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Spotlight On

Vanezza Zabert, Altyre House 2004, Behavioural Scientist and Lecturer

How an early morning walk to Chapel ended in a Masters in Population and Development from the LSE

During those morning walks to the Chapel in 2003, I was convinced that I would be following a linear career path after school. Start a job, climb the ladder, step by step. But my journey turned out different. It took me on a path of adventures, uncertainty, personal innovation and one of purpose and fulfilment. 

Whenever I meet with friends, they are hungry to hear of my latest stories and adventures and seem to enjoy a different perspective to their routine jobs. And so it comes to no surprise that I write this article, at the chaotic Manila airport lounge - about to head back to London, and conclude a summer of work travels to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Vanezza at Angkor Wat

My initial interest in cross-cultural understanding, inclusive development and poverty alleviation stem from my roots of being German-Filipina. An upbringing in both countries (and ten years in the UK) enabled me to get to know very different regions, which are on opposing poles of a continuum, with regards to social, health and economic wellbeing.

During my AS-Level summer, I travelled to the Philippines, to see for myself what it means to be poor, what ‘bottom of the pyramid wealth creation’ meant, and to meet those individuals, who fight for their survival on a daily basis. “If you could wish for anything in the world, what would you like to have for your Christmas present?” I asked Bryan, a six-year-old boy at a Centre for Abused and Abandoned Children, in the Philippines. His quick response was: “A birthday!” At first, I was totally baffled and did not quite understand, until it was explained to me that many children were found alone in the streets. Bryan was very young, he did not know his name, age, and parents or where he came from. Neither the Centre nor the local government had the equivalent of £10 to pay for a birth registration. But really, Bryan was more thinking about all the birthday presents that he missed out on, than his future prospects. However, without a birth certificate he will not be able to attain other certifications such as school reports, driving license, marriage certificate or apply for employment. His young friends shared similar stories. This was a grim face of poverty that I had not known.

At the Children's Centre   Experiental learning with Business students

Having met Bryan and the others, I wanted to support the children out of poverty through educational sponsorships. Raised by friends, relatives and European students, to avoid a life of illiteracy. I was determined to do something. But the complexity surrounding poverty and its multi-dimensional nature, pretty much slapped my naivety in the face. That summer, my idealism was crushed. Like many, I did not consider the importance of the local context, behaviours and bigger picture. And it opened my eyes to the need to go much deeper into the importance for holistic approaches. Simply pouring in resources, such as money will not do, nor the idealistic view that humans behave rationally. 

I learnt my lesson. 

I set out on a path to gain a solid academic background in the area that I am immensely passionate and enthusiastic about: International sustainable development. Which is, “about finding creative solutions to complex societal issues, that take into account the well-being of future generations and not just our own.“ A Masters Degree from the London School of Economics in Population and Development and currently an Executive Masters in Behavioural Science, form the basis. However, I quickly realised that text books alone teach you so much, to understand what is happening in reality, it is important to go into the field and understand the root causes of problems on the ground. 

On the streets of Manila with Business students

In my current role as European Director for the Philippines’ leading development foundation, my favourite part is to travel with students of business and development degrees, to Southeast Asia. Part of their experiential learning programmes include topics focused on: sustainable development, global leadership, cross-cultural intelligence, social entrepreneurship and human-centred design thinking.

My initial plans from those early walks to Chapel did not materialise - and I am glad they didn't.

“If you organise your life around your passion, you can turn your passion into your story and then turn your story into something bigger - something that matters”

(B.Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes)

To read more Alumni articles, follow this link.


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