In the Philippines, people make business on the sidewalks. Concrete pavements make the transaction easier, dusty roads and polluted air even faster. I watch those who come and go. There in one corner stands the mango peddler. Somewhere else is the cigarette vendor whom I refused a stick from. I know a man, a carpenter or a plumber (I have forgotten), who wants to repair things that are broken. But he goes for a construction job; repairing broken things is not enough to feed his family. So he’s out on the streets too, covering manholes and putting plasters on bridges.
Not all business happens along the sidewalks: there are people who sign contracts in coffee shops, some who shake hands with others at their own desks. There are those who rarely see the pavement because their offices are found up high in skyscrapers. At times I tell myself, I want to be like these people—to live like them, to work like they do. Perhaps this is why I went for a business program at HULT; then again, perhaps not. I write about people who deal with day-to-day business, even more on the people who do it on the sidewalks. This I know: a lot more deals are sealed where lint and grime meet in the open.
My background is anything else but business, which means I must find a way to connect the dots, to make sense of where I’m going. Maybe create a path where a lot of things can happen and where a lot of things are already happening I can easily get lost. I finished my undergraduate in Math and Creating Writing; these are my sidewalks, where I see myself immersed in the world around me. An unusual combination, as many people would say. Even more unusual, I think, now that I went for a graduate school in International Business.
My father wanted his eldest daughter away from these sidewalks. He suggested I take my master’s degree while I’m young and unburdened by other commitments. I think he’s right. Every morning, I read the reports on the stock market in my country, understand how one news affects another. When things get confusing, I stick to simple routines, in hopes that one day it would matter in the greater scheme of things. I write my analysis on these charts and numbers on a journal, pretend business cases are stories with conflicts and the manager is a protagonist in need of a resolution. Sometimes believe the line cuts, the rhymes and rhythms, are essential to marketing strategies. When words do not make sense, I dive into numbers, make remarks on the statistics in my country: how many people are homeless or unemployed, how many have to live with business on the sidewalks.
At HULT International Business School, I try to learn business ideas from people with different backgrounds and contexts. Grasp their cultures when making deals. Hope that I can make solid and sincere connections with students all over the world. Understand that what may work in another country may not work in mine. Try again after an attempt and be more open to possibilities. Because often times the voice of one isn’t enough and I know this all too well.
I am now miles away from the Philippines. But in every elevator pitch I say, or with every person I shake a hand of, I always remember the sidewalks, those who put their business on it every day, and those who don’t. I cannot promise when I’ll do great things to help them. But for now, all I can do is this: immerse myself into business, understand its language, and realize how the world poses challenges to different people—to those who are making business in concrete pavements and dusty roads, and to the one who tries to make use of both words and numbers.
Submitted this for my Global Ambassador blog post for the month of October. This is the closest thing I have to an essay these past few weeks. I’ve been trying to pitch my social entrepreneurship idea to some people for the HULT Business Challenge, but considering I’m currently in Boston and I want to launch the project here first, I may have to do some modifications.
Update: It has been published on the HULT News with some variations. Read and if possible, share.