Q+A w/Jay Jaboneta: Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation

This bright and playful logo captures the spirit of both YBHF's young leader and the organization's happy "clients."

This bright and playful logo captures the spirit of both YBHF’s co-founder and the organization’s young “clients.” No more swimming upstream for these eager students.

Can you imagine your young child swimming to school? It’s mind boggling, right? Yet until Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation came along, children living in a number of remote Philippine villages relied on the power of their arms and legs to carry them away from their homes and into their waterside classrooms. As shocked as you are reading this now, equally so back in 2010, was a young Filipino by the name of Jay Jaboneta. Armed with a natural inclination toward good citizenship, and a penchant for social networking, Jaboneta was poised to take action.

After learning about this unconventional school transportation, Jaboneta began posting on Facebook. His vocalization on social media led to Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids in 2010. In the four years since founding the Yellow Boat Project, the organization has provided 511 “school boats”—300 of those for Typhoon Haiyan families. Along the way, he’s culled a dedicated team of volunteers (and an impressive number of donors), and laid the foundation for building schools and classrooms (and distributing school supplies); delivering medical and dental care; creating scholarship and livelihood programs; and currently, the construction of dormitories and bridges.

Filipino philanthropist, social activist and all-around soulful human being, Jay Jaboneta.

Filipino philanthropist, social activist and all-around soulful human being, Jay Jaboneta, Co-Founder & Chief Storyteller, Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation

My first introduction to this accidental philanthropist came during Social Good Summit 2013 (aka #2030NOW), where he shared his story of how social media—and the power of one—can shake up the world. (Leave a comment and I’ll dig up the event’s live streaming link.) I encourage you to read this in-depth Q+A, and to follow up with a visit to YBHF’s Facebook page, where you’ll find an abundance of inspiring posts and photos. You can also learn more about Mr. Jaboneta here, and tune in live to tomorrow’s Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations, where he’s punctuating the day’s messaging as closing keynote speaker.

With no further ado… 

(dew) I still can’t believe that kids used to swim to school… Can you share a little bit of that for those readers who are unfamiliar with your organization and the story behind how YBP came to be?
(jj) I can’t believe them myself. I went to Zamboanga City, in the south of the Philippines, three years ago, and that’s when I found out there were some children who had to swim to school. It truly shocked me. The story disturbed me so much, that night I couldn’t sleep. That led me, in turn, to post it on Facebook. I was born in the south as well and had to walk 10 minutes to school. I heard of children who had to walk 3 to 5 hours to school and back home but never an instance where children had to swim. I guess I just didn’t look hard enough before since the Philippines has 7,107 islands.

(dew) Listening to you speak at Social Good Summit 2013, I learned that the foundation started off as a Facebook post that took off like wildfire. What do you remember most about that experience? Were you ready for the response?
(jj) To be honest, I was not ready for the response. I knew people would be commenting a lot. But I didn’t know it would lead to something like this. We’re now a SEC-registered organization with presence in 25 communities around the Philippines. I would say that even up to this day, I still wake up and get amazed by what we’ve been able to build. I am really grateful to friends and acquaintances who have helped and are still supporting us. And of course, these kids who swim or struggle to get to school, continue to inspire us to be better. You can find the Facebook story here.

(dew) The organization now also contributes school supplies, assists with healthcare, and education and job training. How have you been able to meet these demands, through funding and volunteers, and in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan?
(jj) Our approach is very local so even though there’s awareness nationally around the Philippines, we also have specific community leaders who are actually present in our communities. That’s one of our negotiables. Our mission is really community building or to empower these communities. When Typhoon Haiyan happened, we didn’t have a presence in the communities it hit yet, so it gave us an opportunity to to help victims rebuild their lives and bring back hope. We have donors and supporters in each of the specific community.

(dew) We’d love to hear more about the Adopt A Fisherman program… It’s a wonderful way to play up a true and well-known saying.
(jj) Here’s a quick video about it. You may also find more information here. Basically this started last year when another typhoon hit the south of the country—Typhoon Bopha—and destroyed a lot of fishing boats. My Co-Founder, Doc Anton Lim, went there and the parents begged him to provide them with boats so that they wouldn’t need to ask their children to stop going to school and instead, help earn income for the family.

