Michi Ferreol: Philippines EdTech Trailblazer, Harvard MBA & Finding A Mountain To Die On - E155

· Philippines,Founder,Start-up,Women,Southeast Asia

I had been known in the organization as somebody who is a good operator. I’m really good at curriculum design, really good at team management, all that. But then not really being invited to sit at the table around strategic conversations and also didn’t really have a good insight into how to keep the company financially sustainable. So I hadn’t gotten an insight into how it was like to fundraise or working with donors as well, none of that. I actually wanted to signal to the world and also to learn for myself like this is what it looks like when you lift the curtain and actually sit at the table with the big dogs and aren’t just an operator, but are thinking birds eye view and really thinking long term about where a company is heading. And I thought that an MBA was the best degree that I could get for that- Michi Ferreol

Michi has spent over five years working in social enterprises across the United States, Africa and Southeast Asia, with a focus on education and the future of work. Her most recent full-time role was at the African Leadership University, where she was part of the founding team that built and launched a 6-month intensive work readiness program for recent college graduates in Kenya. Currently, Michi is helping to set up an early-stage education fund in East Africa before starting her full-time role as a consultant at Bain and Company. She is the co-founder of KadaKareer, a start-up non-profit that provides career development support and resources to underserved Filipino youth hoping to enter the digital space. Michi recently graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was a Horace Goldsmith Fellow, and received a BA in Sociology, cum laude, from Harvard College.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi, Michi, I’m so excited to have you on the show.

Michi Ferreol: (00:32)
Thanks, Jeremy, for having me on the show. I’m so excited to be here.

Jeremy Au: (00:35)
I’m so excited to share your story of building up your career in the Philippines and your background in Harvard MBA.

Michi Ferreol: (00:54)
Yeah, happy to share. It might be a bit unconventional, but may be helpful for others getting started.

Jeremy Au: (01:02)
Tell us about yourself, Michi.

Michi Ferreol: (01:04)
Yeah. My name is Michi. I am a born and bred Filipina so very, very proud Pinoy here. I grew up in the Philippines up until I was 18 then I moved to the States, to Harvard College. As you mentioned earlier, I studied sociology there because I was very interested in communities and systems and organisations and how they operate within this complex web of how society comes together. After that, I actually started my journey into education, so I fell in love with working with young people and teaching youth. So, I was teaching 8th grade for a year in my last year of college and after that ventured into ed-tech. So I worked at an Edtech company for a year when I was in the US, and unfortunately the visa process didn’t work out for me as an international student at that time. So I had to leave, but I actually consider it a blessing in disguise because it led me to find an education startup in Africa called the African Leadership University, where I eventually then decided to work as a learning experience designer, so I was there for two years really understanding what makes students click. How do they learn best? In what ways can we actually blend online and offline in this new world of learning that we’re building? And then when they launched a site in Kenya, I moved with them to Kenya. All in all three years working at the African Leadership University. At which point then I decided hey, been a while being like an operator and being very involved in the programmatic side of startups and I wanted to actually start to get deeper sense of the strategic elements of it and the fund-raising side as well. So I thought that it would be best to get an MBA and that's as you said earlier then made my way back to Boston. Back to Harvard for my MBA, where I focused a lot on continuing to understand social enterprises and how to run and scale social enterprises, but then also the VC world. So that was my first foray into the VC world and then now after two years have graduated in May, I actually in the last year have been building KadaKareer which I’ll be happy to talk more about later and have had like several experiences now under my belt of investing in Edtech startups across like three different VC’s that I worked with during school. So it’s interesting ‘cause I’m approaching this from both an operator standpoint and also an investor standpoint. But I personally loved the work that we’re doing at KadaKareer. I guess you can say I’m. A mix of educator, entrepreneur, a little bit of a travel writer and Blogger, and just in general like trying to be a good global citizen as well. Yeah, that’s me.

Jeremy Au: (03:35)
Awesome. What was it like growing up in the Philippines?

