Saturday Success Story #23: Jay Michael Jaboneta

Photo of Veejay Villafranca

By Alpha Miguel-Sanford

There are a few reasons why you have to know Jay Jaboneta – especially if you do not know him yet:

Jay Jaboneta, is the Firestarter and the Chief Storyteller of the Yellow Boat of Hope, who has brought great impact in the lives of Filipino children to access their education, by transporting them from their homes by boats rather than swimming back and forth to school everyday.

Jay Jaboneta was one of the Yahoo! Philippines’ Pitong Pinoy (Seven Pinoys) awardees in June 2011 for his significant contribution as a modern day hero in his effort to send children to school safely by boat.

Jay Jaboneta was the first Filipino who appeared on a TEDx talk outside the Philippines!

Jay Jaboneta is the man behind HungryPeople, a website for leaders and other individuals who are hungry for ideas worth spreading. In fact, he even had the chance to interview Seth Godin, the marketing guru and one of the amazing authors I follow!

He definitely is someone you need to follow especially for his insights, his ideas and his next project involving social media change.

He is an “ordinary individual” who has extraordinary ideas that spread far and wide. You have to know him and if this isn’t enough yet, you have to read his story and watch his TEDx talk later in this post.

Get to know him more here on AMSDaily.

This is his story:

AMS:  Tell us about yourself. Your education, training and where you are currently involved in.

Jay: My name is Jay Jaboneta. I was born inCotabato City,Philippines (around 700 miles south ofManila). I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce Majoring in Management Accounting with a minor in Philosophy in Ateneo De Davao University. I am currently the Fire Starter and the Chief Storyteller of the Philippine Funds for Little Kids aka Yellow Boat Project. It was a project that started in late 2010 when I found out that there were children inZamboanga,Philippines who had to swim just to be able to go to school. My friends and I started a campaign that has since become a global movement that is helping children here in thePhilippines. I also do consulting work on social media for companies.

AMS:  Growing up, did you always dream of becoming a social media changer, or being involved in many charitable causes?

Jay: I was always involved in extra-curricular activities in school. I was Editor In Chief of the English newspaper of my high school, graduated as valedictorian in high school and was a founding member and second president of the local chapter of the international student organization, Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), in college. I guess I did not intentionally set out to become a change maker. I just dreamed of helping make a difference. I grew up in Cotabato City and I was fortunate to be able to come to Manila and work in the Philippine capital and it has opened a lot of doors for me – I always believe that no matter how busy we are, we can make a difference in other people’s lives, we can help people even by just the little things we do every day, the random little acts of kindness.

AMS:  Tell us about how you started the Yellow Boat of Hope?

Jay:  The Yellow Boat Project started in late 2010 when I found out that there were children inZamboanga,Philippines who had to swim just to be able to go to school. My friends and I started a campaign that has since become a global movement that is helping children here in thePhilippines. It has become a symbol of hope for the country and possibly, the world. We named the first boat we gave to the community,New Hope, because we believe we are not just providing a vehicle that can ferry these children to school, we are providing them a source of hope and renewed optimism. The Yellow Boat Project is currently present in 3 communities in thePhilippines: Layag-Layag, Brgy. Talon-Talon,ZamboangaCity; Isla Mababoy, Brgy. Guinhadap, Monreal, Masbate; andLakewood, Zamboanga del Sur.

AMS:  How about HungryPeople? Why did you start it?

Jay: HungryPeople is a personal blog on business, career management and business books that I started in late 2009. Unfortunately, because of all my activities, I have since stopped updating it and slowly transferring the content to my personal site at I want to re-focus my efforts and writing on using social media for social change.

AMS:  Being young and “chief” in almost everything that you start, where do you get your inspiration to do it?

Jay: I can’t exactly say where the inspiration comes from. I guess it’s a combination of many factors and elements – chief of which are the people who support me like my parents and my sister and my aunts and uncles and cousins and of course my many friends around the world.

The story in Layag-Layag and Isla Mababoy where children used to swim to school also touched my heart that we should help them who despite facing very difficult challenges still continue to fight for their right to learn.

God is my source of strength. I am not religious in the sense that I go to mass every Sunday, in that I pray the rosary everyday or that I do the regular confessions – but rather I believe I have a deeper relationship with God where I talk to him every day, I offer him prayers for family and friends, and that I truly live out the Christian principles taught to us in school. Some of my friends go to mass every Sunday but it seems they do it more because it is expected by society than because they truly believe that Sunday masses renew our faith to be able to face another week of work and challenges.

AMS:  On January 20th, you were one of the speakers for the TEDx Montpellier, which as we all know is a very exclusive and prestigious honor for speakers/individuals who have made great impact in the lives of people. How did you get to be a speaker for TEDx?

Jay: My very good friend in the US, Rick Passo, introduced me to one of the organizers of TEDxMontpellier, Magali Dutilleux, late last year (2011). I’m happy they found our project worthy to be shared on a TEDx event and specifically on TEDxMontpellier in southernFrance.

Editor’s Note: Watch Jay Jaboneta’s presentation for TEDx Montpellier:

AMS:  When you were on stage at the TEDx inMontpellier, what were your thoughts?

Jay: I felt humbled and honored at the same time to be speaking in TEDxMontpellier considering I think I am the only non-French speaker that was invited and the only one from Asia and thePhilippines.

