Lifestyle Asia Game Changers, Class of 2019: Meet 18 Millennials Changing the Philippines
February 18, 2019
Every year, Lifestyle Asia releases a list of millennials who are changing the game. They are a new generation of power players—citizens filled with the ethos of hard work, boundless enthusiasm and the idealism of the young. We’re proud to present the Class of 2019, which includes young men and women of different backgrounds, positively changing the Philippines (and soon the world) in their respective fields…
Click here to see last year’s Lifestyle Asia Game Changers.
Tom Bucag, 23
Tom Bucag is slowly gaining traction as an emerging young artist. Those who purchase his unique works often sing him high praises. Tom’s style is a throwback to the vintage—sketches that look like experimental portraits done during French cinema’s New Wave era of the 1960s. “My first love is film. I’ve drawn most of my inspiration from films I’ve seen from La Nouvelle Vague to art house cinema. But I’m slowly transitioning into the local scene, drawing inspiration from the original It-Girls like Chona Kasten, Imelda Cojuangco and Elvira Manahan, to renowned artists like Alfonso Ossorio, Ramon Valera and Henry Francia. It just seems more organic and engaging to acquire inspiration from the Philippines, which is very rich in culture that Filipinos often neglect.”
The artist’s style is very distinct. Doing work in black-and-white is his usual trademark, with a few splashes of color here and there. Faces in Tom’s portraits are often distorted, drawn with a light hand, but never lacking character. International publications such as L’Officiel España have commissioned him to do illustrations for their pages.
James Buskowitz, 28
When James Buskowitz was 21 years old, he founded his namesake business. It is a sustainable solutions company that focuses on providing solar photovoltaic rooftop installations on homes and commercial buildings. “It is something the Philippines needs (our electricity rates are too high), while also being something we can easily do—we have so much sun this country,” he shares about his work, which is also his passion. “Apart from solar installations, we also offer engineering services and consultation, all with sustainability as our bottom line. For us, being a sustainable solutions company isn’t about choosing sustainability projects. It’s also about encouraging our clients and others to think with sustainability in mind, which means helping them implement sustainable systems in their own companies.”
Now, seven years into the business, James admits that the only way is up for the company. He shares that although 2017 was a good year, it was in 2018 when he was able to prove himself to his team and clients. “[Last year], we signed and built our biggest installation, we received ISO certification for quality management systems, and we were constantly busy—signing, closing, building. It was an amazing year for the company!”
Carlo Delantar, 26
Clean Water Advocate
For Carlo Delantar, helping out is second nature. Waves for Water, a non-profit organization that brings clean water solutions to far-flung locales in the wake of national calamities, offered their services in the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda. Carlo was tagged on an Instagram post, from which he replied and offered his help. Today, he is the country director for the organization. He is running a team that operates up to 10 clean water missions every month. They are helping out in every natural disaster that has occurred in the Philippines since their inception. “My passion is social impact. I like creating stuff that reinvents a specific idea changing lives in a good way,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to be living a life that provides meaning and giving.”
His other job is co-founder and director of Altum, a furniture brand that practices sustainable craftsmanship. Providing a “creative platform that innovates through collaboration, creation and design,” it was a business he was naturally drawn to. “In a way, we have inklings of what we want to do when we grow up,” he says. “We gravitate towards things we like without knowing the constraints, biases and social norms that are attached to decisions. So self-awareness gives us the foundations towards fulfillment and success.”
Ann and Billie Dumaliang, 27 & 26
“At Masungi Georeserve, we protect massive limestone karst landscapes and the life that exists within it through the three-pronged approach of conservation, education and sustainable development through ecotourism,” says Ann Dumaliang. A project manager at the reserve, she and her sibling Billie, a trustee, are a sister act, passionate about the environment and conservation.
“Our vision at Masungi Georeserve is to be able to see some 3,000 hectares of vulnerable land restored and thriving with life, while engaging local people and bringing the whole country to the world stage,” says Billie. To wit, they have raised measures to conserve almost 3,000 hectares of land near Manila, and have engaged more than 100 people, including indigenous communities, to do conservation and ecotourism work, plant and nurture more than 40,000 native trees, and provide a sanctuary for hundreds of documented wildlife.
They were also rewarded the 2018 Pathfinder Special Commendation for Innovation and Excellence in Conservation and Financing by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and WildArk Movement. Masungi was also recently announced as a 2019 finalist in two of the biggest tourism awards in the world: the 15th UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Awards and the 2019 World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.
Monica Gana, 24
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. But that’s what makes the journey interesting,” says Monica Gana. “All the experiences, both good and bad, will lead you towards something great.” The young dancer is one of the fastest rising stars in the country’s premier ballet company, Ballet Philippines.
