For its first event in Asia, ACTAI Global invites some of the world’s most renowned minds to El Nido, Palawan, where they come together and discuss the evolving fields of Web3, technology, and the environment.
Pangalusian Island is a sprawling, serene eco-luxury resort tucked away in El Nido, Palawan. And if you took a peek into one of its large gazebos from February 8-12, you would be met with an epic tableau: a gathering of some of the world’s most innovative minds, barefoot and laying on beanbags, exchanging questions and ideas.
Is it a Palawan group tour? Not quite. It’s ACTAI Asia Pacific by ACTAI Global, an event by the nonprofit organization made up of extraordinary Athletes, Conservationists, Technologists, Artists, and Innovators.
“When you’re a nonprofit in the US, you’re really identified by two things: program activities and your mission,” says ACTAI Global’s chief financial officer Maria Serafica. “What we do is we hold events throughout the world. The purpose of those events is to curate a good combination of people to have talks on certain subjects. The idea was that in that mix of people, people would help each other. [On the other hand], the mission is two things: supporting environmental conservation and economic empowerment via entrepreneurship.”
In addition to being ACTAI’s CFO, she’s also the right-hand woman of Bill Tai, the nonprofit’s board chairman, and a venture capitalist since 1991. He is a lead seed investor in, among others, Canva, Dapper Labs, and Zoom Video, where he was the first to commit as a backer.
Open Air, Open Minds
The organization hosts about four events a year, and they are always held in nature. Previous locations include the Dominican Republic, the Hamptons, Brazil, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Necker Island, Morocco, and Australia. In 2022, ACTAI landed in Barbados at the invitation of its Prime Minister Mia Mottley, with the goal of supporting the country’s promising tech ecosystem.
Since its inception, the ACTAI team has intentionally deviated from the traditional seminar model, which typically involves congregating participants in an air-conditioned function room and having them sit on monobloc chairs for hours. Introducing a holistic approach to conferencing, ACTAI’s invite-only events feed the mental, emotional, and intellectual stimuli of its guests by interspersing tech talks with leisure activities like guided hikes, yoga, and watersports.
“When you put someone in a situation that’s a lot more natural to their being, where you’re getting a lot of natural sun, then they’re going to be more alert. They’re going to be happy being in that seat for three hours, listening to talks, and they’re going to think it’s fun,” Maria shares. “The only thing that’s attracting you is the fact that you have these great speakers in front of the room, and so that is the natural focus stimulant.”
ACTAI’s earliest event of the kind (which has been described as a “non-conference conference”), was held in Maui in 2009. Maria, then a practicing CPA and Bill’s wife’s best friend (“I was the maid of honor at their wedding!”) was invited. “I kept going back because of the different people I would meet, amazing people I normally don’t meet in everyday life,” she tells Vogue Philippines. In that same year, Bill would invite her to join ACTAI as its CFO, and she would accept and exclusively hold the post until today.
Into the Metaverse
Pangalusian Island was home to the inaugural ACTAI Asia Pacific event thanks to Maria, who discovered the place during her first trip to the island in 2019. “I just got so excited because it was like, ‘Wow, I get to bring ACTAI to my native country.’ I had seen Pangalusian and I could see what it could offer and I was just so excited to share that. And the overwhelming response was that everybody loved it.”
While ACTAI had done “blockchain summits” in the past, this edition sharpens its focus on Web3, which Maria considers a presently volatile and polarizing space.
“Bill Tai likes to call it ‘the wave,’” narrates Maria. “There’s waves in technology, and either you ride it, you’re in front of it, or you’re behind it. People should pay attention [to Web3] because they might miss something big.”
The goal was to look at companies and individuals that have succeeded in the space, and break down the elements of this success so others may learn from it. The event explored digital nations, gaming, NFTs, cryptocurrency, and the creator economy; topics perfect for the summit in Asia, a booming region with a blossoming metaverse market.
For four days, attendees participated in a series of discussions and presentations from esteemed personalities from various industries all over the world. The stellar lineup of attendees included Google Maps co-founder Lars Rassmussen, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, Kickstart Ventures co-founder and president Minette Navarrete, ED3N Ventures partner Nix Nolledo, Yield Guild Games co-founder Gabby Dizon, and Vogue Philippines fashion director Pam Quiñones.
On the agenda were tech talks like “Building Digital Nations: Property Rights for Citizens of The Metaverse” and “How does Web3 change the creator economy: commerce, culture and communities?”
Pam, who was one of the speakers in the “Conservation, Sustainability and Impact: Sustainable fashion, lifestyle, blue carbon and ocean stewardship” panel, describes ACTAI as an experience like no other. She says, “It was an honor and an absolute pleasure to be able to join one of the talks and to do it surrounded by nature, amongst some of the brilliant minds in tech, finance, and ocean conservation. I learned so much from everyone and I left the island inspired and brimming with ideas.”
These forum discussions and presentations were slotted in the afternoons, and bookended by island excursions in the morning and dinner parties in the evening. Maria explains, “I always say at the beginning of the event that what you do outside the tech talks, when you have those conversations, when you have that moment with the new friend that you just met, and when you’re either kitesurfing or kayaking, or even eating lunch…those are the bonding moments that are just as important.”
Another dimension of the event was the ACTAI Asia Web3 competition finals, which sought to discover and elevate startups that have the highest potential for growth and success in their fields. The top six finalists were invited to the island, where they presented in front of renowned venture capitalists, investors, tech founders, and tech leaders. They also received mentorship and support from the competition’s judges and advisers through roundtable discussions and one-on-one sessions.
Guests might have been in El Nido for ACTAI, but were delighted to find themselves immersed in Filipino culture as well. Maria credits the event’s cultural richness to Paloma Urquijo Zobel de Ayala, the special event planning and management consultant at Ayala Corporation who was a part of ACTAI Asia Pacific’s organizing committee.
Dinner parties were laden with local infusions, such as performances by the Sibaltan Heritage Cultural Dance Troupe and international musician Apl.de.Ap. On the second evening, guests were requested to attend dinner in a colorful outfit to celebrate nudibranchs—bright, shell-less mollusks that dwell on the bottom of the ocean floor—which the Philippines is a top destination for.
Additionally, everyone went home with their own “ACTAI swag,” the organization’s version of a token. Usually, reveals Maria, it’s a single rashguard. But for ACTAI Asia Pacific, their swag also included a backpack crafted out of local textiles, bamboo water bottle, mosquito repellent, coral-safe lotion, and energy bar, all made in the Philippines. Even the trophies presented at the competition were fashioned by local artisans.
Beyond the event, ACTAI plans to continue supporting the community in Palawan by introducing and leveraging them to the digital space. At the panel “The Coral Triangle: Hub of Ocean Biodiversity,” they learned that locals were reporting a lack of stable and sustainable funding. Maria says that the team plans to partner them up with an NFT or tokenization company to set up a new form of revenue stream. “We don’t know what it looks like yet, but we know that it can be a funding mechanism that’s going to drive something consistent for them,” she says.
Reflecting on the event three weeks later, Maria feels proud of the impact that the first ACTAI Asia Pacific made on its attendees. And she credits the Ayala Corporation, the event partner whose generosity and support made the affair extraordinary.
“Everybody wants ACTAI Asia next year,” Maria laughs. “People are texting me saying, ‘Can we please go back, I miss the Philippines!’ I’m getting texts from so many people that they had just had an absolutely incredible time. It looks like we’ll do Asia every year.”