Numbers Don’t Lie

On the shoulders of people with exceptional talent is the burden of exceptional responsibility. Those who step up to the plate and live up to this responsibility become exceptional people.
They are a rare breed whose work ignites meaningful change that transcends generations.
I recently met one such individual in the person of Evelin Weber. A Filipina born to an Ilocano mother and German father, Evelin spent her formative yeas in the Philippines until she moved to the US when she was 14. She studied at Syracuse University and went on to advanced studies at INSEAD.
She built a career as an investment banker working for the Citigroup, Solomon Smith Barney and then for the MAN Group. She was at the top of her game counting New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Madrid as her base at one time or another.
Success in the investment banking world proved too diminutive for the Filipina with an incredible lust for life. She continued to pursue her passions despite the workload of her banking career. She became a certified sommelier, earned her license as an aeronautic pilot and became a published author having written the critically acclaimed novel, The Black & The White.” Eventually, she spent time at the Lawrence Anthony Foundation in South Africa contributing to its humanitarian and environmental preservation agenda. Her body of work is as diverse as it is impressive.
Evelin has since channeled her passion towards community and social work in the Philippines. The devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda was a turning point for her. The magnitude of loss to life and property and the sheer amount of displaced families were too compelling for her not to help.
She established The Philippines Foundation (TPF), an entity that focuses on community building programs. Its thrust is to educate women and children and empower them towards self sufficiency.
Among TPF’s project is one called “ The Learning Boats of Leyte.” The foundation donated 5,000 boats to fishing communities augmenting the pitiful 80 boats that government provided. The boats serves the dual purpose of providing a means of livelihood for the father while keeping the children in school.
The donation of boats to fishermen came with the precondition that they cannot be sold, leased or given to a third party. More importantly, fishermen are made to sign a contract which stipulates that the boats will only remain in their keeping for as long as their children continue to attend school. If the terms of the contract are broken, TPF reserves the right to re-assign the boat to another fisher family in need.
The foundation has a parallel program called “Portraits of Love” where it supports a hundred or so children from the Philippine Children’s Medical Center afflicted with terminal cancer. The foundation supports the kids not only financially but by facilitating art therapy. Its aim is to alleviate the grim reality of pain and death that these kids face.
The 5,000 boats assigned to the fisher folk are decorated with the artworks done by the terminally ill children, most of whom have passed on. Their names and works of art on the boats serve as a commemoration of their lives. In a way, it makes them part of the honorable livelihood of the fisher folk.
The boats also serve as pseudo classrooms for kids who otherwise spend their days playing by the seashore. Basic instructions on reading and writing are provided by volunteers with the boats serving as the desks and chairs.
Empowerment through education is at the heart of TPF’s work and Evelin is passionate about it.. She once said, “Look, you want to prevent global climate change? Educate people. You want to decrease the maternal mortality rate? Educate somebody. You want to get out of poverty? Well, educate somebody. You want to increase the lifespan of a child with cancer? Well, get yourself educated so you can help the kid. Education is so fundamental in making a difference”.
TPF’s latest project is called “For the Love of Leyte,” a project designed to support the weavers, potters, painters and other artisans of Leyte, most of whom are stay-at-home mothers.
While local artisans are capable of producing well-crafted products that can easily be sold in the global marketplace, their lack of a bank account, access to financing and access to markets prevents them from selling their goods beyond the confines of their barrios. They earn less than P100 for a whole day’s work while producing beautiful handicrafts that can otherwise command top dollar in retail shops abroad.
TPF aims to fill impediments to trade, thereby providing local artisans with access to the global market.
Artisans who have signed up with TPF’s program are given a digital personality and digital wallet in TPF’s own website that also serves as its trading platform. TPF sells the handicrafts to global wholesalers who specialize in natural, handmade goods like the Bottletop Foundation in London and Nipa Hut in New York, among others. A fair price is charged for the products and 100% of the proceeds are remitted to the artisan through their digital wallet. Said proceeds can be monetized.
When orders come in, TPF provides the artisans with funds to buy their raw materials. It also takes care of the logistical aspects of the transaction such as documentation and shipping. It’s all about establishing the systems and infrastructure that enable the unbanked to transact beyond borders, says Evelin.
There are a few hundred weavers signed up for the project at the moment but Evelin hopes to expand this to 8,000 artisans by the year 2020. Not only will this make a tremendous impact in alleviating poverty, it will also ensure that the artful craft of weaving, pottery, etc. will not die with the artist. After all, cultural art is the thread that ties any indigenous society, one that has been honed and perfected through generations. This program is a way of preserving this legacy.
The program is now operational in Leyte and will soon be launched in Zamboanga and Ilocos, regions known for their indigenous crafts.
For now, 100% of the funding comes from Evelin. But now that proof of concept has been established, she hopes to attract people of like minds to join the effort and help in whatever way they can, whether financially or through the contributions of their time and fields of expertise. Evelin can be contacted through her e-mail,
On Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, Evelin has organized an event called “For the love of Leyte Music and Arts Festival” which will be held at The Farm at Ginsiyaman, 30 minutes outside Tacloban. The festival will feature workshops on leather crafts, jewelry making, pottery, banig weaving, and tuba painting. There will also be a wholesale and retail trade fair and musical concert headlined by 20 foreign and local artists. Its going to be a two day party that celebrates Tacloban’s resilience, talent and bright future. Those coming from outside Leyte can camp within the farm grounds as well. Tickets can be purchased through
Meeting Evelin and getting to know her life’s work was inspiring to me. See, my wife and I have a 19-year-old daughter who we sent abroad to study. It’s never easy to be separated from family and many times, the sting of separation could get painfully acerbic. Still, we continue to support her foray abroad as we know this will give her the advantage to do good in life and career.
Her studies abroad comes with one condition — that at some point in her life, when she is well established, she must return to the Philippines and contribute to nation-building. This is her duty and our solemn pact.
Evelin’s story is still being written but even now, she shows us how to extract the last drop of nectar from the fruit of life and how to make it all matter. She is a contributor to nation-building by instigating positive change through her faculties and resources. She is truly an exceptional Filipina, the kind I would like my daughter to be.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.