Monica started dancing when she was young, and for her, it was never just a hobby. Her greatest success, she says, is being part of Ballet Philippines. In recent months, she has danced the role of Snow White. This February, she danced the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Monica is also proof that one can create and make a living out of an artistic career, something done in the rest of the world but nearly unheard of in the Philippines. “I am also able to show that one can have a career in dance,” she says. “The fact that I have a career with BP proves that I don’t need to be in business to make a living. I can do my passion and live off of it too.”
Sabina Gonzalez, 22
Model and Future Architect
Sabina Gonzalez first caught our eye when she appeared on the December 2018 cover of Lifestyle Asia, celebrating the 30th anniversary of fashion designer Randy Ortiz. The daughter of iconic supermodel Tweetie De Leon-Gonzalez, Sabina was photographed alongside the other children of Randy Ortiz’s past muses. After speaking to the 22-year-old, we found out that she is juggling two hats. She is a full-time model (with a sizeable social media following), and an architecture student, following in her father’s footsteps, who owns a successful construction business.
“I’m currently taking up architecture and am in my final year, and I’ve been modelling for about 3 years now,” she shared with a smile on her face. “It’s definitely exhausting and time consuming as well, as these fields that are quite different from one another, but I enjoy and learn a great deal from them both.” When asked what she considers the milestone of her life, Sabina claims that she has yet to achieve it and has a long way to go. However, when looking at her list of accomplishments (at only the age of 22), it’s easy to be impressed. She has graced the cover of MEGA fashion magazine and has walked for numerous big name designers.
Bettina Jose, 24
Founder and Managing Director, Spring Philippines
Bettina Jose used to work a corporate job. It was only recently that she found her true calling, and it’s through Spring Philippines. It is a non-profit organization that aims to improve the state of mental health among the Filipino youth. “Mental health has become a personal advocacy for me and I am truly grateful to be given the opportunity to be a part of the journey of so many others like me who struggle with mental illness,” she shared. “As the managing director, I work closely with a council that is composed of equally passionate individuals who help me mount activities and events geared towards mental health awareness and mental wellness.”
In 2018, Spring started as a small get-together with friends who would talk about their experiences with mental illness. As word spread throughout the metro, more young people attended the talks. Eventually it grew into a large community of individuals coming together to talk about their experiences with mental health. Today, Spring Philippines has become so large that they are often invited to schools and communities to help spread awareness amongst the youth.
“Last year, I had a high-school student come up to me and whisper “I don’t know how to thank you, but I want you to know that if I didn’t hear you speak today, I would have probably tried ending my life again tonight,’” Bettina recounts. “That was the moment I realized what/how much Spring could do and how important (and urgent) it was to continue to reach out to as many people as possible. It was also then that I realized how much Spring was going to alter the course of my life, too. There was no turning back. This was the path I was meant to take. If I’m able to save (even) just one person, pull her out of the dark and point her towards the light — that would be enough success to last me a lifetime.”
Tiana Kocher, 20
Other than politics, members of the extended Ponce-Enrile clan are known for one other thing: performing. So it’s no surprise to see that singer-songwriter Tiana Kocher has taken up the entertainment mantle. Her debut single, Just My Type, has 620,560 views and counting on YouTube, and stars 90s mainstays Marlon Wayans and Rob Schneider.
“My passion is most definitely performing: whether it be singing, dancing or acting. I love doing all three, and it really is such a good platform to share my thoughts and beliefs and the Word of God. My biggest motivator is my God,” says Tiana, who splits her time between the United States and the Philippines.
In the creative field, there are always arguments about whether or not young people should give up their passions or sell out in order to make a living. The notion of doing this is impossible for Tiana to fathom. “I’m not going to do things I don’t see benefiting me, and I’m not going to do things that don’t bring me joy,” she says. “This is my passion, and eventually, my fulfillment and success because I’m not forcing myself to sing, dance or act. I’m doing it because I love it.”
Anya Lagman, 18
The greatest passion in Anya Lagman’s life is musical composition. “I believe that without discovering this passion of mine, I don’t think I would be who I am today because I fell in love with the idea of being able to tell stories through music,” says the high school senior at British School Manila. “Listeners embark on this journey of encountering different characters and understanding a plot that has a climax and resolution. In a piece, different instruments embody each character, rhythm drives the piece to its climax, harmony contributes to the setting and mood, and the theme serves as the main thesis of the story.” In university, Anya plans to obtain a doctorate in the fundamentals of composition.
