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Bamboo Biking through Manila

Kelly Salance

Over the past two decades, the construction of bicycle frames has undergone radical changes, from incorporating aircraft-grade titanium to the carbon fiber preferred by many professional riders. Yet those expensive materials, while incredibly strong and light, remain out of reach for many cyclists in developing nations.

But what if bike frames could be constructed using a fast-growing organic material that exhibits greater tensile strength than steel and withstands compression better than concrete, while also providing employment opportunities for those looking to escape poverty? For the Philippines’ BamBike, the answer lay in an abundant local material—bamboo—and a workforce eager for new opportunities.

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It all began little more than a decade ago, when Filipino-American BamBike founder Bryan Benitez McClelland partnered with local non-profit Gawad Kalinga on a sustainable community development program for Victoria, a municipality located on the southern edge of Laguna de Bey, a large freshwater lake south of Manila. After researching methods for using bamboo (a similar program had shown success in Africa), Bambike began training workers to build frames for all-terrain, road, and even children’s bikes.

Those bikes, which range in price from $171 USD for the Bambino to $1,050 for the Luntian 2.0, are built and tested by nine workers who handcraft between 15–25 frames per month, says Joshua Gan, supply chain head for Bambike. “Prior to Bambike, they were farmers or tricycle drivers,” Gan says. “One of the first Bambuilders, who just finished college, is now working with us in Manila as shop manager in training. We focus on quality work rather than mass production.”

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While Bambike focuses on training its full-time workers to build quality frames, it also invests in the workers’ lives by training and paying for the community's preschool teacher, and the company is building a bamboo nursery as well as developing the area to accommodate Bambike Ecotours for even greater employment opportunities.

“Apart from selling Bambikes, our main revenue generator is Bambike Ecotours, where we provide guided tours on bamboo bikes,” Gan says. “Zendesk Manila has engaged our services to provide their employees with monthly Bambike Ecotours around their workplace. Zendesk, together with our other corporate partners, are helping us fund Bambike's scholarship fund where we will provide for the college needs of the children of the Bambuilders.”  

For Zendesk employee Lila Marie Uy, the Bambike Ecotours provide her with an opportunity to reduce stress, learn local history, and support an organization that’s helping impoverished communities grow both financially and socially. “BamBike is not just about riding the bamboo bike, but it is also a fun way to learn the history of the city,” says Uy. “And what's more exciting is that we were riding a bamboo-frame bike.”

While Bambike plans for future expansion of its Ecotours, its popular Manila route provides an intimate view of the historic walled city of Manila, Intramuros, much of which has been rebuilt since incurring devastating damage during the Battle of Manila in early 1945. Meanwhile, Bambike has begun planning to create more jobs for local workers by expanding into other product lines such as furniture and construction material, which the company believes would also benefit the local bamboo industry, Gan says.

Cultivating the next generation of Filipino leaders

Kelly Salance

In 1967, less than a year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

While King’s response referred to the daunting circumstances faced by African-Americans in the United States, it’s not difficult to apply the civil right leader’s statement to any disenfranchised community trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty. In the Philippines, for example, more than one-third of children cannot afford to enroll in secondary school, effectively ending their education at grade six. And in a global economy that demands technical and communication skills in order to compete, that struggle to obtain education means diminished prospects for thousands of Filipino children.

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However, that’s a fate Gawad Kalinga refuses to accept. In 2014 the NGO established the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED), which focuses on teaching students character development, enterprise management, communications, business math, and agriculture (and then pairs students with enterprises to further develop their skills). Moreover, the organization has also partnered with Zendesk on the Cultivate program, which augments Gawad Kalinga’s curriculum by offering courses in academic, professional, and behavioral competencies.

“There are a lot of reasons why a huge percentage of Filipinos do not have access to quality education,” says Aya Daisa Babela, Zendesk’s Cultivate curriculum architect. “This does not only happen in the secondary school and college level—some Filipinos do not even get the chance to finish their elementary school years. It is a sad reality, but many of these factors are deeply rooted in poverty. The cost of quality education is too high for most families to afford, and the priority for parents and even children is to put food on the table.”

