The Little Dream That Could – A personal look at Illustrado Magazine ’s 10 years
By Lalaine Chu-Benitez
A jump into the abyss
A decade ago, we jumped with eyes wide open, into the abyss of social entrepreneurship. Leaving my successful corporate career, my husband and I bet everything we could muster into a dream – that of being able to contribute something meaningful to the world using our gifts. Corny? Perhaps. But we were not alone. We banded with talented Filipino kindred spirits, and gave birth to what would become an oddity in the local Filipino media landscape back then – Illustrado Magazine.
Ten years hence, we look back to where we started, through the bumpy roads, the blood sweat and tears, the triumphs and the days when I felt like quitting, or that episode when we were told by our bank rep (who did not understand that ours is a social endeavor), that this business venture is just not viable. We look at all the hours, the non-weekends, sleepless nights, and personal resources that we poured into what had become bigger than all of us, and ask ourselves – was it all worth it? More importantly, have we achieved what we set out to do? Did we bring anything of value to the Filipino community, the involuntary beneficiary of our aspirations?
People always marvel at how a middle-class Filipino couple who was not connected to the rich families of the Philippines can call a magazine their own. They are even more amazed to know that we have always been just a team of five, and at a certain point, a team of three, even. That we have been able to publish a top quality monthly consistently for 9 years, and now a fortnightly and a quarterly starting 2016, pulling in material from over 50 contributors across the globe, seems nothing short of miraculous. We have also held our own events, done advocacy projects, published a book and shot two mini-documentaries, while running our own marketing and advertising services business to meet our needs.
This isn’t a bragging point, as much as it is a testament to how passion, talent, guts, and collaborative work founded on goodwill, can move proverbial “mountains.”
The value of an ideal
And what of our cause? What is the value of our work? It’s very hard to quantify and qualify what we do, especially in the domain of social enterprise where charities and non-profits are the order of the day. We don’t feed the hungry. We don’t fund schools. We don’t raise money for charity, although we had supported projects in the past, and initiated the building of a Paseo Illustrado in one of the Gawad Kalinga centers – a project we shared with some generous “kababayans” in the emirates.
Instead, beyond hunger and poverty, we’ve always thought that the Filipino community needed some well-deserved upliftment. Ten years ago, we got tired of being fed with “masamang balita,” gossip and scandals – the typical fodder of our mainstream media. We resented being disadvantaged by negative information that created our stereotypes in the face of others. Back then, within our multicultural community out here, the words associated with us were rape, Sick Man of Asia, poverty, maids, mail-to-order brides and natural disasters. We did not want to be seen as poor and helpless anymore, especially since that perception shaped the way we are treated by others, and influenced the kind of positions and salaries our compatriots are offered at the workplace.
We thought, what better way to use our prowess in communications and visual arts (and later, tastemaking), than to help shape a more positive Filipino image, by uplifting our kababayans, presenting our finer qualities to the world, and bolstering our community’s collective confidence.
We became the self-appointed “ra-ra team” of the Filipino community in the region, promoting our greatness, creativity, style and joie de vivre, rallying behind the slogan, “Taas Noo, Filipino!” We’ve promoted a more globalized view, while feeding the thirst for improvement. We’ve celebrated the qualities that make us unique and ‘funny’ and our fashion savvy and fabulousness, just because we can. We’ve empowered Filipina women, equipping our sisters with essential knowledge and advice. When we launched Illustrado in September 20th 2006, our mission was to help the Filipino flourish, guided by our global vision and native soul.
In the beginning, we were called “propagandists.” Strangely enough, some of our kababayans found it suspect that a company would just set out publishing only good things about Filipinos. We were also branded as “ellitista” by those who did not understand that all that gloss, the beauty and finesse that our magazine has been known for, has been carefully cultivated because we are, after all, world-class citizens. That aspirational quality was necessary to validate that we are at par with the best of them out here, and that, even though we may be masa, we still deserve the best.
The Little Dream That Could – A personal look at Illustrado Magazine ’s 10 years
When we started, all that there was for Filipinos out here was unsavory news. Today, Pinoy pride has become a mainstream ideal, not only here in the region, but also back home. Now you see Filipino achievers being celebrated left, right, and center. Patriotism has seen resurgence and we are glad to have been a big part of that wave in the last decade, together with pioneers like Good News Filipinas also founded in 2006 by BBC Asia’s Rico Hizon.
We are fortunate to be at the forefront promoting Filipino talent from the Gulf – not only our achievers, artists and other professionals, but also our designers who were once snubbed by the high-brow Philippine fashion community and referred to as “OFW designers.” Being part of our top designers’ blossoming into international acclaim as primary supporters over the years has been quite a privilege.
Today, Google the phrase “Filipina empowerment” and you will see how a small team like ours can introduce a new catchphrase that adds positive discourse into the mainstream. We are proud to have started that conversation when we launched Women of Substance in 2007 and thereafter, Pinays Take Charge.
Since 2006, we have published over 100 issues, plus an extraordinary coffee table book, with the help of 150 photographers and 20 Filipino photography clubs around the Gulf. We have produced two provocative mini-documentaries that sought to awaken Filipinas consciousness, one of which won the Migrant Advocacy Media Awards for Best Documentary. We have signed up thousands of Filipinas on the Pinays Take Charge Pledge, teaching them about their intrinsic value and the need to protect themselves. One hundred and two thousand follow us on Facebook every day, and 60,000 visit and browse through our worthwhile articles on our website every month. So far, we have promoted countless Filipino artists, photographers, achievers and both top and emerging designers. Of course, we don’t have a handle as to how many Filipinos we have touched, or inspired with what we do.
We have worked with Filipino organizations, bloggers, key opinion leaders and diplomats. Instead of promoting celebrity worship, we have made celebrities of the common man. And all this time, despite commercial considerations and the appetite for clickbait, we have been able to keep it all positive for the Filipino, not allowing sensationalism and commercialism kill our editorial integrity, while we keep true to our mission.
Far from fishing for compliments, or hankering for applause and honors, it is good for us to remember that in the last ten years, our endeavors have amounted to something; that the grueling work, the challenges of keeping this boat afloat, in what sometimes feels like a thankless job, has not been for naught.
And so, we move on to our 10th year – still here, seasoned with battle scars but stronger, honed by time and mellowed with wisdom, sometimes tired but not defeated, and still brimming with hope and optimism.
The promise of playing a pivotal role in the great Filipino redemption story keeps us anchored steadfastly onto the ideal that we have signed up for in 2006: that your friendly neighborhood “kababayan” is a superstar who deserves the world’s attention and awe.
And to that we say, with a voice as loud as ever, “Taas Noo, Filipino!”
Editor-in-Chief “almost superwoman” Lalaine has been driving Illustrado’s mission to uplift Filipinos in the region for almost a decade now. A former corporate dynamo living in Dubai for over 20 years, her natural knack for marketing and mass communications makes her a formidable authority in any dialogue regarding the re-branding of the Filipino image on a global scale.