Isla Bastimentos, Panama

Drifting Ever Shifting

2015 was the year I set sail. I graduated from my dream university, expanded my network tenfold, discovered a major passion of mine, and worked at a startup in Central America. As I reflect, I can’t help but feel grateful for another healthy year and for how far my serendipitous life has come. I look forward to another year of learning, growing, and settling into my own skin. I’ve come so far and I’m only going further.

Circa 2007 in the San Gabriel Valley. Young thug.

During the final week of my last semester at USC, I gave a speech at the Troy Philippines Pilipino graduation ceremony. Ill-prepared and exhausted from final exams, I stood behind the podium naked. Teeth chattering. Mom sitting front row shamelessly hitting record. Unfamiliar, Filipino audience. Gripping the sides of the podium, I opened up my graduation speech with tears streaming down my face: “It’s been so tough..”

In that moment, I decided to be a little less of the enigma that my friends and family describe me to be. I chose to be vulnerable in front of an unfamiliar audience who I felt could maybe understand the journey my family and I have gone through — a version of the working-class, immigrant experience. Although hoping for brevity, I succumbed to my emotions and delivered a humble truth of my family’s struggle. Despite the lack of time and money. Through the setbacks of addiction, affiliation, and too many other things to count. I made it. We made the seemingly impossible, possible. Through the darkness a Trojan was born.

To this day, I continue working on being more open and unafraid of revealing what’s behind the mask. I try my best to share my story as much as my heart will allow. Vulnerability has taken me to new heights and granted me the ability to make a greater impact in the work I do as a social entrepreneur.

But now, I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite experiences of 2015.

Elite

My father and I launched our first company together in January.

No-frills. With over 10+ years of industry experience, we decided we could deliver faster and friendlier senior home care services. Hit us up.

StartingBloc Los Angeles, 2015

In February, I met my tribe. I met fellow change leaders who made me feel less of a crazy idealist.

In front of the Annenberg Community Beach House

SBLA was a 5-day social innovation institute in Santa Monica. There I picked up a few tips and tricks to make a greater impact in the world. I also gained a network of some of the most amazing people in the world. One of my favorite things about SBLA was that it inspired a handful of people to quit their dead end corporate jobs to pursue their true passions in life. And spoiler alert: their passions projects are blowing up.

Design for America USC, Spring 2015

Back in 2014, my friends and I founded a social impact design studio at USC.

Team Education crafting prototype #1

That semester we had teams working on solutions around education, community, mental health, and homelessness in and around the South Central LA neighborhood. In those 5 months we: ran through a variety of workshops, received design mentorship from Art Center College of Design and Cornell AAP alum, developed partnerships with No Right Brain Left Behind and Kluge, ate over 40+ pupusas from the local community, and ran a successful open studio night with over 22o+ visitors.

Currently designed by our partner org, design mentor, & team education.

Social Innovation Design Lab

During my last semester at USC, I did a design research project with 2 other classmates. The project was under the direction of the USC Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab in partnership with the Art Center College of Design.

User testing at the USC Magnet School

For 4 months we explored physical and mental health challenges in Pacoima, California. We worked through various prototypes and tested them on our target demographic. We ended up with a story playing device which we called Sound Stories.

Graduation

In May 2015, I got a piece of paper worth over $200,000 from the USC Marshall School of Business.

#FTFO

USC was such a tremendous experience. It opened me up to a wealth of knowledge, resources, opportunities, and the Trojan family. I’ve made great friends with people from all walks of life, social status, and countries.

Ellendale Place

An Olympic swimmer, master chef, platinum level League of Legends player, actress/musician, artists, and black Santa. I’ve had the privilege of living with some of the most awesome people for the past 2 years.

Ellendale 5ever

Living with them was like living through an episode of Friends.

The GO Project

After graduating, I moved to Panama City in July for 3 months to work with a global startup.

While in Panama, our team partnered with a government body (the department of Science and Technology) to work on entrepreneurial projects across the country. Some of the projects included: developing a one-stop-shop web platform for entrepreneurs, designing a countryside co-working space, and bridging the divide between social, public, and private sectors.

This was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was also the only American in the Panama team. However, it was during these 3-months that I saw my design strategy skills in unfiltered action. I realized that the way I was applying my design thinking skills made me an innovation strategist and/or consultant. Regardless of the challenge at hand, I developed strategy sessions with my personal design thinking toolkit to help facilitate creativity and solutions. I constructed workshops for a variety of groups including: Peace Corps Volunteers, kid entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders. It was such an enlightening experience to watch people get excited about crafting solutions/innovations to the social problems in Panama.

Backpacking Bocas Del Toro

After my contract in Panama was over, I hopped on a plane to paradise to take a personal vacation.

The salt water healed my soul. The Caribbean vibes and people were so beautiful. And I ran into a UCLA Bruin volunteering at the hostel next door, boo.

Although I spent only 9 days in Bocas, the healing powers of the water, slow moving Carribean time, and solitude all gave me the elements to restore my soul.

StartingBloc Unplugged DC, 2015

In November, SB had an event for fellows, by fellows in Washington D.C.

Shoutout to Kevon Paynter

This was another awesome event with the StartingBloc community to reconnect with peers and receive support for upcoming/existing projects. At this event, I coached my Design Think Your Life workshop for the fellows which I occasionally run through with my friends or mentees for fun. At the end of the session, I received requests to lead this workshop for corporations and nonprofits. And that’s when I realized that I could “make my side hustle my main squeeze.” I never imagined becoming an independent consultant so soon into my career. Pretty exciting stuff.

Miguel at USC

Lastly, in December one of my favorite music artists performed at my alma mater, ‘nuff said.

Anyway. It’s been 5 years since I’ve taken a break. From 2010 to 2015, I’ve gone full speed. From Pasadena to USC to Washington D.C. From Kenya, Spain, and Panama. 5 years of immense growth and now I’m finally home to recollect with my family.


In 2016, I’ll continue to grow, learn, make impact, travel, and find more tribe members. Happy New Year, everyone. 🎉