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

12 thoughts on “What Living in the Manila Slums Taught Me About Entrepreneurship”

  1. Cool, Janet!

    I agree with your insight on the importance of micro-economy and community.

    Now is the time more than ever that people need to work together for change. Yes, the power is in the people.

    Ironically, it was when I was backpacking solo for almost two months that I realized just how much important connection to other people and community is. Without the kindness – and later friendships – of strangers during mishaps in my trip, I would have had a difficult time. The realization that I needed other people was humbling, and at the same time, empowering. The same principle, I believe, applies to success. It’s difficult to do it alone.

      1. In the beautiful islands of Visayas, Philippines. =) If you haven’t gone there, Bjorn, I highly recommend you do, especially if you’re a diver. Divers traveling around the world keep telling me Visayas has some of the best dive sites they’ve ever been to.

    1. hi Claire! Thanks for commenting. Yes, the power is in the people, but a group of people is so much more powerful. Imagine what a group of ‘solopreneurs’ could do together? I think collaboration should and will be a big part of the future.

        1. yes! I know what quote you’re talking about and it’s a GREAT quote. Have to google it though to get the verbatim but here it is for anyone’s reference: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  2. It’s been so inspiring to watch Janet go to the slums and then move on up like the Joneses or the Jeffersons:)

    We hear a lot about following your dreams and passions but Janet’s story is the real life example. It’s a rags to riches story which is a great example of how someone can carve out their own lives. Make their own dreams come true.

    IT’s not always glitz and glamor. Janet’s blog shows all the ups and downs she went through, the self-doubt and the doubts she had. But she worked through them all and is moving into a corporate commune – wait, what in God’s name is that:) ??

    Good job Janet – thanks for continuing to inspire! Bjorn, looks like you’re giving up being the original culturemutt and becoming sweedishlovedoctor haha

    1. Pahahaha!!!.. Yeah , I am abdicating to someone more worthy:)

      But yes, Janet is a rockstar. I quite simply have NEVER heard a story like this one. And – here’s my bias – I don’t think she will be alone in her quest to leave the West for the East. I think immigration is going to go that way for our generation in the future….

      1. yup, i totally agree. I think the world is going to turn upside down. flip-flop basically :D and i can’t wait!!! I’ve always been the trendsetter ;) that’s because i’m a leader, right? haha. i’d like to think so anyway… thanks for saying i’m awesome :)

  3. I’m still learning from you, but I’m improving myself. I absolutely enjoy reading all that is written on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I loved it!

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