I have to stress though that the real heroes of our story are the children who used to swim to school. They are the brave heroes in our story. I am just the storyteller.

AMS:  For those who didn’t get the chance to watch your presentation, would you please sum it up?

Jay: There were just two key ideas I shared:

First off, I shared how my single Facebook status in late 2010 recounting the story of the children moved many friends and that started the Philippine Funds for Little Kids where we raised funds to build these children boats and also provide their other needs. I emphasized that social media can be harnessed to bring about social change or can be used for social good.

Secondly, I shared how my experience in the Yellow Boat Project allowed me to operationalize HOPE which begins by:

H – harnessing your potential/passion (as this has become sort of a personal mission for me;

O – open your mind/open your heart (we have to open both our minds and our hearts to the many opportunities to help in the world);

P – perspiration (I shared about the importance on acting out our potential, our passions in life)

E – empower others (Lastly, I emphasized the importance of sharing our personal success stories with others so that we can help build more leaders and change makers in society).

AMS:  I read that prior to you becoming the Fire Starter and also the Chief Storyteller, you were a” lost” government employee bouncing from one job to another. When did the light bulb for it start? Who pushed you to do what you are doing now and follow your passion?

Jay: I was actually a corporate employee for 5 years before I volunteered to be part of the presidential and senatorial campaign in thePhilippines in 2010. A good friend of mine, Alex Lacson, author of the bestselling book 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country, run for the senate and so I volunteered in his campaign. After the elections, in the middle of 2010, when I was preparing to return to the private sector, I was invited to head the New Media office under the Presidential Communications Operations Office. It was while I was in that job that I encountered the story of the swimming children and the rest as they say is history.

AMS:  As a social media changer, what are your thoughts on how to make a project or a cause go “viral” as what happened with your Yellow Boat of Hope video, which eventually went viral on Facebook.

Jay: I would share my HOPE theory again:

First, it is very important that you Harness your potential, that you find your passion in life. I don’t think I would be as effective in my role now if I do not love what I’m doing. It’s important to really find out what we want to do in life early on.

Secondly, I truly believe that it’s important we always look at things from a new perspective and process what we see from a different perspective. The person who shared to me the story of the children already knew it a year before he told me. I guess many of them who knew about the children thought it was normal. It’s very important that we Open our mind and our heart to new possibilities.

Thirdly, it’s important to act on these insights,  just do it. I have this favorite mantra from Tom Peters where he believes that in becoming successful in life, we actually do this:

Ready. Fire. Aim. (and not Ready. Aim. Fire). We usually don’t get it right the first time. So it’s important to stand back up and try another way again. Part of the success of the Yellow Boat Project is that we are continuously looking at how we can improve things. We copy the best practices from other organizations and we work with the best teams out there. We do not believe that we have a monopoly on the best ideas. It’s critical in this day and age to get our hands dirty. They say that we might need 1% of the inspiration to do something great but we need the other 99% of Perspiration to get it done.

Lastly, this has become my mission when I speak with leaders these days – I urge them to develop future leaders. Success for me without succession is a failure. And that is why a lot of organizations and governments fail because so many individuals who call themselves leaders do not groom the future generation. Leaders do not live forever – they must share their blessings, their success, and their wisdom to people around them. Leadership for me is two things: inspiration and reproduction. The number one role of a leader is to inspire and to influence people towards a certain direction, a dream, a goal, a vision. The second and most important part is reproduction. The best presidents and prime ministers in history were those that recruited the best and trained the best.

AMS:  Who or what inspired you to be who you are?

Jay: There are so many people who inspire me. It might take pages and pages to write all of them. My parents and my whole family have fully supported me in my goals and dreams in life and for that I have to be really grateful to them.

AMS:  What are some of the greatest achievement that you’ve had aside from what we already mentioned?

Jay: I think the best is yet to come.

AMS:  If, you were to tell us what are the most important skills you need in order to be successful in life – what are they?

Jay: The first set is two insights from Alan Webber who co-founded the Fast Company magazine:

  1. Teachers are Everywhere.
  2. Good questions always beat good answers.

There is so much we can learn from other people and from nature. We must open our eyes to these possibilities and opportunities. It’s also important to remain curious. All the best inventions were a result of people asking questions, how we can improve them, how we can make things better, how we can help people, etc.

The second set is from Jesus Christ:

  1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
  2. Love thy neighbor as thy love oneself.

Everything I do I offer to God. I believe we need to truly live out the Christian principles taught to us in school. A lot of people forget that standing up for something requires that we try to live it out every single day. Lastly, just follow the Golden Rule. It’s not easy but life is about helping make a difference in other people’s lives.

AMS:  What are your next goals for yourself and for the Yellow Boat of Hope?

Jay: We’re looking for individuals and organizations who can help us build a social enterprise so that our operations can become sustainable. To be specific, we’re looking for private donors who can fund our daily operations on the administration/operations side so that all our public calls for donations will go 100% to our projects.

I hope to empower more leaders so that more people can take up the task of effecting social change. This for me is the best time to be alive in history, we have all the tools in our hands to end poverty and ensure no child is left behind – we just have to do it!

AMS:  Finally, what is your definition of success?

Jay: Personal success for me is finding the courage to stand up every time we fail. There will be always adversities in life; the challenge is how we respond to it.

To read other inspiring Success Stories, click here.