“Awardees cannot rest on their laurels as performance and outcome are still the best measures of success,” Olivia Ferry told Daily Tribune, as she reminisced the day she was recognized by TOWNS for her achievement in the field of business 35 years ago.
Retired from the industry but active in three non-profit boards and now president of TOWNS Foundation, Ferry still has the passion to keep it going. She said, “Research has shown that receiving a prestigious award can sometimes result in an unintended loss of productivity. But TOWNS gave me a lot of positive energy to keep going in life. The TOWNS Awards is a very prestigious award that gives its awardees better recognition, appreciation and respect from friends and colleagues.”
The TOWNS Search began as a project of Lion’s International in 1974 to recognize women who served as true role models to fellow women and Filipinos who wish to dedicate themselves to nation-building. The first set of TOWNS awardees include the late Senator Leticia Shahani, awardee for Foreign Service; the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Flerida Ruth Romero, awardee for Law; and the late Dr. Perla Santos Ocampo, awardee for Medicine.
It was in 1984 when the awardees, of which there were only 43 at that time according to Ferry, decided to form the Association of TOWNS awardees to take over the planning and execution of the TOWNS Search from Lions International.
“It pursued its primary aim of empowering and helping Filipino women achieve personal and professional growth and excellence so that they may contribute to the advancement of Philippine society and the nation,” she explained.
And in 1993, the Association of TOWNS Awardees became known as TOWNS Foundation Inc., an organization composed of professional women, whose exceptional accomplishments and outstanding body of work were recognized through the triennial search, The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS).
The first search was held in 1974. Now, the foundation just concluded its 16th edition and remained to be the same prestigious award giving body that ensures the only best are selected and many women are reached as much as possible.
“We have expanded the age limit from 21 to 45 to 21 to 50 because the achievements of many powerful and empowered women cannot be ignored. At the same time, we continue to bring home the point that high achievement starts early in life,” Ferry said.
“Recognitions for exceptional work and contributions to the development of society and the professions should be a vital part of any dynamic, vibrant and growing society,” she explained. By recognizing people for their contributions and exceptional body of work, a strong message to everyone “that hard work, creativity and exceptional performance are important and are not to be ignored.”
The achievements of women are made even more precious by these awards, she continued. “These women serve as inspiration and role models for future generations of women. The award reinforces the value of capacitating women and empowering them. The awards embodies our Foundation’s commitment to engage and honor these women achievers whose work helps to make our nation stronger.”
This year’s batch of awardees were conferred last Thursday, 10 October at the Dusit Thani Manila. They are Karla Patricia Gutierrez for Arts, Gay Jane Perez for Science and Technology, Patricia Ann Prodigalidad for Law, Stephanie Sy for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Samira Gutoc for Peace Advocacy, Rohaniza Usman for Education, Chiara Anne Zambrano for Journalism, Geraldine Zamora for Health and Medicine, Xyza Bacani for Humanities, Carmina Bayombong for Entrepreneurship, Clara Isabelle Delgado for Education and Ma. Regina Justina Estuar for Science and Technology.
“They are an excellent batch of awardees. We received nominations from 62 very outstanding women which made it very difficult for us to shortlist the nominees to 25. The shortlisted nominations are exceptional, but I wish we could’ve given each of them an award since the narratives of their journey to professional excellence and meaningful advocacy are phenomenal,” Ferry said thoughtfully.
The 2019 Awardees up close
Xyza Dela Cruz Bacani for Humanities
Xyza is a Filipina street and documentary photographer based in Hong Kong who uses her work to raise awareness about under-reported stories of overseas Filipino workers (OFW).
She is a grantee of the Asia 21 Young Leaders (Class 2018), WMA Commission (2017), the Pulitzer Center and Open Society Moving Walls (2017). She is also recognized as one of BBC’s 100 Women of the World (2015), 30 Under 30 Women Photographers (2016) and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia (2016).
As her work speaks for courage, pleads for justice and addresses social issues involving OFWs, Xyza remains grateful everyday for all the blessings she is receiving. Xyza said, “Women have struggled through out in the history and recognising the important contribution of women in the country is a good step towards empowerment. It also means to inspire other women and start a conversation about issues that we care about. You are strong, you are beautiful, you can for anything. Be your own hero.”
Carmina F. Bayombong for Entrepreneurship
Carmina founded InvestEd, an award-winning financial technology (FinTech) that helps 2.6 million college-aged youth who needs funds to access better education. She developed a special algorithm that attracted institutions and individuals to invest their money for the student loan program.
