By Rapunzel A. Acop
We hear of brain drain often, but we rarely get the chance to meet the brain. I got this chance when I interviewed Mr. Rogelio B. Galon, Jr. or June, one of the first graduates of the Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) Program in France of the Ateneo School of Government.
I first met June in one of the LSE classes held at the Philippine Embassy in Paris. The class was on financial literacy and the first thought that came to mind was whether the thirty-four OFWs seated in our conference room would be able to digest the somewhat technical presentation. I realized a few months later – during their graduation to be exact – that I had underestimated June and the rest of his classmates.
Because June was an accountant with several units in computer programming under his belt. He started as an underwriter and bookkeeper and worked his way up to Management Information Systems Officer, Information Technology Officer and Accounting Supervisor for seventeen years in an insurance firm whose clients were mostly Philippine cooperatives.
After a change in management in the company and increasing costs of living in Manila – his three children all went to private schools – June and his wife Ermie (a fellow classmate in the LSE Program) decided to migrate to Canada. That did not work out so they decided to try France.
In a rare immigration feat, June was able to obtain a three-year “skills and competences” visa from the French Embassy in Manila which allowed him and his wife to work in France.
2009: Arrival in France
They arrived in France in 2009 and moved into a shared 15 square meter apartment. “It was very hard in the beginning,” says Ermie. “We were used to having help in the house. All of sudden, we had to be that help.”
Both easily found work but not in their respective fields. June worked in a clothing shop as a cleaner while his wife found work as an administrative assistant in a home services company. June also dabbled in computer repair and gave computer tutorials as a volunteer in the WICE Association, an American NGO providing cultural, educational and social activities to the international community in Paris.
Their three children all went to French public school. The family eventually moved to a bigger apartment. The pay was good but the Galons realized that life in Paris was not all roses.
2012: Goodbye France?
By the end of their visa’s validity in 2012, things quickly took a change for the worse. June and Ermie’s work permits were promptly revoked once their employers learned of their visa situation. In June 2012, June and his family received a deportation order from the French authorities.
After vigorously appealing the deportation order, the Galon family was able to buy some time. Fortunately, they had made prudent financial decisions upon their arrival. They started to dip into their savings and it would be this money that would tide them over until their next appointment with French immigration officials.
LSE Program: Best Business Plan
It was during this challenging time that June heard of the LSE Program. He and his wife enrolled and six months later, they went on to receive their certificates. While both have backgrounds in accounting and finance, what the program did was beyond academic. It was a class on life lessons, especially for June who was able to rekindle his dormant desire of designing a financial software solution for cooperatives in the Philippines.
With the impetus given by the program, he resurrected a business idea he had while he was working as a supervising accountant in the Philippines. He designed an IT program that would allow cooperatives – there are over 20,000 registered cooperatives in the Philippines – to manage their members and have a veritable client management system for savings and loan tracking. Less than 10% of these cooperatives use an IT solution today.
The system shows its full potential when cooperatives using the same system are linked, thereby allowing cooperatives to cross-check members and prevent them from loan-shopping. Loan-shopping occurs when individuals join multiple cooperatives in order to be able to take out loans without having the capacity to pay.
June is passionate over his project. He believes that cooperatives can fuel change in the country by providing much-needed capital to rural entrepreneurs.
From Brain Drain to Brain Gain
June and Ermie dream of returning to the Philippines. “Once the children finish school” is an oft-cited timeline, but June is already putting his dream into action through the implementation of his business plan.
Armed with the 250 EUR seed money given by one of the jury members during his thesis defense, June has begun to work on implementing his project.
The phenomenon of brain drain figures prominently in discussions on migration. The role of remittances often emerges in this discussion as the “counter-weight” of brain drain. Few still speak of the “social remittances” that come in the form of greater confidence and new skills migrants bring with them upon their return to the country.
The Philippines may have lost an employee when June left but it will have gained an entrepreneur when June returns. And even if he fails – Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña did warn that most companies fail on the first try – the entire experience of doing the LSE program and creating his business plan will have made all the difference.
Mr. June Galon