Outside of music, she started The Dimitri Project, an avenue that allows her to give a voice to unheard voices and empower women through the power of music. “By reaching out to the unheard voices trapped in the Philippines, I hope that music revitalizes their cultural importance despite being in a technologically advanced and driven society,” she says, pointing out how society nowadays seems to have forsaken the cultural backgrounds it was built on. “I want my Filipino heritage to be reflected in my music, which I believe is possible through exploring experimental music as a way to share the beauty of Filipino music with the rest of the world. I hope for this to grow alongside my journey as an aspiring composer so I can inspire other people to see the beauty and therapeutic ability of music to change lives.”
Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo, 27
Chairman, Build Build Build Committee
Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo has lived an interesting life. Day-to-day, she is a law student at the University of the Philippines Diliman School of Law, reading provisions and reciting cases. As a working student, her other passion is the Build Build Build program. It is the current administration’s medium-term goal to increase infrastructure spending from 5.4 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017 to 7.3 in 2022. Since June 2016, Anna Mae has seen the construction of over 3,945 kilometers of roads and over 2,423 bridges. “The vision is to eventually connect Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao via land travel by building a series of short and long-span bridges linking island provinces,” she says.
With a job that requires her to travel all over, she has seen the problems begat by the excruciating problems of traffic. “In 2012, the Philippines lost P2.4 billion a day. Six years after, a study conducted by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said the number had gone up to P3.5 billion a day due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila,” she says. “Now, road usage in Metro Manila is at about 13.4 million trips per day and could go as high as 16.1 million in 17 years. Economic losses could also rise up to P5.4 billion in 2035 without any infrastructure interventions.” The answer, says Anna Mae, lies on working towards a more efficient road and transportation network. “Then we might all be able to put our time to better use,” she says.
Jono Pisano, 28
Jono Pisano has been making waves in the art scene lately. A recent solo exhibit entitled “Breakpoint” at the Joya Gallery caught the radar of many art lovers. The pieces presented at the show were all split down the middle with a line, with two different images finding a place on their own corners of the canvas. Inspired by a breakpoint in a tennis game (which means one opponent is a point shy from victory), Jono was inspired by a collection of 72,000 photos from the archives of philanthropist and architect Albert Kahn.
The 28-year-old cites many milestones in his career, including the opening of AMO Studios, a creative space founded by him and a group of friends while he lived in New York City. “I hope we made a positive impact on the small community of young artists who participated in our shows,” he says with a smile. Now back home in the Philippines, the Italian-Filipino hopes to continue to grow in his craft. “So much of my art-making process is done in isolation and when you’re left with your own thoughts, doubt can easily creep in. Self-love for me is about self-belief—believing that this piece or project I’ve spent my whole day, month or year on is worthwhile, and trusting that the process will somehow broaden my understanding of life.”
Paj Rodriguez, 30
Paj Rodriguez isn’t your typical COO (Child of Owner). When he joined the family business as Executive Vice President, he made sure to leave his mark. AirTaxi.ph owns and operates a private fleet of 27 jets and helicopters pre-positioned around the Philippines. Their clientele of VIPs, tourists, government agencies and emergency services can go anywhere they want by simply picking up the phone and booking a flight. He was responsible for the creation of the company’s Emerald Class Air Card and Timeshare Programs, which allow private traveling more accessible. Memberships at AirTaxi.ph begins at P20 million, is fully consumable, and includes top-of-the-line aircraft and services.
“Sometime before I turned 30, I was able to achieve the goal of letting AirTaxi.ph have its third Gulfstream Jet (and 27th aircraft in its fleet). Most companies and individuals don’t even get a chance to have a Gulfstream Jet in their 50s. We are blessed to have achieved our third in such a short time,” Paj shares. This, he considers his greatest achievement so far. “Gulfstream Jets are the best of the best in the Business Jet Market, some of which can go from Manila to New York—non-stop. You can tell they’re Gulfstream Jets with its large panoramic windows (just like the ones on fancy cruise ships) and very sleek interior design.”
Rafa Siguion-Reyna, 28
“Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances is the job of the actor,” says Rafa Siguion-Reyna. “When I am doing my best work on stage or film, someone in the audience may be feeling emotions and truths that are based on a connection with the character I am playing—this is fulfilling to me.” The young actor was born to a family of entertainers, but did not immediately gravitate towards show business. It was only during his university years, spent at New York University, when he realized he wanted to be under the spotlight.
After roles on stage, TV and independent films, Rafa’s biggest break to date came in 2018, in the movie Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral—the sequel to 2015’s sleeper hit Heneral Luna. Playing the titular character’s older brother Julian del Pilar introduced Rafa to a new audience. “During the marketing campaign of Goyo, I noticed how engaged young students were on raising questions about Philippine history. They would ask specific questions on social media and were tuned into the events that lead to what happened in these movies,” he says. “To be a part of a story that deconstructs our Philippine heroes—in a way that is relatable to a young audience—was important to me. I felt the success of these films impacted young audiences in a way that made them more historically conscious about the Filipino.” For anyone looking to break into the business, Rafa offers succinct advice. “Don’t be afraid of failure—seek it—and learn from it,” he says.
