Saturday, August 3, 2013

Kickstart Ventures’ Lone Brick-And-Mortar Startup Trains Rural Youth For Gainful Employment

Wazzup Pilipinas!           

BagoSphere is a vocational training company. But unlike typical training centers which can be found in major urban areas, this brainchild of three young philanthropists from Singapore focuses on giving rural youth quick access to gainful employment.

Located in Bago City, a second class city in the province of Negros Occidental, BagoSphere provides a unique combination of communications, critical thinking and life skills training that allows rural youth to become highly-desired employees of the call center and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries in just two months.

The Philippines is currently the largest call center location in the world, overtaking India in 2010. By 2016, some 800,000 direct BPO jobs are also expected to be created in the country.

With a success rate of over 90%, BagoSphere’s program enables rural youth to experience a seamless transition from training to working in a multi-national company.

“Rural youth forms a large base of untapped talents in the Philippines. BagoSphere aims to unlock these talents to boost the manpower supply of call centers and BPOs in Bacolod City, hence fueling the growth of the industry. In turn, the call center job provides the youth with an income 4x higher than unskilled work, enabling them to save for pursuing professional and personal development goals,” said Zhihan Lee, CEO and Co-Founder of BagoSphere.

Incidentally, BagoSphere is the only brick-and-mortar startup company under Kickstart Ventures, an incubator-accelerator firm wholly-owned by Globe Telecom. Kickstart supports and develops a dynamic community of technopreneurs in the Philippines and helps startup founders build innovative businesses by providing funding, facilities, mentorship and market access.

“We want people who make a difference. These young guys went to Bago City and founded a company that trains rural out-of-school youth to prepare them for jobs and then the students are hired in two weeks. That makes a real difference. Of course we want the big financial success stories but we also want stories of those who are making a real difference in people’s lives,” said Pia Angeli Bernal, Social Enterprise Investments Manager of Kickstart.

Using a “study now, pay later scheme”, once students are employed at an established call center, they will start paying their tuition fee in affordable monthly installments. BagoSphere believes this will inculcate a culture of “paying it forward” among the youth. To make it easier for the students, BagoSphere also works with micro-finance partners such as Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) to offer special loans to students.

Elvie Cabigon, one of BagoSphere graduates from the 2011 pilot project noted that before the training, she had no financial means to enter college and had not been able to find a job for about a year after graduating from high school.

After BagoSphere, Elvie now works as a call center agent in Transcom and is earning a salary of $290 or about P12,000 a month. Minus the tuition fee and other taxes, she takes home about $195 or P8,000 per month.

Elvie intends to work a few more years in a call center to save money to study business in college and eventually open her own restaurant. Without training, Elvie would most probably find work at a fast food joint or as a contract worker in the agricultural sector.

Juan Carlos Galvez, a college dropout, also managed to secure a position in a call center, in Teletech, early this year.

“What BagoSphere taught me is to have confidence and really believe in myself. I also learned to let my personality show, to be more conscious of my pronunciation and grammar, and listen attentively to the interviewer as these are key requirements in a call center job,” JC said.

He added: “The lessons taught were really related to call center work which helped us understand more about the environment in a call center agency. It has also equipped us with the skills required to excel in a call center job, and be prepared and ready to face probable challenges in the workplace. We also learned about financial literacy and stress management that we can apply in our daily lives.”

BagoSphere is the recipient of Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs Grant Program and an award winner of Start-up@Singapore’s Social Enterprise competition in 2012. It was founded by Zhihan Lee, Ellwyn Tan and Ivan Lau, all graduates from the National University of Singapore. An engineer by training, Zhihan’s interest in the social sector led him to community service projects in rural Laos andThailand. He was also involved with a rural BPO training center in India. Ellwyn, a BA Economics graduate, led volunteer projects to Bago City in 2008 which is the main reason why BagoSphere started in Bago City.

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