Michi Ferreol: (03:38)
Oh, man, I’m biased, obviously, but it’s the best. I think the Philippines has or Manila specifically, which is my hometown or home city has a perfect mix of grungy and gritty and really like exposing a kid to the real world, but then also the loving, kind of nourishing, very safe space of family, family is very big here in the Philippines as it is in several other Southeast Asian cultures. But for me, really, it was also about just the whole phrase. It takes a village to raise a child. I really felt that way. Here in Manila, where obviously I had my immediate family and my parents were very formative. For me, teachers became pretty much relatives and family members had been extended, cousins who were always around who we always visited. We saw my grandma and my aunts and uncles every weekend. No fail. Every single weekend we would see them. It really is this really big community type of growing up community based type of aging and I really appreciated that and I think it’s something that I missed when I went to the US, which is a lot more individualistic. So it’s a great space. One thing that has been most exciting is seeing it from what it was before when I left for college, when I was 18 to what it has become now, I actually just got back. And being in the city feels so different. Besides, things like the traffic being crazy and so many buildings have popped up and so many new restaurants and stuff, there really does feel some hunger for something. A lot of people are working on side hustles. A lot of people are now starting their own thing and really trying to get it to grow. And that to me is very exciting. Has always been my favorite part of Manila and actually of Southeast Asia in general. Yeah, growing up here has been fantastic.

Jeremy Au: (05:18)
Amazing. What was it like to discover that you were going to Harvard College?

Michi Ferreol: (05:24)
It really felt like another world and the reason I say that is 'cause I grew up with two parents who are both doctors and so the pathway that had been laid out for me was pretty simple. It was basically follow the same path of being in a private all girls Catholic school up until high school and then moving to college at the University of the Philippines, majoring in biology. Exactly like my mom, and then going to the UP College of Medicine. Exactly like my mom and my dad. And it was going to be simple. No frills, no fancy things, just straight shot all the way through and then getting an International School education for high school changed all of that. So when my guidance counselors actually said, hey, you have the grades to be able to try to apply for some of these big schools. I was still skeptical and making excuses like, oh, I wouldn't be able to afford it, I wouldn't want to leave my family so on and so forth. But eventually, obviously, they convinced me and the financial aid packages are very, very generous at these schools. So yeah, I just tried it out and I did it without expectations. So the day that I found out that I got in was honestly just it felt like it wasn’t me. I had this out of body experience. Sounds really dramatic, but when you’re 18 and you haven’t really thought about a world outside of the Philippines, it comes as a big shock to then have all of that open to you. So it was honestly like the biggest blessing I could have ever gotten because then it just completely changed my trajectory and opened everything for me in terms of international opportunities for writing into different types of careers. Also, like just experiencing different cultures and meeting different types of people. So it was a game changer for me and I definitely think it was like the big catalyst and why I decided to be in education

Jeremy Au: (07:02)
What was it like going to Harvard and America?

Michi Ferreol: (07:06)
Yeah, I actually remember that my first impression of America was – why is everything so big? Why are the cereal boxes so big or their plates so big, so on and so forth? I found that very fascinating at the beginning, I think. But jokes aside, I think for me it was actually becoming a prouder Filipino. I think I realized there were things about living here in the Philippines that I took for granted. One of them is the collectivist community-based nature of living in a Philippine culture and a Philippine society, another one for sure is just the ability of people to really have hope and optimism. Like I think in the states like people take things for granted because of we have the infrastructure, we have all the things like at our fingertips, even in the way that we talk about what luxury is in both places. Is very, very different, so I think I just started to appreciate more the things I loved about home. Not to say that I didn’t learn a lot for my time there or didn’t enjoy my time there because I did. I definitely became more freethinking, more opinionated, more progressive. But I think I also managed to retain some of those, like classic Filipino traditions and values that for me are very important. Like being family centered, caring about the community and thinking about people other than yourself and how you can impact them. So I really think that that’s something that I’ve blended and tried to keep in mind always despite all of the different learnings that we’ve gotten from like an Ivy League institution, it’s now gonna blend an Americanized Filipino, but still Filipino, at the end of the day.