With her vision of a world where every young person has the opportunity to succeed, Carmina has garnered awards, locally and internationally, including Cartier Women’s Initiative Laureate for the South Asia & Oceania REgion, Asia Social Innovation Awards and Dubai World Expo 2020’s Top 100 Global Innovators.
She co-founded Tau Labda Alpha Sorority, an all-female engineering architecture organization and Watson Institute Philippines, a summer incubator program that provides training to youth entrepreneurs.
Carmina’s goal is to fund 300,000 students by 2030.
It pursued its primary aim of empowering and helping Filipino women achieve personal and professional growth and excellence so that they may contribute to the advancement of Philippine society and the nation.
Clarissa Isabelle Delgado for Education
Clarissa began her career in 2009, by managing a randomized control trial for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Poverty Action Lab.
In 2012, Clarissa returned to the Philippines and founded Teach for the Philippines which was built on the shoulders of Sa Aklat Sikat, a reading program that started in 1999. Teach for Philippines recruits and trains both non-education and education majors who are not yet “licensed” by the system to teach in public schools.
When the Obama Foundation opened applications for its inaugural fellowship, Clarissa was one of the 20 selected fellows from 21,000 people representing 11 countries. Clarissa received the TOYM Award for Community Service and the Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leaders Award in 2016.
Ma. Regina Justina Estuar for Science and Technology
Estuar’s work in Social Computing began in 2005 when she completed her Doctoral Degree in Social Psychology, where she developed a theory on human-technology interface.
Reena, as she is fondly called, collected text narratives spanning 12 years on the use of information and communication technologies for civic engagement. The resulting model became the foundation of several ICT platforms she has designed and developed. The model continues to be implemented in the areas of disaster, health and agriculture.
In 2012, she formed an informal partnership with Project NOAH in designing and managing the Flood Patrol, a mobile crowdsourcing platform for flood reporting by the public. The same year, she founded the Ateneo Social Computing Science Laboratory.
In 2016, she developed FASSSTER (Feasibility Analysis on Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio Temporal Epidemiological ModelleR) for the early detection of diseases.
Reena lead a multidisciplinary team of 30 researchers from Ateneo’s School of Science and Engineering for its mobile microscopy research in UC Berkeley.
Karla Patricia Gutierrez for Performing Arts
Karla founded the Philippine Opera Company in 1999. Twenty years later, it became the home of Filipino heritage music alongside Western classical music.
Years earlier, Karla organized The Friends of the Philippine Opera Foundation which gives free artistic training, scholarship programs, and classes in developing an audience appreciation for opera.
She was honed as a soprano at the UP College of Music under the tutelage of the Filipino soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio. She has appeared in Repertory Philippines’ production Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Masterclass and Carousel.
“We have a long way to go but I believe with our determination and passion, we’ll get there,” Karla said.
Samira R. Gutoc for Peace Advocacy
Samira has worked with a variety of stakeholders as a journalist, manager, consultant, environmentalist, trainor, peace activist and organizer.
A former member of the Local School Board in Marawi, Samira has lectured on the value of education and youth development in 30 international and local conferences organized by Amnesty International, De La Salle University, College of St. Benilde and Miriam College.
“To all of the women, kayanin niyo po. When the sin of critical thinking is persecuted, we must arise,” she said.
Gay Jane Perez for Science and Technology
In 2003, Gay caught the international attention with her paper “Self-organized queuing and scale-free behavior in real escape panic” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2003), which was featured in New Scientist, Nature Science News, Wired Magazine, Spektrum De Wissenschaft and BBC News Radio.
In 2011, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) sponsored her postdoctoral fellowship at the prestigious NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center where she focused on Satellite Remote Sensing. She found ways to estimate rainfall and soil moisture from satellite imagery and developed algorithms to observe seasonal variability of Philippine vegetation.
She won the 2018 ASEAN-US Science Prize for Women, besting 44 other nominees in the region. Her return to the Philippines coincided with the DoST’s program to launch DIWATA, the first Philippine microsatellite in orbit, where she became part of the development team.
She said, “My advocacy is not really mine alone, instead I represent the advocacy of people around me, the institute of environmental science, meteorology, our program at the College of Science in UP Diliman which has continuously served the country through Science and Technology.”
Patricia Ann Prodigalidad for Law
Patricia topped the bar exams in 1997 before becoming a litigator for one of the largest law firms in the country. She later one was named one of the Philippines’ Top 100 Lawyers in 2018 and 2019.
