DOST iFWD PH: An OFW's Flight to Conquer Plight

The COVID-19 pandemic which terrified our nation, just like the rest of the world, has brought daunting challenges to everyone including the Filipino migrant workers. Our country, which is known as one of the major sources of labor supply worldwide, has identified this health crisis as economically destructive, leaving massive job losses and repatriation of millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) across the globe.

Due to strict border controls and lockdowns in many countries, OFWs were displaced and forced to return home as the situation worsened in the middle of 2020. Eventually, this not only triggered emotional and psychological distress among the workers, but also dropped the country's employment rate and socio-economic position.

Pre-Departure and Take Off
Steering hopes to address the effects of the pandemic which became particularly more difficult to every OFW, the DOST-spearheaded by the DOST-National Capital Region (DOST-NCR), has laid down one of its programs to bring forth immediate solution to the difficult situation of the OFWs. This tech-based solution is dubbed as the "Innovation for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines" or iFWD PH.

After several planning sessions and consultations, the DOST iFWD PH Program was launched at the height of the pandemic in May 2020. Its major objective is the provision of opportunities for displaced and repatriated OFWs and their families in establishing business enterprises anchored on science, technology, and innovation.

Initially, there were 98 migrant workers nationwide who braved the call to board the momentous flight in 2020 towards a better future here in the Philippines. Another 40 and 42 workers also took the journey in 2021 and in the present year, respectively.

Just like having layovers during air flights, the Program is designed to be implemented in two (2) phases - (1) Capacity Building wherein various core business development training, business plan development and conceptualization are provided; and (2) Innovation Funding wherein an innovation-enabling fund (iFund) is provided to the OFW-owned enterprise for product development, laboratory testing, technical consultancy needs, trainings, packaging and labelling design, and equipment acquisition.

As they took off for ascent, members of the Entrepinoy Volunteers Foundation Inc. (EVFI) served as technology-based entrepreneurship advisors as well as resource persons, and DOST-NCR staff served as 'shepherds' of the OFWs as they officially kickstarted their journey with iFWD PH. Attached DOST research and development institutes also introduced DOST-developed technologies that the OFWs may adopt in their chosen businesses.

On the very first day of September 2022, a total of forty-five (45) valiant Filipino passengers from various countries finally landed at the Novotel Manila in Araneta City, Cubao to celebrate the milestones of the iFWD PH Program.

During the celebration, OFWs from the pioneer batch of 2020 together with batches 2021 and 2022, were recognized and conferred with Certificates of Completion for successfully hurdling the capacity building phase of the Program.

In his remarks, DOST-NCR Regional Director Jose B. Patalinjug III emphasized that for three years, it has been DOST-NCR's pleasure to share homegrown DOST-developed technologies and available innovations to advance each beneficiary's technology-based enterprise situated in the different parts of the Region.

Among the 45 OFW graduates in NCR, eight (8) of them were already provided iFund under the second phase of the Program. These include technology-based enterprises from the information and communication technology (ICT), gifts, handicrafts, and decors (GHD), food processing, water supply, and agriculture sectors.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary Sancho A. Mabborang expressed his warmest appreciation to the graduates who took the queue in moving forward towards a better opportunity through the iFWD PH Program.

"We recognize your hard work and perseverance. And today, allow me to say this with conviction - your labor is not in vain," said USec. Mabborang.

Usec. Mabborang also shared that the Concluding Ceremony is a day to celebrate the OFWs' "hardships hurdled, and passions pursued".

The flight of these OFWs would not be possible without the help of the DOST Research and Development Institutes, partner agencies such as the Entrepinoy Volunteers Foundation Inc., Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), OWWA-Regional Welfares Office NCR (OWWA-RWO NCR), National Reintegration Center for OFWs, and the Office of the Presidential Advisor on OFWs.

Former DOST Secretary and the current Chairman of EVFI, Prof. Fortunato T. de la Pena also signified his continued support not only for startups but also for existing business companies which need technical, productivity, financial, marketing advice, and connection to financial sources. OWWA-RWO NCR Director Ms. Ma. Teresa B. Capa and DMW Assistant Secretary Mr. Venecio Legaspi, who both expressed their Department's gratitude and commendation for the graduates, also graced and joined the ceremony.

"Additional Flights"
Considering the Program's humble success for three (3) consecutive years, the DOST and DMW are expected to seal a Memorandum of Agreement which will focus on the creation of wider market reach and expansion of possible opportunities for the Program.

This collaborative effort also eyes the involvement of the Philippine airport facilities to cater a larger number of OFWs who wish to start their new lives together with their families in our country.

This solidifies what the newly appointed Science Secretary Renato U. Solidum, Jr. has highlighted in his speech that, "the OFWs' stories will serve as an inspiration to many more Filipino workers abroad by giving them a glimpse of certainty that here in our nation, there is hope and success."