Jeremy Au: (08:37)
I do remember reading being very big and Harvard itself also is very much like Hogwarts. That’s what I felt like when I went there. I was like, oh, this is like Harry Potter. There you are Harvard, you’re starting to really work on global development, tell us more about how you got started.

Michi Ferreol: (09:05)
Yeah, I actually think the big catalyst for me was one summer internship. So, I did an internship when I was in the first year. So, after the first year, my very first summer at a health nonprofit in Tanzania. And at the time, I was actually still considering going into medicine because it’s hard to completely just change your path after you’ve been taught it for 18 years, but I remember going to one of the hospitals that we were working with in Tanzania and seeing like the dismal state of the way that they were recording patient information. So basically, they had this one room that was filled from floor to ceiling with papers like folders with like papers overflowing. So a patient would come and then the nurse would have to scan through all of those individual folders one by one and find the correct paper. Some of it was already like falling apart. Some of it had gotten wet; really, really bad system. And I remember looking at that and thinking this is not something I need an MD for. This is not something I need a stethoscope around my neck for. This is something that honestly as a student studying another discipline I could do right now. In fact, like that summer we were rolling out a patient registration system that people could access from their mobile devices. I had this like, come to Jesus moment around, do you really need to be a doctor to like, make the impact that you want? And the answer, very point blank, was no for me. And so actually later that same here in my second year of college, I switched over into sociology, which I felt was more aligned with Community development initiatives. Yeah, understanding local context and local cultures to be able to then assist people there or like understand how to impact their way of living. And so that kind of is what started the foray into the social impact space. Education, specifically, was honestly something that I had for the longest time already. Loved doing so. All of my extracurriculars were always around teaching or tutoring. One of my main activities in college was I would go to a kindergarten every week to actually do two to three hours of science experiments with the kids. And that was my favorite thing to do, easily. I think it just started to click more and more as I studied sociology as well that hey, this is what I love. This is literally what I get out of bed to do everyday is to work with young people and to help them grow and evolve and develop and help them along their journey. Like both of the student and even after I started to hone in more and more on that. And as I got deeper into it, I approach it from different angles. So, in college there was a lot of like pedagogy and learning about how people absorb content and what is fun for students, how to change up the classroom experience. And then it moved into EdTech. So how do we actually bring all of that online? How do we use data to assess where a student is at and then give them Instructional lessons that can then like meet those gaps or fill those gaps, and then it moved into a higher-ed. How are we thinking about education in terms of then moving people into work and preparing them for what the future holds, which is really difficult because we don’t know what the future holds? So how do we actually work backwards from that? And then now like workforce development, which is really tight, because I think we’re moving away from 12 years of school and that’s it into we have to be lifelong learners because the way that society is changing and the way that industries are changing is so fast paced that we can’t just stick to what we learned before. So really, it’s like lead into all of these different roles and functionalities within the education space, including being operator to being an investor, to being a consultant as well. So multiple angles, but I can safely say for sure that it is the mountain on which I want to die, as they say. So, it’s like the thing that I want to peg my life on. So, I’m excited about that and excited to say that I have something like that

Jeremy Au: (12:48)
Amazing. You discovered what is the mountain you want to die on and also what’s interesting is your geography choices, because after Harvard as part of the Filipino diaspora and community, there’s a certain choice. Should you go back to Southeast Asia/Philippines or in your case, work in America/across the world. How is your thinking and thought process there?

