Tag Archives: manila

What Living in the Manila Slums Taught Me About Entrepreneurship


Manila, Philippines

NOTE FROM BJORN: Today’s guest post is from a friend of mine who left her life in the US behind to live a life of adventure and entrepreneurship in Manila.  Janet Brent is the original CultureMutt.  She truly lives the idea of savvy, global do-gooding.  Congratulations on having the guts to go for the dream, Janet!

I’m Janet and I’ve been living in the Manila slums for a year and a half. In my past life, I led a comfortable, middle-class, first world existence near Portland, OR. So how did I end up here?

A culture mutt at my finest, I was born in Cebu, Philippines and grew up most of my life in the US from “toddlerhood” to adulthood. Not the Asian-crowded cities of California, mind you, where Asians hang with Asians and Hispanics hang with Hispanics, but the white-washed Portland suburbs where I was bullied for being different and grew up ‘white’. After getting good grades like Asians do, going to art school that my parents actually supported, and working office jobs in the less ideal version of Kinkos (the design equivalent of being an industry reject), I had had enough. I wasn’t designing. I wasn’t making art, and I wasn’t living the life I wanted. You could call it my quarterlife identity crisis. Instead of playing house (something I hated in childhood) the adult way with a mortgage in tow (which I promptly opted out of after a brief year and not-so-brief long-term relationship that culminated in yet another young, twenty-something’s rites of passage), I decided to explore the unknown, and carve out the life I DID want.

The calling for my motherland came as an intuition. I explored its islands, I explored its language that I forgot how to speak and I explored its culture that seemed so foreign to me. I explored the dingy social underbelly of the third world infrastructure. I jumped from class to class. In the daytime I would gather with the upperclass but in the night-time I rested in humble dwellings, sleeping on the floor and bathing (you wouldn’t call it a SHOWER) with buckets.

Unapologetically and unglamorously, I carved out my life, slowly (but surely!) building my empire with no know how or expertise, and largely throwing darts past the target, completely missing the mark. Along the way, I learned a few things, surprisingly, that could be related to business.

Micro Economies and the Importance of Community

There are no government hand outs in the Philippines. Everyone lives with family because they can’t afford to move out, and even if you could, why would you? Rich families have rich ancestral homes with maid services, drivers and everything handed to you. Who would want to move out and carve your own life, all for the sake of ‘independence’?

There is no social envy about Mr. Jones and people are generally OK with their lot in life. Being poor in the third world is just different than being poor in America. There’s a self-reliance to it, born out of an incredible resilience. There’s practicality. If you’re poor, you don’t strive for something you don’t have, you buck up and live the life you do have. Can’t afford the $5 food in the mall, largely built for the middle-class? No problem, you buy or sell meals for half the price in your village community. I’ve gone through low days, or even weeks, where all I could afford was a 25-cent meal, but it exists, and in its context, its thriving.

Within community in the “urban poor”, there are carpenters, manicurist and pedicurists, masseuses, landlords, hair stylists, cooks and restaurants for half the price or less. Instead of whining for Mr. Jones, they’ve bucked up and built their own economy; one that they could afford, and only they would support.

Isn’t that what the internet has created, in its digital form? We are micro-economies and self-supported communities. Only other entrepreneurs and aspiring wannabepreneurs within the industry or dare I say ‘niche’ would buy each other’s digital wares. I believe the future of economy is micro economy and tight-knit communities that are self sufficient and based on collaboration. Sharing.

Next month I’m moving out of the slums to live in a biznass commune.

From one community to the next, I keep leveling it up. I’ll be working and living from home together with my clients/co-creators (because I refuse to call them my employers). We’re building the future. We’re riding the frontiers of web marketing. We’re doing it all in an apartment in Makati, the Manila social equivalent of high-life ritz and glitz. The perks? I’ll be living rent-free. Because micro-economies are shared economies. It doesn’t have to be some hippy ideal. We’re not all peace and love and conscious creating, but we’re ALL about building awesome.

What micro economy do you belong to? Who’s your tribe? This isn’t about being barbarian and primal cavemen all over again. It’s all about joining like-minded people with shared visions and working together to craft effectiveness. It’s all about taking the power back to the people, and away from the corporations, and saying together, we can do anything! There’s more than “just hippy ideals” for micro-economies and for our future, but its borne from the collective consciousness of radical change. Are you a part of it?

