Leadership with Fr. Ben | Inquirer Business

Leadership with Fr. Ben

Good leadership is essential in business, in families, in society. Today, when leadership has become increasingly toxic on various fronts, we need to examine the formation of leaders who prioritize the most vulnerable and who also mobilize others to support their efforts.

“If Ateneo’s significant others are fellow Filipinos, then caring for the great majority poor is central to mission,” says Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, former president of Ateneo de Manila University. Citing Nobel economist Amartya Sen’s definition of poverty as lack of capability, he guides young Ateneo graduates who are at the forefront of empowering the poor. In 2012, they started a support group dubbed #LeadershipWithFrBen.


Edna “Bo peep” Franco, chair of Ateneo’s PhD in Leadership Studies, and I worked on a book that chronicles their journeys. It was launched last March 15, on Fr. Ben’s 83rd birthday. Several doctoral students talked to and wrote about these young leaders, whose stories are humbling and uplifting.

Fr. Danny Huang, who worked with Fr. Ben in social development and now lectures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, says in the foreword: “My generation tended to focus perhaps too much on ideology. These leaders, on the other hand, demonstrate the exciting possibilities that open up when professional competence is oriented towards responding to concrete needs and empowering the marginalized.”


“If we join them in their journey with the poor, we will see many things we think we know—poverty, hunger, entrepreneurship, public education, sari-sari stores—with new eyes,” says Fr. Ben. “We will see them in a way where we also see the path to solutions and to making a difference. So we can graduate from our usual response of finding someone or something to blame—government, corruption, etc.—to actually doing something.”

The book, eponymously titled with the group name, brings us into the world of our poor, and describes how 10 Ateneans blend faith and social justice to help the poor better their lives. Mark Lawrence Cruz in Kusina ng Kalinga and Amy Dycoco in Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED)—interviewed by George Quitoriano, Lorilyn Buhat and Erwin Ong—measure hunger not in statistics but as smiles from children who are able to eat well.

Solvie Nubla-Lee in Pathways to Higher Education, Trissa Manalastas-Menardo in Phinma Education, Sabrina Ongkiko in Culiat Elementary School, and Issa Cuevas-Santos in Profriends—interviewed by Melissa Mariano, Juancho Barretto, Johanna dela Paz, Robert Lizares and Fermin Yabut—educate youngsters toward a brighter future.

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz in Rags2Riches, Mark Ruiz in Hapinoy, and Melissa Yeung-Yap in Got Heart—interviewed by Raquel Olpoc, Danilo Mojica, Niel Kenneth Jamandre and Celmer Santos—imbue the lives of scavengers, farmers, sari-sari store nanays (mothers), Aetas with dignity and hope. Noi Quesada-Corneby in Gawad Kalinga Ateneo—interviewed by Fr. Ben—continues to identify and support more young leaders.

Published by the Ateneo University Press, the book is a manual for those who want to effectively help the needy, for mission work is not all heart. Integral are parental and family encouragement, regular and deep immersion encounters, an anchoring faith, the ability to undertake hands-on responsibilities, and the support of like-minded peers and mentors. Story after story shows how our young leaders struggle to harness people’s strengths, bolster their agency, hold them accountable, create systems that work.

Fr. Ben says, “The way forward to making a difference for the poor is to plunge in, get our hands dirty, face failures and overcome them, learn from each other, and understand that our projects will only succeed if the poor are themselves protagonists and our projects are driven by our Filipino values of faith, family and community, love and care for our children, malasakit and bayanihan.”

Get the book #LeadershipWithFrBen (edited by Edna Franco and Queena N. Lee-Chua) from Lazada, Shopee, or Ateneo University Press. Proceeds go to ACED.

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