Michi Ferreol: (13:12)
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because someone asked me, how did you even start your work in Africa and why is that relevant to what you’re trying to do? And for me, like, it really boils down to, number one, we’re trying to figure out how to deliver education in the most under resourced environments and there is no environment in the world or no region in the world that is more under resourced than the African continent and for that matter, even though the African continent is under resourced, it has and it will have the largest workforce in the entire world by 2030 and that’s something that we will not be able to deny. So the problem was vast, but also at the same time like it needed to have really solid, innovative approaches, because otherwise there was no way to be able to tackle whatever the issue was. So for me, the movement into Africa was really to understand that in the most stark contexts and to be able to take lessons from a lot of the really cool initiatives that are happening on the ground there into the Southeast Asian context, not to say that exciting things weren’t happening in Southeast Asia at the time. They totally were. This was back in 2016 when I was making this decision. But I also think there’s something powerful about seeing different contexts and cultures and being able to then tear apart or piece apart what is the same and what is different. So one thing I have now validated for sure for instance, is that something that is the same across anywhere is how people learn. People everywhere learn the same way. There are things that you can do with the way you structure lesson what you do to interact with them and what you do to engage with them that are the same, no matter if you’re in Africa or in Southeast Asia. But one thing that’s different, obviously are government structures. That’s something that on the continent is dealt with very, very differently, like the way of doing business is very different. And that will also be different here in Southeast Asia. But I think I have solidified now what I feel are solid ideas and innovations both in the US and in Africa. So then now transfer back into the Southeast Asian context. So for me it was hard because obviously I want to be home and there’s a sacrifice that you make, not being on the ground and not being privy to all of the exciting things that are happening. But at the same time, like there is a power to learning in other environments as well, first, and really picking up the best of what is happening worldwide before bringing it back home. So that’s what I wanted to do, and now that I’m here, it’s exciting because I think I’m now at that stage where I’m finding like, OK, I’m ready. I’m ready to be here. I’m ready to, like, truly then immerse myself here and then take all of those learnings back into this context. So, yeah, I think that was essentially why I decided to start global first and then move back home.

Jeremy Au: (15:51)
You’ve spent a couple of years. Work in Africa and America, and then you decide to do your MBA, of all things. Share with us your thinking process of why that degree. Why go to grad school?

Michi Ferreol: (16:11)
Yeah, it’s a really good question also because, at the time, I was also very conflicted. So there were two avenues I could take…three, actually. So the first was to do the MBA and the reason that I wanted to do that was I was getting too pigeonholed into programmatic elements. I had been known in the organization as somebody who is a good operator. I’m really good at curriculum design, really good at team management, all that. But then not really being invited to sit at the table around strategic conversations and also like didn’t really have a good insight into how to keep the company financially sustainable. So I hadn’t gotten an insight into how it was like to fundraise or working with donors as well, none of that. I actually wanted to signal to the world and also to learn for myself, hey, like this is what it looks like when you lift the curtain and actually sit at the table with the big dogs and aren’t just an operator, but are thinking birds eye view and really thinking long term about where a company is heading. And I thought that an MBA was the best degree that I could get for that, especially with the case method and with the ability to really take the position of an executive in a lot of those conversations that you have in class. So that was why the MBA for me made sense. But then it was very divorced from the education side, obviously. So the second pathway that I was considering was doing a Masters in education entrepreneurship. I applied to one at the University of Pennsylvania and also Colombia or even doing a PhD honestly. But the reason that I thought that that didn't make sense was because I already had practical field work experience and I also knew that it was something I loved already and I would continue reading research papers on the side and continue making it my extra curricular. So there was no need to force me to sit down and look at those things, but someone needed to force me to look at financial statements ‘cause I wasn’t going to do that myself, so that was the second reason or the second way I didn’t decide to go down. And then the third is obviously just to come back and to do something new here, but a lot of the reasons that that wouldn’t work is 1 the questions around, OK. So you just moved from Africa. Give us an explanation for that and then also not really having the networks or having had the time to like step back and reflect on the time that I had had so far. So it felt too jarring to just move home quickly and not to mention too, it would be really difficult I think, to find openings in companies that I thought would really accelerate my growth where I wanted it to be. So I decided that the MBA was also the best for that, given that it was a transition Phase I could use that time to pivot and then I could also use it actually to meet people from Southeast Asia, again, reestablished those networks and it helped in all those ways and now I actually feel like much more mature, more aware, more ready to come back because of that. So I’m very grateful for the two years that I had at the MBA.

Jeremy Au: (18:56)
So before the MBA, you were already starting to think about coming back home to the Philippines?

Michi Ferreol: (19:02)
I was. It’s always on my mind. It never goes far from my mind.

Jeremy Au: (19:07)
So what happened? So you did those three years in Africa and America and you’re like, OK, I’m starting to get done with this. I’m ready to go back home?

