Returning Filipino scholars discuss opportunities to make a difference as PHL recovers from COVID-19

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven J Robinson AO recently welcomed 17 Filipino recipients of the prestigious Australia Awards Scholarships. The latest batch of balikbayan scholars are set to make a difference in the Philippines by applying the knowledge and skills they gained in Australia through their re-entry action plans (REAPs).

"I commend all of you for your determination to finish your Australia Awards journey, particularly in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. You have returned to the Philippines at an unprecedented time and I have no doubt that all of you will play key roles in its recovery," said Ambassador Robinson.

The REAP is a unique feature of Australia Awards in the Philippines, allowing returning Filipino awardees to apply what they learned in Australia in meaningful, gender-responsive, and inclusive projects that contribute to Philippine development. Through the REAP, Filipino awardees can outline how their education and enhanced competencies can contribute to the development of their organisations and communities upon their return to the Philippines.

Just recently, Australia Awards alumnus Aris Christopher Dacanay, who is now working at the National Economic and Development Authority, completed his REAP, which was to create an empirical model of the Philippine economy that will assist policymakers and local government units in managing a safe re-opening amidst COVID-19. Aris completed his Master of International and Development Economics from the Australian National University in July 2020.

The latest batch of returning scholars recently met during the REAP Implementation Workshop, which provides a platform for scholars to discuss and finalise their REAPs and discuss reintegration issues in the Philippines.

Vinson Anthony Salen, a returning scholar from Universal Robina Corporation, shared the relevance of the workshop sessions. "The Design Thinking and Change Management sessions allowed us to refine our proposals and gave us the competencies needed to address implementation challenges. The REAP Implementation Workshop reminded us to focus on our goals while "giving back" by executing projects with social impact and development outcomes."

Mary Rose Santillan, a scholar from the Public-Private Partnership Center, likewise noted the significance of the event for returning scholars. "The REAP conference provided me with a lot of guidance, especially on the revision and implementation of my REAP. While we are given the opportunity to learn how to adapt and refocus our lenses, we also need to establish connections with people capable of supporting us along our journey."

She added: "The road towards successful implementation of the REAP is not always smooth, but we can always prepare for the humps ahead of us. In the end, what we are doing is help build a better and sustainable Philippines for the benefit of future generations ."

The returning scholars join the roster of Australia Global Alumni, including former and current cabinet secretaries, heads of government agencies, successful entrepreneurs, and national scientists.

"With the conclusion of your studies in Australia, you are now part of the long-standing and rich history between Australia and the Philippines. This year marks 75 years of enduring friendship and strong diplomatic ties between our two countries, and our Australia Global alumni have been key in strengthening the people-to-people links between our two countries," said Ambassador Robinson.