Reaping the greater investment return
When women empower women, when team members all strive for portfolio targets, and when your work not only fulfills an unattained dream but also transforms into your vocation, then for Ludovina Balicanot there is no better joy.
Still water runs deep, that is the conclusion one gets after listening to Ludovina Balicanot – or Dina for short – amidst the hubbub of an afternoon snack time at the ADB cafeteria.
The noise soon fades and there is only the stream of consciousness pouring forth from the newly promoted project officer of the Southeast Asia Urban and Water Division (SEUW). The floodgates of memories quickly opened, as she mindlessly doodled on her notebook and shared how she is the thirteenth child of 14 children in her family. At that time in the Philippines, it was not uncommon to have a big brood. The slight downside, she noted, was as she grew with more energy, her parents were losing theirs. It helped her become independent as a result.
By the time she reached college, she wanted to pursue mass communications and become an investigative journalist. Her father, though, wanted her to study accountancy; so, she bargained for a compromise and settled with business management. She graduated cum laude, and after about six years into her first job at Avon, a “very corporate-looking” ADB ad drew her attention — not knowing the world it revolved in.
In 1993, she became part of ADB under the Central Operations Services Office (COSO), where she stayed for around 12 years. It was only when an analyst suggested that she try other departments that she decided to venture out of her “comfort zone”. And that was how Dina joined the Southeast Asia Regional Department, starting with the Social Sectors Division (SESS) under the late gender advocate Shireen Lateef and eventually with the Urban and Water Division under then director Amy Leung. Both were very supportive through their own unique, strong personalities, which she identified with and appreciated tremendously, she shared.
More recently, she has found another forward-thinking leader in SEUW’s new director, Vijay Padmanabhan. “Before I used to say I could probably retire by 2020; but now, I am not sure not anymore. I like how my work is evolving, especially with our new director, Vijay. I’d like to be part of his vision for the division.”
Dina is also eagerly waiting the day she completes her first urban project. Since she moved to SEUW in 2011, she has mainly supported water supply investments, such as in Lao PDR, which was included in the 2013 ADB Together We Deliver report for its development effectiveness. “Urban development is still new for me, because I don’t have any project that has come full circle yet. I’m interested to see the impact it creates,” she said. The closest semblance of an urban project she has supported, she pointed out, was the Pasig River Environmental Management and Rehabilitation Project. She joined the team around 2007 when it was the busiest time for procurement. In 2009, during a ferry ride from Lambingan Punta Sta. Ana to Binondo for some Christmas shopping in Divisoria, she realized: “Wow, I actually helped build all these ferry stations and linear parks. I love my work!”
In the meantime, she’s involved with projects in Cambodia, Philippines, and Viet Nam. For this self-confessed introvert, she is proud of the work she puts in. Because at the end of it all, there is a greater good she’s aiming for. Read the rest of the interview to find out:
“I realized that my work in development and the most important thing to me now – my faith – are aligned. So work is not work. I see it as a vocation. It's a calling.”
Southeast Asia Urban and Water Division
You’ve been with COSO for over a decade, and the same has happened with Southeast Asia. What makes you stay in this department?
Dina: I’m loyal [smiles]? No, I think it’s because other people usually have goals, but for me if I’m enjoying where I am, then I tend to stay. About Southeast Asia, what I like about this department is the countries we support. And I do tend to be loyal to my projects. There was a time when I was still with SESS when they were reorganizing the divisions. I didn’t know that they nominated me to transfer to another division. I was just surprised that I had to transfer to Transport. So what I did was to speak with the director, the late Shireen Lateef. I told her how I wished there should have been a consultation, because I would rather stay. For them, they may have considered it a lost opportunity because transport was viewed as more high profile. But, I was okay where I was. What I like also is that I make my own decisions in life, basically. If I had volunteered to go there, maybe it would be different. They thought I’d like that career move. There was good intention on their part. It’s just that I prefer to make the decision myself. I stayed in SESS for a total of five years until this opportunity with SEUW came along.