She is part of the technical working group that drafted procedural rules of the Supreme Court, including the Implementing Rules of the ADR LAw of 2004 and the Rule of DNA Evidence.
“ADR promoters, especially women ADR advocates face numerous challenges, among these are the persistent male dominance in the field and the understandable resistance from private practitioners who feel threatened perhaps because at the bottom they are afraid of the unknown,” wondered Patricia.
She served as National Secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, serving four IBP presidents. She has represented the legal profession in the mutual evaluation process and risk assessment conducted by the Anti-Money Laundering Council of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and participated in the mutual assessment by the Financial Action Task Force. On top of that, she is deputy director of the IBP’s Bar Discipline Committee, tasked to ensure that administrative or disbarment proceedings against her fellow lawyers are decided fairly.
Stephanie L. Sy for Technology Entrepreneurship
It was 2015 when Stephanie Sy decided to come home after studying Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. She saw that there is barely anyone in the Philippines working on the data science industry. In the end, she founded Thinking Machines, a world-class company that became the country’s hub for data science.
Thinking Machines used artificial intelligence models to monitor brand visibility of pharmaceuticals in retail locations, identify the most traffic and flood-prone areas in the country using data gathered from reports, and a model which predicts the average household wealth for every 18 square kilometers of the Philippines.
The company has created two open sources libraries, GeoMancer (a tool for automating geospatial feature engineering for machine learning) and Tiffany (a command-line tool for rendering to TIFF images from Google Static Maps). At 30 years-old, Sy has turned Thinking Machines into a data science powerhouse.
Stephanie said, “My favorite thing about technology is that you don’t need a lot of land, you don’t need a lot of machinery and you don’t need a lot of money. What you need is brains, human capital and that is something we have here. My advocacy is to build the technology sector in the Philippines and to help organizations make decisions using data.”
Rohaniza Usman for Education
Bai Rohaniza Sumndad Usman is a child educator and founder of Teach Peace Build Peace Movement, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization that aims to make every Filipino youth live in culture of peace and harmony. It operates in 20 Kapatiran Schools in Pampanga, Manila Maguindanao and Lanao.
Rohaniza grew up in Riyadh where she witnessed the ravages of war. She returned to Manila, graduating with distinction from Assumption College. Her professional and civic affiliations are so multi-faceted that it garnered international awards and citations from UNDP, DOJA Interfaith Centre, US State Department, Ashoka Fellowship and Rotary Club International.
“This is for every peace education believer advocate and champion as we dramatically transform the concept of the culture of peace as an inherit way of life. We have to teach peace to build a culture of peace because it is in building a culture of peace that we can create generation of heroes,” says Rohaniza.
Chiara Anne Zambrano for Journalism
Chiara worked her way up from being a trainee, production assistant, researcher to senior program producer and writer by 2009.
She has covered a whole gamut of stories, from fires and floods, corruption and crime. She was the first journalist to spot and zero in on the rise of the infamous Maute Group, a year before the Marawi siege erupted in May 2017. Her documentary on the said siege with colleague Jeff Canoy won the Gold World Medal in the New York Festivals and the Dolphin Award in Cannes Corporate Media and TV Awards.
“To do my job well, I need to see where the bombs land. I need to see and hear the fear in the victims and I need to try to find solutions to these conflicts that seem to never end. That is the pursuit I did have in my heart has been worth more than any inconvenience this profession can never give me. This is actually the sacrifice of every serious journalist, not just conflict journalist, woman or man in war or in politics…. Follow your heart, you know you are strong and it’s time for others to know it too. This isn’t a man’s world, this world is mine. This world is everybody’s,” says Chiara.
Geraldine Zamora for Health and Medicine
Dr. Geraldine is the first Filipino Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Rheumatology) and one of the only three Filipinos awarded an International Fellowship Grant by the Asia Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology.
Zamora has written and co-authored numerous publications, both locally and internationally. She is also the first Filipino rheumatologist invited to participate in the USA Vasculitis Clinical Research.
She is also an influencer who brings her love for Science and Art into Medicine. She has spearheaded concerts for the benefit of cancer patients, which helped generate millions of pesos to subsidize the patient’s life-saving diagnostic exams and medications.
“To towns, I will continue to enjoy my community with my commitment to marry the arts and the sciences in my advocacy and to create new avenues of service within my field for the improvement of Filipino lives.”