How PhilDev Plans to Eradicate Poverty in the Philippines

After I arrived on time to visit Dado Banatao, I got lost.

Instead of calling from the lobby as I was instructed, I somehow found my way to his floor. The doors opened into an all white utility area that led to continuous concrete, an outdoor patio, and a cluster of solar panels. There was no hint of a path to any office let alone to one that housed one of the most prominent Filipinos in Silicon Valley. I finally gave up and called to be fetched.

When I am old and my memories have blended into the fictions in my mind, I will remember winding through a labyrinth of hidden pipes and electrical boxes, the din of computational spin and a secret elevator door that expanded into private posh offices revealed, as if through parted mists, with a quick hydraulic hiss.

Dado took my meeting without even requesting my agenda, which was to donate Sunpreme solar panels to the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev). A plug for Sunpreme: our glass-on-glass panels are much more robust in harsh environments, salty air, and signal 3 storms. The start of the discussion lingered on a thin client solution for schools (computer terminals in which computing is performed remotely, in centralized servers or the cloud). Internet speeds are snail-mail slow, I protested. And he went on to explain a solution—a different WiFi router that separated the operating planes, lifting one of them into the cloud and leaving behind a low cost box. It is a world-class engineering solution meant only for the Philippines, our Philippines, just because.

For twenty years, starting with my early career at Hambrecht & Quist’s research department, I had known of Dado as a prime mover in the semiconductor industry. I knew that he had founded S3, developed the PC chipset and a graphics accelerator, and wisely invested in Marvell. What I had not known was how his story started.

Born to a rural family in Cagayan (not to be confused with Cagayan de Oro), Dado was sent off to school at the age of 11 where, as an antidote to his isolation, he immersed himself in studies that started with math and ultimately led to an intense romance with engineering at the Mapua Institute. It is an unusual story. A single sentence couldn’t do it justice. But it begs a pressing question: about 42 million Filipinos live on less than $2 a day with 21 million of them student-aged or younger. How many potential Dados are in this pool of kids who didn’t get the chance to fall in love with math, go to Mapua, work for Boeing and finally study solid-state physics at Stanford? What if one of them, dazed by the heat on her sun-struck neck, had the key to the grand unifying theory locked in her brain? Or a cure to cancer? Or, most important, eternal youth? A lot of potential genius is left un-mined (about 31,500 geniuses, more precisely, if the bell curve applies).

With the methodical approach of an engineer, Dado has done something about it. Many of us ask the same questions and guess at answers. Many of us have untested solutions and the passive will to discuss these problems over long meals in manicured places. PhilDev has done a lot more than talk and tinker. From its scholarship fund to its school computer program to an entrepreneurial mentorship program, the organization has thoughtfully chosen to

focus on solutions that would enable our fellow citizens to deliver themselves out of poverty—through education, science and technology research, and entrepreneurship.

If you, dear reader, have taken a large look at your blessed life and thought about how to give back to your mother country, this is it. Their website is phildev.org. I’m signing on to help. I figured…I could start from scratch and do something on my own or I could follow someone else’s lead for a while, someone who has approached this problem with the same diligence with which he has mastered the stop and go of electron flow inside those chips that have changed our world in a thousand ways.

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