Marly Anne Bacaron's aid philosophy

Marly Anne Bacaron, community development specialist. Photo by: Devex

When Typhoon Bopha struck southern Philippines late last year, Save the Children immediately deployed people on the ground. Marly Anne Bacaron was among them.

A senior manager for Save the Children, Bacaron has been working on the organization’s emergency response to the typhoon, and at the same time, coordinating with U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups, particularly on education initiatives.

Bacaron is one the most influential development leaders aged 40 and under in Manila.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives and journalists.

We spoke with Bacaron about her work and advocacy.

Can you share with us a moment when you felt your work was making a meaningful development impact?

It’s hard to talk about impact when you consider change is a long-term process and it constantly evolves.

I view sustainability differently now compared to when I started out and it’s reflected in the way I work with people. When I first started out, of course, that sense of idealism of working toward something better for communities was left, right and center in whatever I did. Now I consider even the growth and improvement of people I work with – the teams I have had the honor of working with – equally important. Meaningful development impact means far more than just the successful completion of a project, fruitful partnerships or favorable advocacy strategy.

For me, it’s not one single moment — it’s a colleague that comes up to thank you because you believed enough to mentor him — and now he is a specialist in his own field. Or seeing the shift in team dynamics or within communities — those “ah-ha” moments across their faces when what we, development workers do, connects with the lives they lead.

At the end of the day, beyond our programs and frameworks, development work is essentially about that human connection in order to effect any impact.

In recent years, your development career has included stints in Cambodia and Sri Lanka. How have your experiences in other parts of Asia influenced your current development work in Mindanao?

I’d consider myself a third culture kid having grown up outside the Philippines for a very long time. Growing up outside the country exposes you to a lot of discrimination because of your gender, your race, your religion. I didn’t realize coming back to the country even I would be discriminated because I wasn’t Filipino “enough.”

I think a lot of people thought I was insane when I decided to do development work and not applying to multilaterals direct, mind you, but small grassroots NGOs. There you have this girl who has language issues and instead of her transferring skills to communities, it was the other way around.

When I worked outside the country, I brought these experiences with me – this humility that I don’t have monopoly on knowledge, the sensitivity and adaptability to different cultures and faiths because I walked in those particular shoes.

What my outside experiences gave back was the privilege to work with brilliant people generous in sharing their learnings, that multilaterals have a thing or two to learn from NGOs and vice versa and to never underestimate the power of communities to want to bring change into their lives regardless of culture. It has enriched the way I think as a development worker — there’s the ability to creatively offer variant ideas and strategies focused on building on from previous accomplishments, there’s a lot more effort and focus on synergy and partnership with other development players, and familiarity with innovation while strengthening fundamental strategies. I learnt that there is no one “correct” solution as a result of my experiences – and those endless possibilities are exciting in themselves.

The peace process has encouraged donors and international aid agencies to start or increase their engagement in Mindanao. Which sector in Mindanao do you think donors and aid agencies should focus on to create the most development impact?

I’m biased and because I’ve worked with child-focused NGOs in the past almost two years given my strong interest in education, this would be the area that has the huge potential to create the most development impact.

Not only because the MDGs challenge us to reduce child mortality or make primary education universal but because education by itself offers a nexus — a partnership where both government and development players have a lot of commonalities and therefore offers greater potential for success — not just for children but teachers as well in this generation and the next.

Not to mention resilience and increased literacy considering that parts of Mindanao go through sporadic conflict and those regions with the lowest poverty thresholds likewise also have the lowest literacy levels.

Also consider the possibilities for change within the ambit of education — diversity is addressed through the mother tongue-based multilingual education, a culture of peace is nurtured the implementing rules and regulations like Executive Order 570, that institutionalizes peace education in basic education and teacher education, and schools now play a greater role in disaster risk reduction. This of course should be complemented by an integrated strategy that considers the family and communities.

So if you want to take a look at impact, basic education would be my suggestion.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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