Michi Ferreol: (19:17)
Yeah, I actually think it has always been on my mind. The long game has always been to be back in the Philippines and do something for Filipinos. One because I still think I know it best out of all the places that I worked or lived. I am Filipino and I just understand what it’s like to be in this context to grow up in this context, to be a student in this context. So it just made the most sense, but also I just feel a very, very tight connection with the communities here and I really feel this urge to be part of a big movement of young Filipino change makers that are trying to make things better. So I had always had it at the back of my mind. So even when I went to Africa, every single thing that I did when I was there, I was collecting in my little tool box of things that I wanted to bring home and every single time I was overseas, I still tried to be connected locally. I was also still involved in the Filipino communities in Mauritius as well. I always still managed to keep one foot or like maybe a pinky toe in the Philippines space and keeping as connected as possible, especially within the startup in the education landscape. It wasn’t a surprise to me and I was just waiting for the feeling of being ready. And so during the MBA I started already feel like, OK, that it’s time to go. And so I’m now at that point you’re catching me at a good time.

Jeremy Au: (20:43)
Now, this is at your second time back in Harvard and what would you say is the difference? Did you prepare yourself differently? Did you have different goals? Did you have a different mindset?

Michi Ferreol: (21:07)
To be honest, no, I didn’t. I mean, I just really wanted to learn. Ironically, like I actually went to Business School to learn, which not a lot of people do. I think a lot of people go for the social time or the break, but I actually really wanted to sit in the classroom and absorb everything that my classmates and my professors were saying. My mindset was very similar in that regard, that it was like a sponge phase for me, which is what I call when I like, soak everything in. But in terms of the social aspect, I was definitely very comfortable in Boston like, I know where everything is as you mentioned. But I was also young when I was there. I didn’t really like, feel like I was an adult in college yet. But this time, like, I lived off campus. That apartment was able to explore the deeper parts of Boston as well, so I think there was just a bigger sense of maturity around how I approached living in the city and then how I engage not only the city itself, but residents as well, which I think is different from when you’re in college, when you’re still trying to find yourself. So I think it was different in a good way and I guess opened my mind to the cities that we inhabit are so much more than what they are in that moment in time. Like every time I go back to Boston, I feel I discover something new. And you know, the thing that I tapped into in those last two years was the education and workforce development community is actually huge in Boston. And I don’t think I realized that until I started to expand my boundaries outside of campus. It was only because I had that mindset of hey, like, let’s actually engage the city instead of just engage the student body. This time. That changed with my perspective. That helped me do that. Yeah, because of that, I feel like I now have another community of education and workforce development people or VC’s and entrepreneurs that I can tap into whenever I need any help, which is really cool.

Jeremy Au: (22:49)
Amazing. This is where it’s interesting because you’ve been thinking about the Philippines for quite some time. You’re doing undergrad, stayed connected to the diaspora. You were working and still plugged into the Filipino community in different countries. This is where you make the decision to say like now is the time for me to be comfortable with moving back to the Philippines, which is now a big question in every diaspora’s mind. So, walk us through that final decision.

Michi Ferreol: (23:23)
Yeah. I think for me, it was really three things. One I feel like I have developed my understanding of the industry and the sector of education well enough that I can actually say that I have something to contribute that is not yet here, or at least is like a unique take or approach on how we approach education here in the Philippines. That was something that became very clear to me especially. Like doing some VC roles over the last two years where I realize like, wow, I’m getting access and exposure to so many models, a lot of which I haven’t seen back home. The second is in terms of then leadership capabilities, I have been managing people now for maybe like 3-4 years, and I felt that I needed to grow into it. It was actually very difficult for me, obviously, as it is for most people to then know how to lead teams, much less organizations, I feel like I’m now at that point where I have enough experience behind me on that and how to align team members to it, you know, so on and so forth. To be able to be ready to recruit young talent, hire young talent, inspire and continue to like guide young talent. That’s the second thing I think it was more on the leadership side and then the third is on a personal level too about when I think it would be best to move on a personal life standpoint. I’m breaching 30…in a year I’ll be 30. So thinking really about where do I want to start building my 30s and you know that for me really was Manila. That's the time when you're starting to really become mid level manager rise up the ranks starting to establish your deeper connections. And so it felt like the right time from that perspective as well. This is all across the landscape obviously of the fact that the Philippines is at a very exciting juncture in its growth as a country, interestingly, because you have an election coming up as well. So we’ll see how that goes. But I personally think that this is the right time to come back and be an entrepreneur in this country as well. There are so many indicators of a growing middle class like digitization. I know we say a lot of these things for Southeast Asia as a whole, but how quickly, for instance, like E commerce took off in the Philippines or how fintech is gripping it by storm, to me are just signs that were now shifting in that pathway and time to jump on it ‘cause if the wave will come and crash, then it'll leave you behind that. Those, I think, for me, are some of the reasons why I thought now was the time.

