Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dumaguete in 2011

Rational Technology for June 18 and June 22, 2006. This was actually done on request (well, more like demand) from Danah and Injong as one of the outputs of the visioning exercise we did with Dondi Mapa on June 1. The situations described herein were the joint efforts of several members of the Dumaguete community. I only embellished in my own inimitable style.

Then again, why would anyone want to imitate me? Yuck.

* * *

Owing to a freak incident involving the high energy particle accelerator at Fermilab this week, certain portions of the Internet experienced a momentary temporal displacement of +/-5 years. Web sites, emails, and even entire conversations from the past and the future manifested themselves in the presence. I managed to retrieve a fragment of an article about Dumaguete from the year 2011. Of course, the Fermilab incident could just have been a prank, so the article's veracity is in doubt. Nevertheless I present what little I've recovered:

June 13, 2011--If you're looking for the history of change in the sixth most competitive city in the Philippines, you need look no further than the permanent photograph exhibit of the Dumaguete City Museum. Pictures dating back to the late 1800's chronicle the city's evolution from a sleepy agricultural village to a bustling university town and finally to the acknowledged technology services hub in Western Visayas that it is today.

Looking at the pictures, you'll note a curious thing. Through most of its hundred year history, the changes in Dumaguete have been most evident its architecture: nipa-thatched roofs of the Spanish period giving way to art deco structures of the American period, finally in turn giving way to the modern glass-and-steel buildings today. Yet in the last ten years there's been a more subtle change that's not reflected in the city's edifices. The Dumaguete in the pictures is not quite the Dumaguete that you experience in the streets, and you can't tell why.

And then it hits you: it's the people that have changed.

The pictures depict scenes indistinguishable from small-town Filipiniana: laid back people in perpetual summer wear, mismatched t-shirts, tight-fitting jeans or beach shorts or pedal pushers, and loose-fitting flip-flops, whose monthly highlight perhaps is the next town fiesta. Even the still shots convey the unmistakable feeling of unhurried langour.

All this is a marked change from the Dumaguete that you see today, or from other small towns its size. Dumaguete is clearly a young person's city now, and they move with confidence and determination. To be sure, they're still a friendly bunch -- after all, Dumaguete is still the City of Gentle People -- but beneath this cheer is an undercurrent of urgency and responsibility. These are young people going somewhere to do something important.

So meet the 'Duppies', Dumaguete's own brand of young professionals. They are the driving force behind the emergence of Dumaguete as the center for e-services in the Visayas, outpacing Bacolod and going head to head with Cebu. It's a workforce 7,000 strong, and one with a global reach. They work in professional tasks as varied as customer contact, software design, electronic publishing, system administration, and legal and financial consultation for customers from the United States to Europe to the Middle East to Korea and Japan.

It's amazing to see how Duppy culture has penetrated and transformed the city over the past few years. Take the bustling 24-hour entertainment centers, for example. Though their shiny offices are evenly distributed along Dumaguete, Valencia, Sibulan, and Bacong, Duppies congregate in hip places like Claytown Central, Calindagan Metro, and the Rizal Boulevard Baywalk in between shifts to unwind. Such places, old-timers say, would have been unthinkable five years ago when the city shut down as early as eight o'clock.

Lest the thriving entertainment centers be dismissed as a frivolous concession to Duppy tastes, think again: tourism to Dumaguete has actually shown a 30% year-on-year increase over the past three years because of the appeal of the barhop row. Roughly 75% of tourism is of domestic origins, and most importantly, about 40% of those local tourists -- young Filipino professionals and artists -- eventually decide to relocate to the city and find jobs among the seven big e-services companies here.

The upshot of all this is a professionalization of local services within the Dumaguete area. Housing, hotels, health care, security, sanitation, telecommunications, and other local infrastructure are already ranked among the best in the country, yet another reason for the influx of new talent into the city. Admittedly, housing costs have become steep in the areas nearby offices, but that's being addressed by real estate development in Dauin and Tanjay.

Roughly three quarters of these support services in Dumaguete have come from entrepreneurial ventures and franchises originating outside of Dumaguete. Sadly, the casualties of the rapid development of the city have been local businesses left in a daze by the sudden demand for competent, customer-oriented, and professional services.

