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GEM = Growth with Equity in Mindanao

The GEM Program’s initial collaboration with Globe focused on expanding telecommunications in the Sulu Archipelago a decade ago, following the signing of the peace agreement between the national government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Telecomm firms like Globe and Smart were assisted by GEM in identifying possible cell tower locations and in partnering with local communities and businesses. This resulted in expanding cell phone coverage in the Sulu Archipelago from 20 to 80 percent.

“The expanded coverage provided by WiMax will open wide the information technology gateway for Zamboanga”, says Joji Ilagan-Bian, president of the Philippine Call Center Alliance.

The GEM Program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is implemented under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo)


ZAMBOANGA CITY - July 2009

Economic activity in the Zamboanga peninsula and the adjoining Sulu archipelago is being given a boost through the dramatic expansion of this city’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure; an expansion that includes the installation of a wireless wide area network.

Globe Telecommunication’s WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) installation in Zamboanga, which will extend mobile broadband internet access to subscribers in previously unserved areas, is expected to spur the development of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, in particular.

Globe’s initiative has received support from USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, which provided information on population demographics and business forecasts, and facilitated meetings between Globe and officials of the local government.

The GEM Program’s initial collaboration with Globe focused on expanding telecommunications in the Sulu Archipelago a decade ago, following the signing of the peace agreement between the national government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Telecomm firms like Globe and Smart were assisted by GEM in identifying possible cell tower locations and in partnering with local communities and businesses. This resulted in expanding cell phone coverage in the Sulu Archipelago from 20 to 80 percent.

“The expanded coverage provided by WiMax will open wide the information technology gateway for Zamboanga”, says Joji Ilagan-Bian, president of the Philippine Call Center Alliance.

Zamboanga City is home to firms engaged in medical transcription, website and software development, animation, encoding and data processing, but the expanded ICT capacity provided by Globe is expected to attract additional outsourcing locators, according to GEM, which is encouraging investment in the BPO sector in Mindanao under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council.

The city has the advantage of substantial human resources, and includes several of the region’s top universities, including Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) and Ateneo de Zamboanga, as well as technical and vocational colleges offering training in call center skills. Altogether, these academic institutions turn out about 19,000 new graduates a year.

On the same day that the ICT system expansion was inaugurated in Zamboanga, WMSU formally launched its new language training laboratory, which is a key components of the GEM Program’s Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) Project that is designed to improve language skills needed for jobs in expanding industries requiring reasonable proficiency in English, including the BPO industry.

Celita Calma of Nurse Care Review Center, Zamboanga’s first training center for medical transcription, encoding and data processing, says outsourcing locators can find a skilled pool of prospective agents suitable for billing and other back office transactions.

“It’s one of the best areas for BPO skills,” says Nonito Arquiza of L&M Transcript Solutions, Inc., which provides medical transcription services to U.S. clients. “National call centers have been recruiting heavily in Zamboanga.”

The city’s relatively high levels of education, coupled with and the increased English fluency associated with GEM’s JEEP Project, and the multiplicity of cultures and languages, including the Spanish Creole language of Chavacano, have combined to produce skilled and adaptable call center agents suitable for a wide range of markets.

Zamboanga, whose 98 barangays have a population of over 750,000, has been identified as the southernmost link in the government’s Cyber Corridor, which consists of interconnected centers of BPO services located along the length of the country.

“Zamboanga has wonderful resources that makes doing business easy for investors,” said Bian. GEM

AMBASSADOR KENNEY TRIES OUT WIMAX IN ZAMBOANGA

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US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, with Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat at her side, chats with students of the Don Pablo Lorenzo Memorial High School through the wireless wide area network, known as WiMax, established by Globe throughout Zamboanga City. The expanded telecoms infrastructure was installed with assistance from the local government and USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, which is implemented under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council. WiMAX provides city-wide mobile broadband internet access to Globe subscribers, and is expected to help boost the economy and draw business process outsourcing locators to Zamboanga. The high school was earlier provided with internet-connected computers and peripherals by GEM through its Computer Literacy and Internet Connection (CLIC) Project. GEM

U.S. AMBASSADOR MEETS JEEP “RIDERS” IN ZAMBOANGA

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US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney meets college students at the new Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) Project speech laboratory established by Zamboanga City’s Western Mindanao State University in partnership with USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council. GEM’s JEEP Project employs laboratory learning with special software to provide college students with the English language skills needed for careers in business process outsourcing, tourism, nursing, allied health services and the maritime industry. GEM

U.S. AMBASSADOR INAUGURATES JEEP LAB IN ZAMBOANGA

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U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney (far right) cuts the ribbon at the Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) Project speech laboratory established by Zamboanga City’s Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in partnership with USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program. With the Ambassador are (r-l) Usec. Virgilio Leyretana, chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council, which oversees implementation of the GEM Program; Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat; USAID Mission Director Jon Lindborg (in back); Dr. Grace Rebollos, WMSU president; and USAID Economic Growth Advisor Robert Barnes. GEM’s JEEP Project employs laboratory learning with special software to provide college students with the English language skills needed for careers in business process outsourcing, tourism, nursing, allied health services and the maritime industry. GEM

U.S. AMBASSADOR AT JEEP LAUNCH IN ZAMBOANGA

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U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney inaugurated the Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) Project speech laboratory established by Zamboanga City’s Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in partnership with USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program. With the Ambassador are (l-r) Usec. Virgilio Leyretana, chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council, which oversees implementation of the GEM Program; Dr. Grace Rebollos, WMSU president; Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat; and USAID Mission Director Jon Lindborg. GEM’s JEEP Project employs laboratory learning with special software to provide college students with the English language skills needed for careers in business process outsourcing, tourism, nursing, allied health services and the maritime industry. GEM

AMBASSADOR INAUGURATES USAID FOOTBRIDGE IN ZAMBOANGA

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U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney cuts the ribbon at the 36-meter footbridge built in Tugbungan, Zamboanga City, by USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program in partnership with the city government, for the benefit of 16,000 residents of the barangay and neighboring areas . With her are (l-r): Mayor Celso Lobregat; USAID Mission Director Jon Lindborg (in back); Usec. Virgilio Leyretana, chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo); Agustin Esperat Graciano Jr, Tugbungan’s barangay captain; and Ronaldo Ypil, project manager of GEM’s Barangay Infrastructure Project (BIP). The GEM Program, in collaboration with municipal governments and under the oversight of MEDCo, has to date completed more than 900 BIP infrastructure facilities in Mindanao. GEM