t handle the burden anymore and many are on the brink of desperation. I feel so helpless whenever I speak to them as all I can only offer are few words of advice, a listening ear and a prayer. On top of financial problems, there are many other problems that they encounter – unfair employment treatment, loneliness, among others.
But, there is much to be ecstatic about OFWs and financial education as well. From 2004 to today, I have seen an enormous growth in finance advocacies and advocates amongst the OFWs. I’ve also witnessed stark improvements in the financial literacy of many OFWs as well. Although it is far from ideal, I believe that there is already momentum in the arena of financial education among them, and this is largely attributed to the OFWs themselves. In
the last 3 or 4 years, OFWs has successfully used social media as a means to spark interest on financial literacy. When the OFWs themselves began championing financial education in a more aggressive way and thanks to the internet, I believe it is only a matter of time before we see a financially enabled OFW population. Everywhere I go now, I have the chance to speak with them, sit down with them, break bread with them and most of time, I end up being encouraged myself by their passion to be financially enabled. Every country I go to, there will be advocates who will arrange for me to speak and teach and they do this not out of any gain but out of passion to help. They have also been busy organizing their own forums, seminars and outreach groups all in the name of financial education. There are many groups out there but I would like to honor two groups whom I have been working with and I have seen their relentless passion to see a financially empowered OFW citizenry: The Global Filipino Investors (TGFI) and OFW Usapang Piso under the passionate leaderships of Floi Wycoco and Burn Gutierrez, respectively. These mighty advocates are not only making waves, they are changing the lives of many OFWs. Of course, their groups are successful because of their equally passionate core teams and members so kudos to all of them! I would also take time to honor the advocates who have been instrumental in my being able to speak to many OFWs like Charma de Villa (OFW Usapang Piso Israel), Allan Miranda (TGFI Dubai), Siegfried & Leonora Ras (OFW Usapang Piso Singapore), Leo & Normie Pascua (OFW Usapang Piso Dubai), Bernard & Rhea Anduyon (OFIEM Qatar), Rex Holgado (Alkansya ni Juan Singapore) and my dear friend Jess Emerson Uy of a co-advocate based in Singapore. There are many more OFWs who I am not mentioning but I want to thank you and the nation should thank you too.
The advocacy of financial education for OFWs is well on it’s way, it has started, it is moving and it is growing. “Alea iacta est,” the die has been cast, it is now only a matter of time and more importantly, a matter of scale.
Catch me at 2 upcoming events – Singapore event and iCon 2013 at the SMX. Details below:
Visit http://tgfiph.com/april27/ for more details.
Visit http://www.randelltiongson.com/i-con2013/ for more details.