When I moved I didn’t know it would be headed by an esteemed director, Amy Leung. It was like what happened when I transferred to SESS. I didn’t know about Shireen and her feistiness. So again with Amy it was the director who hired me. She’s a champion, and I’m sure everyone who has worked with her only has good words to say about her leadership and support. Whatever I am today is largely because of them… They were all very supportive. With Amy I remember at that time I even asked for my own work plan. I went up to her and mentioned that I’m very interested in doing portfolio work. With her, you have a say, and she listens. She gives you freedom on things you want to do.
Why do you like portfolio management?
Dina: The goals are defined, and because I’m a bit of a control nut. So if there are goals, then I won’t relent until those are achieved. For instance, I’d look back at my projects and how it can be managed; if still lacking, I’ll look for others to push. For me, I like it when goals are clear, and if these are goals, then they really are goals. It’s not for the sake of having goals. We all have to work together to reach it. Of course, not everyone has the same personality as you. Some are more relaxed and some are less serious or are unaffected. Me, I’m affected, because I really like the work.
What’s a memorable project you’ve been involved with?
Dina: Maybe not a project, more of the country. I liked Lao PDR. All the projects I’ve supported in Lao are about water supply. What makes it memorable is I’ve worked with the same project team leader, same ministry, with the same executing agency, same consultants, and so it became a circle of friends. It’s not just work anymore. It was great, and we worked together for a long time. Also, it was their appreciation of how you’ve worked with them and supported them all throughout. They’re very sincere. Now, I don’t have any project in Lao PDR.
Is there a sense of pride when you work on a project in the Philippines, or it doesn’t matter which country so long as it’s for development?
Dina: To be honest, it’s frustrating. Even if the projects are here and even though the locals speak English really well, the system and the changing of the guards make working here in the country extremely challenging. When terms end or there is a change in administration, then no more. The work is disrupted. You have to start all over again. You have a new set of advisers, new direction, so it’s hard to sustain the work.
Do you find it strange that this is the work you do now? After all, you studied business management and you originally wanted broadcast communications.
Dina: When I joined ADB, I joined the Staff Community Fund (SCF) doing outreach. I was very active. There was a time I was the chairperson — but I was just pushed to do that. I really liked the outreach, the volunteer part. You know, the reason why I was interested in broadcasting was because I liked Jessica Soho and Che-Che Lazaro [award-winning Philippine broadcast journalists—ed.], who both did investigative reporting. I would watch them often, delivering the news and reaching out to the marginalized. And back in high school and college, I was really into current events. I would read the newspaper from the front page to the last page. A perfect day for me then would be to read the Inquirer from end to end. So my social awareness was reawakened in SCF.
I’m also a Catholic, and I joined a charismatic group called Friends of Divine Mercy. We have this Mission of Works of Mercy. The group is not just about deepening the faith; it has to be seen in action. That’s when I realized that my work in development and the most important thing to me now – my faith – are aligned. My project administration work fulfills my ministry. I’m super happy that I’m able to do what I aspire to even in my work. So work is not work. I see it as a vocation. It’s a calling. That’s why I’m invested, because it’s not something I only earn from. It’s more rewarding than that. You see results from your efforts. You are part of something big, very big, and not everyone is given this opportunity, so I’m enjoying my time. My heart is in it, because to me it all connects.
Aside from your ministry, what are your hobbies or other interests?
Dina: I’m not the mall type. In the little time I have left from work I like to stay at home and watch some local magazine shows, Mastercher reruns, and mostly shows in the Lifestyle Network channel. If I had more time to plan and prepare, I would love to do mountain hikes and trails. I enjoy my solitude, if not spending time with nieces and nephews. Lately, I’ve also been into plants. That’s my current hobby. Vijay changed the office layout for our division, so I’m no longer enclosed in a room. And because I told myself I’d like to do something different this year, I removed all the books and manuals that have been eating up shelf space. Anyway, these hardly get touched or read. I placed plants on the shelves instead. It’s just refreshing, and clears your perspective. You just look at the plants, or water them, or remove dried leaves. It’s effective and it’s nice to try something new. And the people I’m with are also into plants so we’re all getting quite competitive! It’s fun. I think this new year is turning out great.