Karen Davila, the first UN Women National Goodwill Ambassador for the Philippines, hosts the conference PHTimeIsNow, which gathers global Filipino leaders across all industries.
A day after Karen Davila was officially appointed at the United Nations Headquarters, she joined the conference PHTimeIsNow as a host and moderator. Organized by Carissa Villacorta, PHTimeIsNow is a global networking event dedicated to empowering Filipino success in fields ranging from financial technology, politics, advocacy, and the arts. Held at the Harvard Club in New York City, guests at this year’s event included Filipino trailblazers from CEOs to Tony Award winners and a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, among others.
A physical manifestation of the Filipino spirit of “bayanihan,” the event encourages professionals in the diaspora to uplift and support one another within the community. “We are all on a journey together, and I imagined a space where we could hear each other out, where there was no real stage, just a platform for everyone to share,” says Villacorta in her opening address.
Five years ago, Rechie Valdez attended the first ever PHTimeIsNow event in 2018. At the time, she had just started a small baking business in the Greater Toronto Area. “I was hungry to meet others who were like-minded. I met Carissa Villacorta and other global entrepreneurs, and I said that’s where I want to be. I want to be more and I want to do more,” she says.
Returning this year to PHTimeIsNow as a panelist is emotional for Valdez: “It’s connecting me back to where I was five years ago and the journey that I’ve been on,” she says. Today, she was invited back as Minister of Small Businesses of Canada, having recently been appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July 2023, the first Filipina appointed to the Cabinet and elected Member of Parliament prior to that.
More Filipino “firsts” also spoke at the Harvard Club today. Businesswoman, philanthropist, and author Loida Nicolas-Lewis was the first Asian woman to pass the bar examination in New York City. Also in attendance was Robert or “Bobby” Lopez who spoke about his road to being a two-time EGOT winner (an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony Award). He was the first Filipino and Asian to achieve the quadruple feat in 2014, and became the first and only recipient to do it again in 2018.
Reflecting on her own “first,” Karen Davila says, “I think it’s a testament to what it means to live your life as an empowered woman who believes that education is the greatest equalizer.” After over 30 years as a journalist, Davila feels equipped to take on her new role with the United Nations. “I have a holistic understanding of the needs of women because I’ve covered women for such a long time, and advocated for women and children’s rights. So now, to use my voice at this stage in my life is special,” she tells Vogue Philippines.
As a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, she hopes to implement programs to strengthen UN Women’s presence in the Philippines, and approach the country’s environmental issues with a strategy tailored to Filipino circumstances. “The Philippines is prone to climate disasters, and I would like to be a part of what’s known as gender transformative assistance when it comes to natural disasters,” says Davila.
She also hopes that attendees at PHTimeIsNow can learn how Filipinos can work as a team: “We are one, we’re a strong force together. And I think that when we’re abroad, we should stop thinking of Filipinos as competition, but think of each other as partners to bring the whole country up.”
Sharing Davila’s vision, Founder and CEO of TANGGapp, Rebecca Kersch is among the innovators working to connect Filipinos abroad and back home. The Filipino diaspora is one of the largest in the world, spanning over 100 countries, and Kersch’s app was created specifically for this and Overseas Foreign Workers in particular. Her mobile transaction and payment app allows Filipinos to transfer money instantly with high exchange rates and no fees.
“My Tita Baby was a migrant worker and sent home almost everything she earned, paying almost 8 percent per remittance. I realized she was working almost one month just to pay the fees to send money, so I really dove into this problem and wanted to build an affordable way that’s very secure for people to send money home,” explained Kersch during her panel at PHTimeIsNow.
An all-encompassing celebration of Filipino innovation and creativity, PHTimeIsNow also welcomed creative leaders like Tony Award-winning costume designer Clint Ramos, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, and fashion designer Rafe Totengco. In sharing how they broke into politics, how they started a fintech company, or how one of their clutches ended up hanging off Sarah Jessica Parker’s hip, the panelists reminded participants that none of those achievements would have been possible without their Filipino community—or spirit of bayanihan. In his closing remarks, Clint Ramos echoed a sentiment that had been building throughout the day: “We are so extremely proud of all of you, what a time to be Filipino.”
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