An obligation to the future

An obligation to the future

Benito Benoza

“Looking back, INNOTECH figured in my formative years with many lasting lessons. Upholding a legacy, having an opportunity to serve and give back some of the enduring knowledge and learnings, not to mention the lasting bonds of friendship across Southeast Asia and beyond, is truly a gift in itself.” 

 

As a high school freshman, my trip to Saigon in March 1975 was my first visit to another country; South Vietnam was in the news and the visit came with the lure of adventure. It was also a personal introduction to INNOTECH, where my father, Orlando S. Benoza, worked as Associate Specialist in the Training Division. He joined the Center after graduating from the 5th INNOTECH Three-Month Course.    

That brief vacation was an occasion to meet officials who will be the leaders of the Center. There was also a Governing Board Meeting which, I later learned, decided on future Center operations. That visit also started the dream of working on international cooperation.    

When INNOTECH set up operations in the Philippines, the terms “Governing Board Meetings, SEAMEO Council Conferences and INNOTECH courses” became part of everyday conversations at home. My father would invite course participants during their course for a home-cooked dinner; our tiny living room packed with participants and INNOTECH staff. The evening usually ends with a rousing rendition of Rasah Sayang, Rambong and Leron Leron Sinta by the participants.    

These were also the years when Dr. Robert Jacobs and Dr. Daryl Nichols were frequent guests. Over beer and whisky, Bob Jacobs, Daryl Nichols and Orly Benoza would talk about program strategy. On those late-night sessions, they brainstormed the Project on Development of an Effective Learning System for  the Improvement of Life or Project DELSILIFE, the International Seminars and Conferences and the Japanese grant for the INNOTECH building. Watching these men toss ideas around was quite an experience. Bob Jacobs was a fount of theories and education concepts; Daryl Nichols was a problem-solver, adding in innovative twists to solutions; and Orly Benoza set the regional context, giving a creative, Southeast Asian touch grounded on practical experience. The conversations would die down as they set the ideas on paper, demonstrating what international development work was about.   

This trio of innovators never missed an opportunity to gain information, even from an undergraduate. Between serving beer and emptying ashtrays, they asked me about my course, Development Communication, and the university. Their thoughts always came back to INNOTECH and how to set firmer roots in the Philippines.    

That exposure set direction for my future work. I have always been fascinated with new ideas and ways of improving peoples’ lives, sharing new knowledge, bringing together people with similar interests. The idea of partnerships with various parties have remained with me over the years.      

Being part of the national livelihood movement Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran (KKK) as a Research Assistant was the first test. Exposure to people of different cultures helped me understand donors. Later, my job at the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI), visits to the INNOTECH library, and studying training modules helped me learn more about designing and running training programs.    

Moving to Beijing in 1989, two months after the Tian An Men incident (shades of Saigon, April 1975), the Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Beijing Office asked me to help run the Cooperative Ecological Research Project (CERP) with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (BMFT). The office worked with BMFT, Academia Sinica and UNESCO Headquarters in organizing travel, buying books and equipment, mounting seminars and producing publications.   

The UNESCO Beijing Office moved into education because China was prominent in the Education for All (EFA) movement and the Nine Largest Developing Countries (E-9) Initiative. It later ventured into culture projects, tapping into the Japan Trust Fund for Culture on the Conservation of the Ancient City of Jiaohe. I gained a deeper understanding of Chinese ways and the value of partnerships. The experience was a preparation to work with INNOTECH.

After seven years in China, I heeded Dr. Victor Ordoñez’s (UNESCO Director of Basic Education) advice and offered my services to INNOTECH. We ran a study visit for officials of the UNESCO Institute for Rural Education and Development (INRULED) and INNOTECH was my partner choice to run it. I was pleasantly surprised to work with Dr. Minda Sutaria, whom I last met in Saigon in 1975. Later, I was engaged to help organize the 6th International Conference in November 1997; I stayed on until Dr. Sutaria’s retirement.   

During the leadership transition, Dr. Erlinda C. Pefianco opened doors to new and bigger challenges. As her Executive Assistant, I was part of initiatives that involved the Philippine Senate, international organizations and a more pronounced INNOTECH presence in SEAMEO. But the most valuable life lesson from her went beyond project management and partnerships; witnessing her compassion for the staff gave a lasting imprint.      

As the Center celebrated its 35th anniversary, INNOTECH was ready for change. Technology applications in education opened a number of pathways. A three-part strategy for reconfiguring the Center programs and services was conceived: mobilizing external support for a purpose-designed structure affording online learning and multimedia production; developing non-residential or distance programs; and linkages and collaboration with partners.    

Engaging the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to support the construction of the building called for partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), through the National Educators Academy of the Philippines (NEAP), the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). We also mobilized support from the Japanese companies that worked in the first JICA grant.   

I left INNOTECH amidst these exciting developments. Dr. Arief Sadiman, then Director of the SEAMEO Secretariat (SEAMES), invited me as Programme Officer for Development. Moving to Bangkok in 2004, SEAMES was in the thick of preparations for the first SEAMEO Education Congress.    

The SEAMES years widened networks in the 10 Ministries of Education. Aside from Secretariat work, we coordinated projects implemented by the SEAMEO Centers. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) funded the Human Values-based Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education Project (HVWSHE); partners remember it by the mnemonic “how-is-she,” bringing together five SEAMEO Centers including INNOTECH. My attempt to rebrand it “Project SEA WAVE” or “Southeast Asia Water Values and Education” did not really gain traction; for three years, I was the “how-is-she” person of SEAMEO.

Rejoining INNOTECH IN 2008, the first task was to craft the Center’s 8th Five Year Development Plan. INNOTECH served as the de facto office advising DepEd on regional affairs. We also went through leadership transition. Working with Dr. Ramon C. Bacani gave me deeper insights on the workings of government and DepEd.  

In 2014, INNOTECH was tapped as lead implementer of the SEAMEO Strategic Dialogue of Education Ministers (SDEM). Convened with the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR, the dialogue yielded the Seven Priorities of SEAMEO, the region’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. The second SDEM, convened in Bandung, hosted by the Ministry of National Education of Indonesia, set a platform for action for inter-country and regional cooperation on the priority concerns. INNOTECH became a voice in setting the region’s education agenda.

Looking back, INNOTECH figured in my formative years with many lasting lessons. Upholding a legacy, having an opportunity to serve and give back some of the enduring knowledge and learnings, not to mention the lasting bonds of friendship across Southeast Asia and beyond, is truly a gift in itself. 

         

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