Jeremy Au: (25:45)
In parallel, you’re putting money where your mouth is, starting to build an organization and a team for a problem in the Philippines. Tell us more about why this problem?

Michi Ferreol: (25:57)
This organization actually started in the middle of the pandemic, so last summer and at the time we thought it was going to be a tool that would actually help students manage the online learning E learning experience. Because the Philippines has had the longest lockdown and also like school has been closed for the longest time, we thought, hey, let’s build something to help teachers and students connect better in a low bandwidth way. But as we were doing our initial set of discoveries and my user interviews, we found that students actually weren’t interested or weren’t as worried about the learning piece from an academic perspective. But they were very, very worried about their career trajectories. And this is especially because we were talking to college students and like second, third or fourth year and all that we heard over and over again was I’ve been attending webinars on Facebook around like skill building because my school is not doing well at that and I’m really worried about getting a job or landing a job after I graduate. Like I don’t really like my major. How can I like make sure that I’m still preparing for something that I actually want to do as employment so on and so forth. It was all career related, interestingly. So we actually decided to pivot our idea into now building a career development platform. For students in the Philippines that are, I would say a little bit disenfranchised from the fancy ed-x and Coursera’s out there that are unfortunately, one, too decontextualized, to be able to connect with them. I mean, it’s very Americanized, a lot of the topics are actually like too heavy for a lot of the students and also language wise it’s actually not easy for a lot of the students to tap into as well. And then finally. Too high bandwidth, a lot of people are still working with relatively low speed data bundles and don’t want to waste their data on big and heavy video based courses. We were like, let’s build something for the Philippines and that is actually matching the culture but also matching the needs of the students in a very very low bandwidth but stIll high quality way. That’s how we started. And since then we’ve been. Being iterating constantly. We did one pilot last October, November, and then we iterated for a few months and then we actually did another one. Just this April, May. And we’re finally about to launch our two initial products to the public this September. And what we’re doing with those products, super excited to share, is we’re starting off with bridging what we call the network gap, which is really big for students. Especially in these underserved environments, who don’t actually have access to people who can help them understand like what they’re interested in, what career they should be going into, like, how they should apply, how they should position themselves so on and so forth. So that’s the first thing the network gap and then number 2, the exposure gaps, just the lack of information around the different pathways available to you, if you’re interested in specific types of work or if you just have a specific skill set. Some people don’t know that, hey, like they love video editing. You can turn that into a career and the multimedia space, especially for outsourcing in the Philippines, is growing so huge. So a lot of people just don’t know that, it’s not something they have access to because they only see people in their communities that don’t work those jobs. So there’s no way for them to really understand the two things we’re building are tackling the network gap and the exposure gap specifically, we are going to be launching a coach connector which is going to be a coach marketplace where students can easily filter for the type of person they’re looking for by role, by industry, by language that they’re comfortable with, by platform that they want to speak on as well, and then easily connect with them on the platform. And these coaches are all in the digital space. So they’ve all held roles in online business, UX, UI design, web development, virtual freelancing, so on and so forth. The students will then be empowered to also use the infrastructure at their disposal to find alternative pathways for themselves instead of being limited to what’s in the environment or in the area. That’s the first thing. And then the second thing would be a career explorer, which will be a database of digital careers which will have information like the basics, average monthly salary, what skills are needed, what companies are often like looked at for this, but at the same time, one thing we’re adding as a special unique element is an inside look into what the career actually is. So a day in the life why the job is fulfilling, what are the biggest challenges of the job? So for that, we’ve actually leveraged interviews with industry experts. So the idea is even if you don’t have people like that in your community or even if you haven’t been exposed to these careers before, quick search on the platform will actually give you a lot of insight information already that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. The students will be able to then hopefully use that information and use the coaching to be able to guide them into a new career journey or career path. So we’re super excited because it’s really just the beginning of what we’re hoping to build as an all-around platform for career development and we’re hoping to even start doing virtual apprenticeships next year and building out the platform for that as well and getting business partners and stuff. But that will be something that we will do after this lunch. So we’re doing step by step and it’s exciting because we’ve already started to see some initial impacts from the students that we’ve been engaging with.

