How I got my job: Godofredo Villapando Jr., Executive Director of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment
How I got my job is a series that spotlights a specific job or position that isn’t often featured in media. Through this series, we hope to shed light on the duties and work-life of some of the most interesting jobs in the Philippines. We’ll also share a few tips from insiders on how to land one of these positions.
This week, we talked to Godofredo Villapando Jr., Executive Director of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment.
Describe your job.
As Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer of FPE, I undertake the following:
- Provide over-all directions on organization’s day-to-day operations
- Ensure that the organization carries out its mission of biodiversity conservation through the establishment of cooperative linkages between FPE and local, international donors, government and private sector entities, non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs), and negotiations of funding arrangement
- Lead in the implementation of programs towards the attainment of FPE’s vision, mission, and goals
- Lead in identifying and implementing strategies for resource mobilization
- Act as principal liaison between the Chief Executive Officer and the management staff
- Directly manage the human resource management and supervises the administrative functions involving procurement, asset management and control
What is a typical day for you as Executive Director?
My day begins in the office before 8 o’clock in the morning by touching the small statue of Mama Mary on my table. I utter a short prayer to thank the Lord for His grace and to ask Him to give me guidance and wisdom so that I can effectively perform my tasks. After that, I check if there are documents on my paper tray for my review and/or signature. Then, I check my mailbox to read and/or reply to emails.
Meetings follow after checking my emails. I prefer to schedule the meetings in the office with our staff and/or visitors in morning as I think that it is the good time to discuss ideas or share thoughts because the person’s mind is still fresh. I like sipping coffee while having a meeting, as the caffeine helps tickle my mind to produce better ideas.
There are cases that my morning begins at 3 o’clock, riding a taxi to the airport to travel to the regions and visit FPE-approved projects, attend activities that are supported by FPE, or attend meetings or make a presentation in a conference, forum, or workshop.
My regular meal during lunch in the office is lutong-bahay that we order from our suki. A cup of rice and a viand – preferably fish – and a half order of cooked vegetables are always present in my plate. Water is preferred over soda and to cap my lunch – para matunawan – I take a cup of coffee.
I do my paperwork in the afternoon like the review of proposals that are endorsed by the operations staff for my approval (small grant level with a financial assistance requested of up to Php 200,000) or endorsement to the Chair/CEO (medium grant from with a financial assistance requested of more than Php 200,000 up to Php 800,000).
I make sure there are no papers on my paper tray before I leave for home at about past 6 in the evening.
What are your qualifications for this position?
My background is Business Management, major in Marketing. I earned a certificate from the Asian Institute of Management after attending a short-term course on Program for Development Managers. As a leader, I believe in a participatory decision making process. I am a cool and relaxed person, and I do not allow pressure to ruin my day. I love to work with people.
The lessons I have learned from the field in working with my previous organizations’ partners, different communities, government agencies, different areas—especially from the different projects that I have been involved with that became successful, or have failed—are priceless experiences that I can still practically apply in my job.
Developing an idea into a concept paper or project proposal for potential investment is my cup of coffee.
How long have you been involved in social development and environmental management work?
I have been involved in social development and environmental management work for the past 25 years. I started my career as a social development volunteer in far-flung areas in Samar Island for one year, and continued to work there for another four years as a social development worker.
In mid-1997, I had a feeling of burnout and took a break from NGO work. I decided to work with government in 1998 – with the Department of Trade and Industry – and the tasks assigned to me were similar to what I used to do in the NGO, and adjustment was not a problem. In early 1999, a former supervisor contacted me to work with him. As I was already missing real action development work ala-NGO, I decided to return to NGO work in March 1999.
Why did you choose this line of work? What made you stay at it?
