In February 2014, Aiducation expanded its reach into the Philippines where many students are challenged by structural problems of the educational sector, similar to Kenya, where Aiducation started in 2007. Thanks to a partnership with “Pathways to Higher Education – Philippines”, our local partner organization in Manila, Aiducation’s expansion into the Philippines can count on specific know-how and an established network. Solvie T. Nubla-Lee, the managing director of Pathways, guided Aiducation to develop a program that differs from Kenya based on the needs of students in the Philippines. The focus on education and mentorship are the same, but students in the four year Aiducation-Pathways program join two years before high school graduation with a focus on tutoring, mentoring and college entrance exam preparation that extends through the first two years of university. In an interview, Solvie shared her positive summary of the Pathways partnership with Aiducation.

Solvie, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work at Pathways?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I decided to take a gap year before proceeding to law school. I joined the business sector. There, I was acquainted with how things worked in my country. I realized I was too idealistic to deal with the pervasive corruption that had tainted all levels of the bureaucracy. I knew I wasn’t cut out for that. So I decided to stay in the corporate sector.

However, after five years in the business sector, I was still looking for work that had more meaning than just earning more money and gaining market share for a company. At about that time, I heard about Pathways and how it was looking for the team that could start it. I sent in my resume, and the rest is history.

I initially handled marketing and was in charge of building the relationships with partner universities and other donors who were crucial because they were the ones who gave out the scholarships. Later, when the director decided to move on, I was asked to take on the helm.

The funny thing was that everyone thought that with my business-oriented culture, I’d only stay for six months. This year, we celebrate Pathways’ 13th anniversary, and so will I.

Solvie T. Nubla-Lee, the managing director of Pathways

What has motivated you to work with Pathways?

The main reason I have worked with Pathways for 13 years is because I see how my skills are relevant and contribute to a cause that is so essential and close to my heart. Helping disadvantaged students access education that will enlighten and empower them to break free from the vicious cycle of poverty. Someday though, I hope that Pathways will not be needed anymore and everyone will have equal access to all the basic needs they need to be productive and successful in the world.

In 2014, Aiducation officially launched the Philippine chapter with Pathways as a local partner. Where do you think are the major similarities between the two organizations that make them work together so successfully?

For starters, Pathways and Aiducation target the same kind of students – talented but underprivileged. Secondly, it’s uncanny how it’s equally important to both organizations to nurture our students’ leadership potential so they can be change agents in their respective countries, and who knows, maybe even in the world! That never ceases to amaze me – the fact that our programs are so similar, considering we are continents apart. You can’t imagine how it has helped us in Pathways to know that there are other like-minded and idealistic individuals out there who share the same vision of a better more egalitarian world.

And where do you see the most significant mutual benefits arising from this partnership?

I think the most significant benefit is the sharing of experiences from our years before the partnership. Both Aiducation and Pathways have gone through “birth pains” from which we learned a lot. By sharing what we learned, we are able to avoid certain pitfalls and enable us to be more effective and efficient in the new partnership. 
There are also certain areas where Aiducation has strengths and other areas where Pathways has more experience. By teaming up, we are able to avoid certain pitfalls while building on each other’s strengths.

What were the most important things Pathways learnt during the first year of cooperation with Aiducation? What do you think can Aiducation learn from you as a Filipino organization?

I certainly appreciated the fact that Aiducation never imposed or demanded. Instead, Florian (CEO of Aiducation International) always sought to understand our program and the environment we work in. Only after completely grasping our environment would he suggest ideas that we would then discuss and decide upon together to benefit both parties and the students.

Are there any differences in the ways a Pathways and Aiducation work? For example, in Switzerland, people are said to work very precisely and always come on the dot…

To be honest, I welcomed the differences and found them refreshing! First, I really appreciated the sincerity and openness. It was always so easy to talk to Florian. He would speak out his mind and so would I. There was no need for flowery words. Aiducation is better at internal systems and we appreciate how they use the on-line tool “wiki” for processes. We are definitely learning a lot from them!

In November 2014, you and Rio E., our first ever Aiducation student in the Philippines, visited Switzerland for more than a week. Please tell us briefly about this visit.

It was a very interesting visit and a trip of many first experiences for Rio – first trip out of Manila, first plane ride, first experience in presenting in front of large audiences, first trip to a science museum, etc.

During the trip, we met the other team members who make up the energetic Aiducation team. We also had the opportunity to present the Philippine education situation and the partnership between Aiducation and Pathways in several meetings. Of course, we also had some time to see what a beautiful country Switzerland truly is.

During your visit, what was the experience you liked most?

I am definitely grateful to have met the other Aiducation team members. Now I finally have “faces” to match with the names in our email exchanges! But more importantly, having shared meals with them, and having been welcomed into their homes and into their lives was just absolutely wonderful. To know that they are young professionals who are going through pretty much the same stages and challenges of creating a new non-profit as our own team here in Manila, just helped deepen the partnership even more. It confirmed for me that we not only share the same vision but we also have the same shared organizational culture and values.

Is there anything else you want to share with us?

Aiducation introduced us to new and more efficient ways of doing things to achieve the same goal. More importantly, it validates the work that we do – that nurturing talented but underprivileged for leadership is not just equally important, it is crucial. As we move forward with our partnership, I am eager to learn more from you as I am also hopeful we can help in the areas Aiducation wishes to strengthen as well.

Solvie, a huge thanks to you for your kind words. We wish you all the best and hope that there are many years to come for this successful collaboration!

Interview: Kerstin Hockmann

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