For a while it almost seemed that this local services bottleneck would leave Dumaguete in the lurch, were it not for the timely entrance of opportunity-hungry entrepreneurs from outside the city. Poor performers eventually found themselves culled from the market, and the survivors learned to adjust to the new vagaries of a customer-oriented culture. Go to any local establishment now and you'll be treated to first-class customer service from cheerful, confident, and intelligent sales people eager to please. As they say, you can't get better service than Dumaguete service.

Yet another aspect of this transformation is the dynamic between the burgeoning e-services empire and the school system. Dumaguete, as the residents like to remind visitors, still has its roots as the Philippines' only university town, and it's a crown they're not planning on relinquishing anytime soon.

As would be expected in locations where industry and academe are in close proximity, industry relies on schools to turn out the graduates that it eventually absorbs; the schools, in turn, rely on grants and research exchange programs provided by the industry to keep its programs relevant. To a large extent, this symbiosis is happening within Dumaguete.

But whereas you'd expect the primary interaction to occur between universities and industry, Dumaguete's model is unique. For one thing, the influence of industry can be seen in the city's high schools and even as early as grade school. IT literacy among teens and pre-teens in Dumaguete is the highest in the country, as is their English, math, and science proficiency.

In the last couple of years, the city has seen the rise of professional trade schools that run side by side with the more traditional universities. The trade schools are a finishing school focused on one thing: getting their students employed in the e-services industry. This model has been successful in supplying people for low-level outsourcing work such as application programming, transcription, contact centers, and copyediting. The professional schools have become the avenue of choice for lower-income youths eager for their first job.

Where the professional trade schools hit their limit, and where the universities come in, are for the outsourcing jobs that require a higher degree of analytical work and industry-specific proficiency, such as software engineering, electronic design, human resources, industrial design, and legal and financial consulting. These positions require a considerable amount of training, expertise, and even research work, something that falls squarely in the purview of the universities. Industry partners have been more than willing to provide grants and mentors for these programs.

At first glance, this delineation between professional schools and universities might seem disadvantageous to the local universities. Why would people opt for the longer and more intensive university programs when they already find faster employment with the professional schools? Surprisingly, that isn't the case. Statistics have shown that roughly half of professional school graduates eventually opt for a full degree with the universities with the expectation of more serious responsibilities and higher pay. As a result, enrollment in the universities here showed a 15% increase for undergraduate programs and 10% in graduate programs last year, the highest in recent memory. University officials are optimistic with the trend.

A curious but happy side effect of this industry-focused approach in the universities is the artistic backlash. Too much focus on business process outsourcing, cried the different faculties of the arts not more than three years ago. Jarred from their complacency, the colleges set about upgrading their programs and inviting prominent artists to professorial chairs, going so far as to establish inter-university programs dedicated to the resurgence of literature, music, dance, and the visual arts. The result has been a renaissance of the arts in the city and a friendly ongoing rivalry with the more practical disciplines.

Even then, it's a rivalry with positive consequences. Studies have shown that graduates exposed to literature and philosophy become better legal consultants; similar correlations have been made between music and engineering and between visual arts and industrial design. Industry and the arts may be competing on the surface, but at least two e-services companies have provided generous grants to several arts programs.

Ultimately, none of this would have been possible without the astute vision and active participation of the local city governments of what comprise Metro Dumaguete, the governments that the Duppies helped elect. Pivotal for Dumaguete was the hotly contested 2007 mayoral election, the year when the then 2,000-strong BPO workforce in the city was a crucial player. Despite opposition from the solid bloc of pedicab drivers, what is called the BPO vote carried the win for Mayor ----

At this point, my Internet connection timed out as the temporal glitch corrected itself like a stretched rubber band suddenly released from tension. I hit the reload button several times, unfortunately coming up with a 404 error each time. Sadly, this is all that I've managed to download.

I advise caution against too much credulity on this report; the events narrated herein are too fantastic to be believed. Dumaguete, after all, is a small town too set in its ways to change so much in ten years, much less five. Am I right?

Duppies, indeed!


  1. hehe...nice projections. i think there's nothing impossible if we put our minds and acts together...but again the reality haunts us...

  2. don't we have the capability to outpace cebu as well? look at them...they are beggars for electricity and water, and now maybe even for fiber optics...hehehe.