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Gawad Kalinga and Cultivate serve to bridge the competency gap between what’s being taught in Filipino schools and what employers need in the workforce, Babela says. “In my years of training adults, there is a huge number of fresh graduates that still need additional training in English communication skills,” she says. “There are a lot of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies here that hire young adults that can speak and write English well to provide all kinds of customer service via different channels such as phone, email, and chat. However, many companies have to implement near-hire programs that bridge that competency gap and teach vital skills in the workplace such as communication and personal development skills.”

While Cultivate targets employable skills, it also serves to help students unlearn poor cultural self-image. “When we talk about personal development skills, I am deeply passionate about leveraging the Filipino identity,” Babela says. “Many Filipino students feel that they are inferior to other cultures, and through personal development classes we try to discover the strengths of their identities as Filipinos and the values that we can bring to the table.”

That emphasis on cultural pride complements Cultivate’s efforts to instill resilience in the students and an overall sense of cultural competency. “Cultural competency, which we define as understanding their strengths as Filipino youths and leveraging them as they work with different cultures, will become a prevalent theme in all workshops,” Babela says. “This is especially relevant to SEED students as they frequently interact with people of different nationalities. They have the capacity to capitalize on Filipino values and excellence to become culturally competent in a world without borders.”

 Our first batch of Cultivate scholars on graduation day at Zendesk. 

Our first batch of Cultivate scholars on graduation day at Zendesk. 

Zendesk mentors have begun to notice changes in the students, ranging from increased confidence in public speaking to improvements in neutralizing their accents in English. The second class of SEED students will start the Cultivate curriculum in August.

“We’re excited to tweak the modules based on the feedback that we got from Zendesk volunteers and Gawad Kalinga,” Babela says. “We are also exploring other partnerships such as Angat Buhay with the Office of the Vice President. At the end of this year, we plan to collaborate with ADB’s Youth for Asia Program. All of our partnerships aim to improve the lives of the Filipino youth with experiential learning.”

#6Hours of Volunteering - Employee Spotlight

Kelly Salance

This year, we are challenging our Zendesk employees, customers and neighbors to participate in 6 hours of community engagement in 2018. Individually, 6 hours is an attainable goal and collectively, if we all volunteer 6 hours, we can make impactful differences in our communities. As part of our #6hour campaign, we spoke with Jeremy Reyes, Incident and Escalations Manager in our Advocacy Organization at Zendesk, about his experiences with volunteering.

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Can you talk about your volunteer experience at Zendesk?

I’ve been volunteering with Zendesk for over five years now. Some of my favorite volunteer activities that I’ve had the pleasure of participating in are delivering meals with Meals on Wheels, taking seniors out for bike rides with Cycling Without Age, lunch service at St. Anthony’s, playing bingo with the feisty seniors of Curry Senior Center, and most recently the Spark mentorship program. It’s been nice being able to try out a variety of opportunities over the years and more recently building longer-term relationships through mentoring.

Why is it important to have time to volunteer at work?

I think it’s especially important to have time to volunteer at Zendesk because we’re located in the heart of the Tenderloin. At first glance, it’s easy to see the blight and homelessness and assume that everyone in the Tenderloin is homeless, has substance abuse or mental health issues. The more time I’ve spent volunteering, I realize that is often a misconception and so many living here are trying their best to make the most out of what little they have. Volunteering with Meals on Wheels, you’ll see that there’s a significant senior population living in shoebox accommodations in SRO’s trying to make the most out of their $800-900 social security or disability benefit. Volunteering with Glide, St. Anthony’s, or ECS, you’ll see that there are just everyday people, like you and me, that no longer have a stable living situation, gainfully employed, or are just trying to find a meal to eat. Volunteering with Spark, or De Marillac Academy, you’ll meet kids that are at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers in other parts of the Bay Area, that are born and raised in the Tenderloin trying to beat the odds and be the first ones in their family to graduate from high school and college.

What impact does volunteering have on your work?

It’s really easy to forget that you’re working at a successful technology company in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. Volunteering keeps me grounded, humble, and balanced. I know we’re huge on humblident at Zendesk, so it definitely keeps me humble about my place in the world.