Jeremy Au: (30:57)
Amazing to see you doing so much and having such high velocity when you think about doing. This is now your first time really back in Philippines not just being present, but also working and tackling problems. Was there any cultural re-entry shock since the last time you were truly there was when you were 18 years old, so it’s almost been pretty much a decade since then.

Michi Ferreol: (31:26)
Yeah. No, it’s a really good question. There definitely was I think there were two levels of shock actually. The first is definitely just being around Filipinos again, the type of conversation, how things are said, different things like that, very new to me after having lived around well, like being in America for the last two years and then living around like Kenyans for the most part of the years before that, it’s just a different way of relating different way of talking. I keep being reminded that the Philippines is so emotional in a good way. People are very willing to open up, and we’d be there for each other, and that’s something that I have to get used to again because in the States, you become a bit hardened and you, like, preserve yourself and hide yourself a little bit. But yeah, that’s something that I’ve had to get used to again. And even just the language actually, like picking up on how people see things now and all that I think is also something that I’m adjusting to. And in the second layer of shock is just the Gen Z population, which obviously is my area or like the target group that we’re looking after and just how different gen-z’s relate to their devices, social media, the words that are being used, just the trends, all that. So I officially I’m on TikTok, for instance, and I wasn’t last year ‘cause I want to try to understand what’s entertaining them? Like what’s keeping them hooked? That will help with education too ‘cause at the end of the day, if you make education entertaining, then that’s the secret sauce that will really bring people to whatever your building. So yeah. So I think that that’s the two layers of shock that I’ve experienced, but I think I’ve been able to manage it well with a lot of help and feedback from my team members, and especially we have interns who are actually Gen Z at KadaKareer, so I think they’ve been teaching me a lot as well. So that’s been very helpful.

Jeremy Au: (33:07)
So they teach you the slang and how to use TikTok?

Michi Ferreol: (33:12)
Exactly. I’m learning all of that now and like I feel very in the know. Someone told me the other day that I’m pretty trendy for a millennial, so I appreciate it.

Jeremy Au: (33:28)
What would you say is some advice that you give to people who are thinking about building something in Southeast Asia, in the Philippines? Any advice you would give them?