I was a student leader and a frustrated politician – isang subok lang naman. I ran as a candidate for councilor and lost in the first local election when Cory Aquino assumed the presidency. I was banking from my background as a president of student council and the voting power of the youth sector as they represented more than 50% of voters in our town. During the campaign, I validated the impact and the culture of poverty at the local level. I had proven how dirty the politics was. But the saddest part of my experience during the campaign was when some people asked something in exchange for their votes – solicitation for uniform, sports paraphernalia, prizes, dance parties or sayawan, money to buy medicines, etc. Totoo pala ang ganito. Akala ko dati ay k’wento lang. During the campaign, I had an assessment that I could not make it as we had no money, and the youth power was powerless for a politician like me with no money, and what I had inside pockets was only idealism. So, I thought there would be a better way that an idealistic person like me can do to help alleviate poverty. I told myself that I would not try again to be involved in politics.
In 1989, I was very fortunate that I hurdled the hiring process of the first batch (we were 16 men and women recruited all over the Philippines) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Social Development Workers Formation Program of PBSP. And before our one-month training had ended in December of the same year– as we will be assigned to PSBP’s offices or to its partners in selected areas in the Philippines – we were asked to identify the areas where we would like to be assigned. Most of my batchmates chose offices or partners located in beautiful cities like Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, etc. However, my choice was different from the others as I chose to be assigned in any of the three provinces in Samar Island. A week before we were asked about our preferred area of assignment, I saw the report of Mr. Orly Punzalan (nagkakabistuhan na ng edad) on television about the devastation in Samar Island brought about by frequent typhoons. I saw how poor the condition of the people was in that report. Naaawa ako sa kalagayan ng mga tao. I told myself there was a challenge among the people in Samar Island, on how they will rise from poverty. I found it as an opportunity to help. Thus, in the first week of January 1990, my first ride in a plane happened as my assignment as social development volunteer began. The rest is history.
What inspires and excites you at your job?
When I get feedback or reports saying that the projects of NGOs/POs or indigenous people’s organizations that we approved have met its targets and achieved its desired result, it is something that inspires me to support good projects. In our FPE, if a resource and socio-economic assessment project that we supported has resulted to the discovery of new species of flora or fauna, it is a great contribution to science and conservation work.
Traveling to key biodiversity areas that are not frequently visited is something that excites me because I know there is something – a practice or initiative – that we can learn from, or we can help with. Likewise, those travels in far-flung areas enable me to do my hobby – to take different pictures of the places, animals, plants, people, craftsmanship, natures, and other beautiful things. It’s the bonus of travel.
Executing new partnerships that enable us to leverage our funds for biodiversity conservation, with donors or with the business sector, also motivates me to continue working hard.
Can you share with us some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had as Executive Director?
Traveling to different areas in the Philippines and several parts of the world while working. Binabayaran ka na, saan-saang lugar ka pa nakapupunta nang libre. Meeting different leaders of indigenous groups. Knowing some first-hand information on indigenous systems and practices in natural resource management. Tasting different local delicacies, coffee, and local wines (tapus, basi, etc.). Presenting ideas or sharing personal experiences from my FPE-funded projects to groups of people;
How about the teachable moments?
Sustainability mechanism is a major aspect that we need to have in a project that we will support. And my experience/learning in social, conservation, and enterprise development is part of my personal “Swiss Army knife” that I always use.
My experiences from failed projects during my time in Samar are worthy of sharing with social development and conservation workers. As I have mentioned, these experiences are priceless.
What are the top five things one must know about working in the NGO sector?
NGO work is not for the faint-hearted.
In general, NGO workers are very passionate.
Transparency is very important in NGO work.
In far flung areas, the NGOs fill-in the role of government to facilitate learning, undertake development work, implement environmental project, and help improve the livelihood of the people.
There are more legitimate or Napoles-free NGOs that quietly and seriously undertake social development and conservation work all around the country.
What are the most in-demand skills in the NGO sector?
IT – specifically on database development and management
What’s your advice for those who would like to follow a path similar to yours?
NGO work is a good career path. They will definitely be fulfilled with the success of each project they are involved in. The rewards for good work, in most cases, are non-monetary, but they come from the recognition and respect that will be given to you by your organization, co-workers, and the community that you work with. If a project fails, it is not really a failure, as it provides lessons on how to avoid repeating a mistake. It helps one to grow. NGO work is a very good training ground, and if one decides to shift to another career, it makes the person more competitive since NGO work increases one’s value in the job market. I recommend they should give it a try.