• Jessica Marie “Aika” Robredo has chosen to do NGO work after finishing a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts
• She heads the Restart Micro-Enterpirse Inc. which helps people in disaster-prone areas get back on their feet through livelihood opportunities.
• RestartME has extended help to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the Marawi Siege, and the Rice Tariffication Law and its impact to rice farmers. Recently, it has also been active in supporting those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
• Growing up in the presence of public servants, Aika has no shortage of lessons in the value of the work one does and what it means to serve.
• Her parents taught her that “having choices is a privilege” and that “not everyone is lucky to have choices, to have options.”
• Instead of looking for ‘meaning’ at work, make what you do meaningful was one lesson she learned from her parents.
Jessica Marie Robredo, or Aika, has chosen to work with a non-government organization (NGO) to help people in disaster-prone areas to get back on their feet through livelihood opportunities. In addition to that, Aika also heads a foundation named after her father to continue his legacy of genuine public service and governance.
Jessica is only 33 and has a diploma in Master in Public Administration (MPA) at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
She is the eldest child of the second-highest official in the country – Vice President Leni Robredo – and the late Jesse Robredo, the former DILG Secretary and six-term Naga City mayor.
She decided to return to disaster-related work after getting her Master in Public Administration (MPA), a degree she shared with her father who also got his MPA from the prestigious university.
Aika is currently the chairperson of the Jesse M. Robredo Foundation and the executive director of Restart Micro-Enterprise Inc., an NGO.
“My parents’ expectations from me and my sisters have always been high, and have always been tough to meet. When we do get close to meeting them, they raise the bar even higher. Pressure is something we learned to live with at a young age. I have yet to find another person whose expectations are higher than theirs,” she said with a smiley emoticon during an email exchange with the Manila Bulletin.
“But it is also because they set the same high expectations for themselves.”
It is her work with RestartME that Aika is particularly proud of.
“I am proud that the work we do in RestartME allows us, in our small way, to contribute in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. It is also in line with my own personal advocacies, which is economic empowerment for women through livelihood opportunities,” she said.
“The core meaning of woman empowerment for me is if she becomes self-sufficient. Such allows her to be independent and to make choices for herself because she does not need to rely on anyone else.”
Aika explained that RestartME extends loans to micro-finance institutions and cooperatives at minimal interest rates. In turn, these facilities can pass that “affordable credit” to their members.
“For MSMEs, the goal is to help them bounce back quickly after a calamity by providing capital through loans, with an interest rate that is lower than their regular business loans. For the MFIs, an increase in liquidity would help sustain their branch operations and activities,” she explained.
RestartME helps with both natural and man-made disasters. The organization has extended help to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the Marawi Siege, and the Rice Tariffication Law and its impact to rice farmers. Recently, it has also been active in supporting those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The eldest Robredo daughter wasn’t always in the NGO sector, though.
As a Management Engineering graduate, she started working as a consultant at first and eventually landed a managerial role where she overlooked clusters of gas stations in assigned areas for four years.
“It was challenging and fulfilling, and I was content and comfortable. At that time, I was starting to think of staying long term. I already had some ideas on what positions to apply for in the medium term so I would end up in a post and a department I was eyeing,” Aika said.
But that changed when her father passed away in 2012. Aika felt that “everything was suddenly up in the air.”
Although work “kept me grounded and helped me ease back into my usual every day,” losing her father “had a healthy way of shaking up life and career plans that I had gotten too comfortable with.”
“There was a nagging feeling to give government work a try, and I figured it was probably the best time to do it,” Aika said, adding that’s how she first started with government work.
She applied as a Road Sector Technical Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and then later on, went to work at the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) as the Head Executive Assistant in 2014.
“Looking back, it was a good move and created a shift in my career path, specifically in terms of what I hope to do and where I hope to end up in the future. I will say though that I’m glad I worked in the private sector first because of the structure and discipline,” Aika said.
The glaring differences between her work in the private and public sectors are clear to Aika.
“When I was working in government, I used to always say that the hours are long, but the days are short. The complexity on how to get things done can be incredibly frustrating at times, but there is no substitute for the feeling and sense of pride you get from being able to contribute and being a part of something that is bigger than yourself.”
“Everything I learned from working both in government and in the private sector has prepared me for what I do now in RestartME. It also encouraged me to be a little bit more bold in venturing out to other projects,” Aika added.
Super Typhoon Yolanda
Her first disaster-related work was during super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. She was still with the DOTC at that time, but later transferred to OCD where she “became fully immersed in the different aspects of disaster and disaster work – policy, mitigation and risk management, rehabilitation.”
Aika’s stint in the recovery program was cut short, however, because her mother decided to run for vice president in 2015 and she was heavily involved in her campaign.
But for Aika, she knows that she has “unfinished business” with disaster work. “I felt there was more I could do and I hoped to have the chance to make up for it and end up in the same field of work.”
It came from growing up in Naga City where getting hit by several typhoons a year was “normal.”
“One of my early childhood memories was watching the grownups bring up the refrigerator and other household appliances to higher ground because of the flood. We would sometimes have neighbors over until the storm passed because some houses might not withstand the strong winds,” Aika said.
She recalls that the typhoon season was always the busiest for her father, who served for six terms as Naga City mayor.
“My parents used to bring me and my sisters to our grandparents’ house so they can go around the city and check on the others without having to worry about us being alone at home.”
Perhaps, these are the memories that stood most in Aika’s mind when she decided to return to disaster-related work after getting her MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School.
“After graduation, I was only certain of one thing and it was also a promise to myself: I was going back home. While I was hoping to get the chance to do disaster work again, I was also open to other things because I wasn’t sure what the opportunities were available at that time.”
P160-M loans to 15,000 households
That opportunity came in the form of setting up and running RestartME, which has so far extended P160 million worth of loans to almost 15,000 households since 2018.
“We’ve also expanded our programs to Network, Technical and Capacity Building Projects that are meant to complement the financial loans. We’ve been focused on our COVID-19 assistance programs, and we continue to develop and expand our offerings and our reach,” Aika said.
Make what you do meaningful
Growing up in the presence of public servants, Aika has no shortage of lessons in the value of the work one does and what it means to serve.
She recalled that her parents have always emphasized the importance of discipline and hard work, kindness and compassion, and the power of listening to others.
Her parents taught her that “having choices is a privilege” and that “not everyone is lucky to have choices, to have options.”
“Not everyone can afford to have a Plan A, B, or C. You shouldn’t take what you are doing for granted, and you should always do your job well (even if you may not like what you are doing). Instead of looking for ‘meaning’ at work, make what you do meaningful.”