Michi Ferreol: (33:55)
Yeah. Interestingly, I had a conversation two weeks ago with education startups that’s trying to bring their online degrees to the Philippines. And we had this exact conversation, and I think for me, the first thing is really get into the communities that we’re trying to serve in terms of be in the spaces that they’re hanging out in and have them on your team because they, like, provide us with. Perspective that, honestly, we would not have even thought about just by living the everyday life of being a young Filipino Gen-Z. So really immersing in a way that is authentic, which is hard, especially if like you’re coming from an environment like I did, which is speaking very American like and going to schools like I did. It’s hard like so having to shed all of that and you have it be in the background and just being just a regular everyday Joe. Who’s sitting down with someone is trying to understand how they live. That’s the first. The second is, I think, understanding spaces of entertainment or spaces that are just natural for people. You wouldn’t necessarily automatically think of as a channel to deliver whatever you’re trying to deliver. So with Kumu being so huge now in the Philippines and with Tik Tok Philippines now becoming such a thing, is there a way to leverage what’s already there instead of building from scratch as well, and what things can be leveraged there that we can also take and understand as first principles when we design our products too? I think that that’s something that we are still trying to like incorporate into our design process. I think that would be the second thing. The third thing obviously is that it’s really useful to have key partnerships. We have a very strong board of advisors and, I think, without those board of advisors, we wouldn’t really know who to tap or local government units or local community leaders to be able to talk to then expand our services or expand our influence into certain regions. So just really having a good network of supporters. I would say that can then vouch for you on the ground and let you know, hey so and so person runs this and maybe you can talk to them to like offer your services there or knowing which local government head to be speaking to for so and so. I think that has helped a lot as well, especially for, I guess, like someone coming in from the outside, which is very much like I am now. Yeah. So those would be some things I would think to keep being just humble, and the approach to learning more.

Jeremy Au: (36:08)
Starting to wrap things up here, could you tell us about time that you have been brave?

Michi Ferreol: (36:12)
Yeah. So I think I’m taken back to 2016. So that was essentially when I had been given my notice that I had to leave the US ‘cause I no longer had a visa. I was very, very sad at the time. Obviously, I wanted to stay at the company that I was at. I really loved it and I didn’t want to go home ‘cause I thought there was still so much to learn and restart my job application process again. I eventually ended up landing two jobs, one in London and then the one in Mauritius, African Leadership University and the one in London I won’t say which company it is, but it was a lot more established of a company and to my parents and to everyone I spoke to, it was a no brainer. Go to London, it’s a more cosmopolitan city. The company’s more established, more secure so you won’t have anything to worry about, but there was something in me that was really pulling me to work at ALU? There was just something I loved about the vision, about the team members that I had met, the people were like you even know where Mauritius is? No one had heard of it before. I didn’t know a single person on the island. I didn’t even know if there were Filipinos there ‘cause it’s such a tiny island. It’s like 1,000,000 people there. I literally very, very blindly took a leap of faith into that despite everyone telling me that I shouldn’t. I think that that was, for me, my best professional decision so far, because it really opened the perspective into what it’s like to build good education products in very under resourced settings, in a very passionate team that all left their places of home to be able to, like, come into an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that no one had ever heard of before. Definitely my parents thought I was crazy at the time, I thought I was crazy at the time, but I wanted to be brave because I really thought it was worth the vision and it was worth what they were trying to build. So I’m very happy I did that and I’ve never regretted taking that jump.

Jeremy Au: (38:03)
Amazing thank you so much, Michi, for sharing. So I’d like to wrap things up by sharing the three big things I’ve learnt from this conversation.
First, thank you so much for sharing about your personal journey especially the part about going to Harvard. How that actually happened, applying how you happen to go in and what you learned there. And you leaving and going back to Harvard again. And what you learnt there and taking stock at each stage about it like what you want to learn about the city of Boston, but also your personal decisions as well as career decisions.
The second thing I really enjoyed is what we call like the Odyssey between leaving and hero’s journey from the Philippines - being called to go to America, to work across Africa and then decide that you want to improve yourself and then eventually went back to Philippines. And doing that on your terms with your criteria with your thinking and your passion, especially for the underserved and the education dynamic of it was an amazing thing to hear because self-awareness and the experimentation you had to do in order to find out this mountain that you would die on is a hard thing for many people to discover. So that’s really amazing.
Lastly, thank you so much for sharing the dynamics of really being someone in education and looking to be entrepreneurial in that. I especially like the part you mentioned that you’re starting to build out that name for yourself on the programmatic side, but not really being able to be at the table for the donors, for the executive decisions about sustainability dynamics. And I think there’s an interesting dynamic because a lot of similar folks have that problem all over the place. And so I think it’s interesting for you to share that in such a clear and direct way.
So, Michi, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Michi Ferreol: (39:48)
Thanks, Jeremy, really appreciate the opportunity and, yeah, hope to stay connected as you continue also building in Southeast Asia as well.