The Next Step

Your circumstances don’t determine who you are, but your thoughts go a long way. Change your thoughts, and change your life. You’ve heard it before, but its true. Living in the slums and dancing from culture to culture, from social class to social class, is just preparation for the savvy do-good I know I have the power to achieve. It wasn’t easy embracing poverty, or even embracing poverty consciousness in my own life and feeling stuck so many times. How else am I going to help marginalized people if I don’t experience it first hand? Those darts are getting closer to the actual target, and soon I’ll hit bulls eye. Again and again.

Declare your target. Make it happen.

Visualize its success and it will come. Act as if it’s already happened, and it will!

I’m grateful for my journey and grateful for the connections I’ve been able to make. I DECLARED my spot at Erin Gile’s Rocket Your Revolution e-course even when I had no idea how I’d pay for it and before I knew that I’d win. I had elaborated a whole mental do-good plan in my head that involved my participation in the course. I worked my magic. I DECLARED becoming a board of director’s from my favorite non-profit, I’m rocketing my way to success and do-good social entrepreneurism. Can you feel it? Then you’ve got the makings of magic, too, my friend.

Declare your target and grab it.



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Janet is a graphic/web designer for indies in the holistic and creative arts. She’s also an unaccomplished writer. Her blog, Purple Panda, encourages people to March to their Own Beat and live remarkably in life and biz. You can find her tweeting up a storm @janetbrent

Scam-Proof – How to Avoid Being Duped While Traveling

China Part 2a from Glenn McElhose on Vimeo.

I came across the above video on the blog of productivity guru and author of “The Four-Hour Workweek”, Tim Ferris. Tim who is extremely well-traveled, was recently in China on a trip with Kevin Rose (internet entrepreneur and co-founder of Digg among other things) and another friend, Glenn McElhose. Kevin and Glenn got completely scammed by two women pretending to be local art students that led the pair through an elaborate set of “cultural” experiences – excessive purchases of supposedly local student art, over-priced tea drinking, etc.. I won’t spoil the video because it is well worth the 20 minutes for anyone planning a trip abroad (or anyone that is curious about how scam artists do their thing).

The video was especially interesting to me because it brought back a slew of memories of contact with scam artists of various guises. Take the over-persistent, uber-friendly fast talker who offered illegal climbing tours of the pyramids near Cairo. There was also the Nigerian taxi cab driver who attempted to cram a host of other passengers in on our dollar. Even more disturbingly, there were the phony Manila police officers that flashed fake badges, kidnapped my friend’s father and only let him loose after a substantial monetary exchange…

Nobody enjoys being the victim of a scam artist, so what can be done to prevent this absolute damper on your vacation? The first step is as readily obvious as it is ignored: Do your homework. Invest in a pocket travel guide on your destination.  It is less than $20 and is worth every penny in the value that they add to your experience. You’ll know what to go see and what to avoid. If you prefer to go paperless, try virtualtourist.com (recommended by Tim Ferriss), a superb, free, online resource, written by actual travelers, constantly updated and containing everything from detailed listings of city attractions to information on scams – even the specific scam that Tim Ferris’s friends fell for.

A second step that I have found useful: If at all possible, find a reliable local guide that can give you the basics on where to go, what to see and what to ignore. Who can you trust? Well, definitely not the eager cab driver you met at the station who has an uncle with the cheapest Muay Thai tickets in Bangkok. I stick to: 1) Locals recommended by friends at home. 2) Official hotel/hostel staff. 3) Religious officials (local clergy, missionaries, etc.). 4) Official bureaus of tourism. Remember: DO NOT listen to someone just because they are friendly, persistent or somehow seem to have all the right things to say – scammers are professionals and have gone through the trial and error process that has refined their show; they are SUPPOSED to be convincing.

Third, have a researched itinerary. Know what you want to see on any given day and have a clear, solidly researched plan for:

  • What things cost (DO NOT accept the price that vendors give you without first researching the approximate pricing for what you want.)
  • Approximately how long the journey should take (cab drivers will happily take you on elaborately circuitous routes IN TRAFFIC, simply to run up the tab.)
  • What to do in an emergency – make sure everyone has a local phone card and the number of the hotel and your embassy.

With a post like this you always run the risk of turning people off traveling altogether. That is absolutely not my intention. With some street smarts, travel can be one of the most enlightening experiences in life: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


Bjorn Karlman