Kristina Sy, 34
Founder, Electric Studio
Kristina Sy spent her 20s thinking about what she wanted her life to be like. “There were so many questions and so many answers. But year on year, the one nagging thought that was constant for me was the urge to try and build something of my own,” she says. “No matter how small it was or even if it failed, I wanted to, at the very least, try to create something I believed in.”
Very much a planner, Kristina went all in on trying to find something of her own. “During my last year in New York, I carried in my bag a tiny notebook, where I wrote every business idea I had. After analyzing all the options, I ended up choosing what I was most excited about,” she shares. “I realized that if I was going to take a huge risk, I might as well go all in on something I was truly passionate about.”
The thing she built turned out to be Electric Studio, the country’s premier indoor cycling fitness boutique. With three locations, it is now a certifiable success, but the beginning was a tough journey. “Quitting my stable corporate job in New York, re-starting my career at the age of 30, and moving back to the Philippines were the scariest things I’ve done,” she says. “It would’ve been much easier to stay the course I’d already set out for myself and let momentum take its course. But loving yourself is having the courage to push that pause button, look past all your fears and doubts, and listen to that voice inside of you. It is about being strong enough to leave what is comfortable and choose what is inconvenient.”
Martin Basilio Tan, 29
Entrepreneur & Private Equity Executive
Martin Basilio Tan started his career with KPMG’s Mergers & Acquisitions unit in Singapore, where he advised several businesses across Southeast Asia on business acquisitions, capital raising and divestments. “Today, I work full-time as a senior investment associate with a private equity firm, which pools money from institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals in order to amass millions of dollars that are then used to acquire stakes in companies,” he shared. “My responsibilities include meeting with CEOs and company founders to originate potential investments, creating detailed financial models to understand the potential growth of a business, and conducting valuation analysis to develop a view of how much we can pay for an investment.”
Apart from working in private equity, Martin also founded Danzei Artillery in 2017. It is Southeast Asia’s very first makeup brand for men. “Teenage acne left me with scars more than just skin deep,” he says. “After I exhausted all available remedies, the only solution that helped me regain my confidence was women’s concealer. I love working on this passion project because the taboo surrounding men wearing makeup poses an interesting puzzle that no cosmetic titan has cracked. I’m motivated by the thought of one day making history by undoing centuries of outdated conditioning.” Today, the brand is distributed nationwide. Their signature concealer, War Paint, is available in 50 barbershops and male-centric retail outlets in the Philippines. Martin shares that he is very proud when young people message him, telling him he’s made an impact on their lives.
Kimberly Yao Vanlandingham, 31
“My passion has always been centered around innovation,” shares Kim Yao. She started her career as a club promoter for The Palace Group in 2007, became an executive assistant in 2009, then exited as VP for marketing by 2018. “I literally started from the bottom and I would never trade that for anything else,” she says. “I am now CEO of a tech company with a major conglomerate as an investor, and the CMO of a beauty company that is starting a massive Southeast Asia beauty project. Without my experience of starting from the bottom, I would not be where I am today.”
At The Palace Group, Kim had a first-row seat to Manila becoming a global player in the nightlife map. “For over 10 years, we brought world class entertainment to our venues. Since then, the entire industry has grown leaps and bounds. In the past two years, that drive to innovate has evolved into a bigger scope,” she says. Today, Kim has her eye on social commerce and online retail, and its ability to change the way people and businesses connect to each other via the Internet. “The future is definitely online and seeing a glimpse of that inspires me to push harder to innovate. My background was never in technology, and I’m a businesswoman at heart. I love making things happen, connecting people and motivating teams to produce results,” she says. “But I’m an extremely fast learner and in the past two years, I have become extremely passionate about learning more and more about technology and how it’s already shaping our future.”
Winnie Wong, 27
In an increasingly overpopulated blogosphere, where most bloggers have a “buy more” mentality, it is good to see Winnie Wong advocate for taking a step back, looking at what you have and building a wardrobe of basics to go from a work day to a night out. Her “How to be Basic Series” encourages people to buy only what you need, and only the best quality, so it lasts forever. This year, she released Everyday, a set of planners that help users map out their days while also encouraging them to track their spending habits and set out goals for themselves. At the same time, Winnie is one of the few bloggers with an actual day job. A teacher at the International School Manila, her days are busy dealing with students and working on her own content. “My passion is currently education and art. I love teaching and art because I feel like those two connect and will elevate you to new levels,” she says.