(dew) It’s not easy being a nonprofit, but it seems harder now, because of social media and its impact on social good (everyone has a new way to reach donors)… Where does the bulk of your financial support come from? Has there been a specific tactic that you honed in on to help YBHF raise its voice?
(jj) I would say a lot of our donors hear about us through our social media channels, particularly Facebook, which is very popular in the Philippines. Almost 98% of Internet users in the Philippines are on Facebook, including celebrities and businessmen and entrepreneurs. I’m grateful, too, that a lot of our supporters have become repeat donors. Education is the best tool to uplift the poor; our primary mission is to help the Philippines reach one of the UN Millennium Development Goals: universal primary education by 2015. I hope we help the country make a dent there.

(dew) As you’ve expanded, how many communities have you been able to impact? How many more will you reach out to in 2014?
(jj) We’re now in 25 communities from 1 in 2010. This doesn’t include the new communities that we’re helping in Haiyan-hit areas. How we expand is a consequence of finding good local community leaders. That has the biggest impact on our ability to expand.

(dew) How has the power of video affected YBHF’s exposure, and also educated the organization on where those areas of need are?
(jj) Telling your story through videos is powerful. I feel that we still haven’t maximized this channel though.

(dew) What are some of your favorite anecdotes about YBHF and the people/kids you have met?
(jj) One of my favorite personal mantras is that “There are no accidents in life.” It comes from the movie called “Kung Fu Panda.” I feel that it wasn’t accident that the Yellow Boat happened. I believe the best anecdote we have is our operating philosophy which goes like this: “The great thing a little lamp can do which the big sun cannot do is to give light at night. It shows no one is superior by size but by purpose. If we cannot do great things, we can do small things in a great way. Little things make a big difference to God.” We also have the Peace. Love. Hope. And then Hope Sails. There are so many of them to mention.

(dew) What would you like people who read this post to come away with?
(jj) It’s really about spreading HOPE. I want more people to become HOPE Builders for the world and my theory goes like this: H is about Harnessing your potential – it is truly about finding your passion in life but it’s not a clean shot, you have to go out there and try and fail; O is about Opening your wallet – when you have a dream, it’s only you who can make it happen, you have to open your heart to possibilities. P is about Perspiring or taking action – you can only achieve your dreams when you get your hands dirty, so go out and just do it. E is about Empowering others – it is really about investing in the next generation of leaders. Leadership is two-pronged: it’s about inspiration and reproduction. Leadership without succession is failure.

… Everyone enjoys being able to help make the world a better place, but money is not always there to give as much as we’d like. Can help potential donors feel as good about a gift of $25, $50 or $100,  as $1000? For example, how much does each boat cost to build? The school supplies, etc.” – One non-motorized boat (which is the cheapest support we provide) costs around $200. I think the best support one can provide our organization is time. Our best donors not only provide funding but also become strong advocates for the cause. We call them our Yellow Boat of Hope Ambassadors of Hope. They help us sprinkle some magic in the world and spread HOPE.

(dew) What was the organization’s biggest accomplishment since its founding?
(jj) I think our biggest accomplishment so far is being able to build a global brand without any budget. I feel that we’re fortunate to live in a new world where the world has truly become flat. Its so easy to reach out to people these days. People and organizations now look up to us when it comes to boat building and helping children get to school. We’re no longer just building boats but also classrooms, schools, dormitories and bridges – whatever can help a child get to school easier and safer.

(dew) Greatest challenge?
(jj) The greatest challenge will always be funding. We’re still figuring out how to build a revenue-generating model, sort of a nonprofit social enterprise, so that we won’t need to rely on uneven monthly donations and can really make investments in the infrastructure of opportunity so that one day, no child is left behind.

(dew) Did you ever think this—yellow boats, helping kids and families, fundraising—would become part of your own story?
For me, personally, no. My background is corporate. I graduated with a management accounting degree. My family is middle income and we’ve always had challenges making ends meet. I always dreamed to be a company CEO or to be someone successful in the corporate world. I feel fortunate to have been given the chance to help out. I guess that’s how life works as many people have also helped me along the way. I have been extremely lucky that I found really awesome co-founders.

(dew) What else would you like to share about yourself or YBHF?
(jj) We still more help to support fishermen who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Maybe you have friends out there who would love to support.


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