The Cotabato Pitch Fest forecasts a interesting future for the youth of Mindanao

Art by Gian Nicdao

 

The whole country is, to put it lightly, going through a lot in this political climate. (And the literal climate — God, this heat is oppressive.) But Mindanao is going through an especially interesting time. Martial law is in effect, and has been extended for a third time to last until the end of 2019. But the recently ratified Bangsamoro Organic Law is also in effect, which aims to provide a basic structure of government for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and empower the Bangsamoro people to self-organize and self-actualize. There is also the looming possibility of the country shifting to a federalist style of government which, on paper, might possibly help provinces and subsidiary governments develop and become more economically competitive.

That’s a lot to unpack, we know. So imagine how the youth of Mindanao must feel. They must contend with an uncertain present and future in a part of the Philippines that doesn’t get as much attention as Manila. What can the youth do? How can they realize their dreams, and react to all the things they’re beset by?

This brings us to Pitch Fest 2019, a project slash competition to find and empower Bangsamoro’s future youth business leaders. Young adult entrepreneurs entered to present their business ideas, and competed, with the winner gaining the chance to develop his idea with a boost of capital. The event was held in front of students in the gymnasium of Cotabato City State Polytechnic College, and was largely organized by the 1 Cooperative Insurance System of the Philippines.

But we have to thank, for bringing the Pitch Fest to Mindanao, the office of Bai Sandra A. Sema, one of the congresswomen primarily responsible for the filing and authorship of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. Measuring her political concerns is our gateway to seeing how the Pitch Fest and the Mindanao context intersect.

All hands on deck: Team RENTmo in the center poses with Congresswoman Bai Sandra A. Sema and the panel of this year’s Pitch Fest.

“We wanted to explore opportunities, we wanted to learn, because we had so much energy, we had so much curiosity,” Sema says, recalling her own youth, and her history as both a public servant and activist during the region’s more tumultuous years. “We needed this kind of activity, like Pitch Fest, to fill in the gap. We don’t want other ideas to come, we want livelihood, we want opportunities to better themselves, to improve themselves.”

 

Pitch Fest 2019 encourages the Mindanao youth to change their world with entrepreneurship

 

And Pitch Fest certainly showed us this fervor and energy, with many aspiring entrepreneurs competing with interesting, novel ideas. Team Batang Kalanganan Cooperative, for example, presented a business that aimed to promote Bangsamoro appetizers and cuisine, to educate those outside of Mindanao and perhaps promote tourism. Team Shariff Kabunsuan Cooperative aimed to revive, through novel packaging, a famed Cotabato commodity that no other region can do better: natural coconut oil.

You couldn’t do that sort of thing before, Sema will tell you. “Before, the youth was always looking at war, because that was what’s in the area,” she says. “Now we are going to shift their paradigm to peace. So when it is peace, you require education, you require more opportunities for livelihood and earnings.” The political and economic forces in Mindanao are moving in such a way to train the youth to prepare for great change. There are many ways to do that, of course, but Pitch Fest presents a specific idea of growth and productivity.

“I would like our youth to be economic activists, not political activists,” Sema says. “To depart from the revolutionary mode of those years, let us provide a new paradigm.” And while I personally am hesitant to equate entrepreneurship to activism in any way, it is still an interesting way to frame and plan the future of the youth. It seems that what Pitch Fest aims to do is to make the Bangsamoro youth more competitive and more assertive about making things happen, in the midst of a precarious political situation.

The winner of this year’s Pitch Fest was Team RENTmo, which aims to make the first locally ensured, peer-to-peer rental platform where customers are encouraged to rent out underused possessions and equipment at a low cost for those who need it more. What AirBNB does with places, RENTmo does with possessions. This is especially meaningful in Cotabato, with both a Christian and Muslim population. Exchanging goods in this way is a norm among Christians, but not the Muslim community. RENTmo hopes to change that.

The office of congresswoman Sema hopes to sustain the project of Pitch Fest over the years to find more of Bangsamoro’s future entrepreneurial movers and shakers in the youth. And while the future is uncertain, one would be wise to look at how the youth in Mindanao, within and outside of Cotabato, plan to change things.

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