Volunteering has also been a great opportunity for me to meet new colleagues outside of my own bubble at the office. Having been at the company for five years now, I’ve seen the company grow from 300+ employees to 2000+ employees, I’ve met a number of colleagues I’ve become good friends with through volunteering.

Lastly, I think that volunteering really helps me build and maintain a certain level empathy for others. That applies to the people I might be helping, whether that’s at a CSR event or in my 9-5 role making sure to do right by the customer when things break.

What impact did you make in your 6 hours of volunteering?

For my 6 hours of volunteering this year, I’ve been volunteering 2 hours a week in the Spark Program. Spark brings in middle school students from Willie Brown Middle School in Bayview, a STEM focused school in one of the last affordable parts of the city, to Zendesk for a 10-week program. Mentors work with their mentees on a hands-on project, all while providing career and skills building opportunities with their mentee. We’re still working on finalizing our project, but all I can say that the movie Black Panther was a huge influence on our project.

Do this, Not That - Volunteering

Kelly Salance

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Megan Trotter, our Senior Global Community Programs Manager at Zendesk, shares her insights on volunteering in the workplace.

Raise your hand if your company has done a “Day of Service.” You know, the day where 50+ employees volunteer at a local nonprofit, clad in their company t-shirts, picking up garbage, painting a playground, cleaning up a beach. Typically, a barrage of tweets and Facebook posts follow, touting a staggering, albeit impressive number of volunteer hours they’ve managed to wrack up in a single afternoon. Yep, we see a lot of hands.

Name any company and I’m sure that this has been their go-to for engaging in their communities. We’ve done it too. While this can seem like a quick and easy way to engage your workforce in the community, large-scale volunteer events often do not work because they are taxing on the nonprofit and do not promote authentic, deep community participation.

As a former nonprofit program manager, I know the amount of work, time, and energy that it takes to help a company participate in a large-scale volunteer activity.

“Oh, you want to bring 100 employees to my program that only really needs 20 volunteers, you say.”

Cue headache.

The problem is large-scale volunteering usually involves creating new programs, new projects, and new ways to get people engaged. In other words, these are one-offs that are out of rotation with what a nonprofit typically offers. While sometimes, this can result in new, exciting, and innovative programming, more often than not, it's just busy work to make the employee feel like they are making an impact. Why would we want to make our nonprofit partners work harder to meet our demands, rather than let them lead the way? Moreover, big days of service usually mean the nonprofit “benefitting” from all that time and attention has to create a special time of day when the guests or clients they serve aren’t around. This means you can’t make that emotional connection with the people you are actually trying to serve. If your dream is to rebuild a school’s playground, it is a certainly worthy cause, and I’m not suggesting you don’t do that. But the chances you’ll meet the kids and teachers who benefit from such a project are zero to none. So if you can’t do anything but go big, do your best to go small later on. You’ll actually meet the folks on the receiving end of your generosity, and that is a moment so powerful, you’ll be energized to do more.

 A group of four Zendesk employees volunteering at our non-profit partner,  Curry Senior Center,  in San Francisco. 

A group of four Zendesk employees volunteering at our non-profit partner, Curry Senior Center, in San Francisco. 

At Zendesk, we have developed a model that is more adept to meet the nonprofits’ needs while also allowing our employees to have an opportunity to go deeper and feel more connected to their impact. By offering more regularly scheduled smaller group opportunities (3-8 employees), we allow our employees to make real connections with individuals. Rather than having a passing interaction, as one of a mass of people participating in activities, our employees get the time to sit down have a conversation, find a commonality, and build community. In moving from a “day of service” model to an “everyday is service” model, we’ve been able to increase engagement, develop smaller niche opportunities that better respond to the nonprofit needs and employee skill set, and really embed ourselves in our neighborhoods.

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In 2018, we have challenged our employees to commit to investing 6 hours of service into small-scale volunteer activities to help our global communities. It’s amazing the impact a mere 6 hours can have across your workforce and how its cumulative effects can impact nonprofits.Join us in this challenge and send us a tweet at #6hours to keep us abreast of your progress.