SEARCA alumni stories highlight transformational leadership in 55 years

CELEBRATING the University of the Philippines Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) 55th anniversary was also a time for Searca alumni to discuss in a forum their experiences and reflections on what it takes to be a transformational leader.

Through the Graduate Scholarship and Institutional Development Unit or GSIDU and the Regional Searca Alumni Association (RSAA), Searca organized an Alumni Forum on Transformational Leadership on November 25.

During the forum, Searca Director Dr. Glenn Gregorio welcomed everyone and thanked the alumni's continuous support for over six decades.

Gregorio said Searca considers its scholars to be the seeds that were sown and are continuously bearing fruits of goodwill and higher learning as alumni.

He said they are Searca's ambassadors that champion excellence in agriculture and rural development in the region and referred to both scholars and alumni as its powerhouse especially in times of uncertainty.

The forum panelists said the alumni's stories, values and personal lives have become powerful testimonies during the alumni forum

They said factors such as education, a supportive employment or work environment, inclusivity policies in the government, appreciation for young leaders, dedication, and the willingness to serve the country, are all part and parcel of their journey as transformational leaders in their respective fields. 

The panelists also highlighted the importance of having a vision, which in their case, stemmed from their humble beginnings saying that the turning point to their journey was when Searca provided an opportunity to realize their vision.

They said the combination of their vision and the opportunity handed to them through the scholarship led them to where they are now.

The panelists also highlighted that leaders can be from any gender as long as they commit, they lead by example, and they gain the people's trust.

After all, leadership is about inspiring people to accomplish things that they thought they could never do. It is about seeing opportunities amidst the hardships and challenges, they added.

Dr. Weerapon Thongma of Thailand, Dr. Asikin Yoeu of Cambodia, and Natalino Babo Martins of Timor Leste served as panelists for the forum who shared their leadership journey.

Thongma is an Associate Professor and the President of Maejo University in Thailand with almost 35 years of experience in leadership in the academe.

Yoeu is an Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and for over 11 years she continued to serve Cambodia through her leadership in the academe and the government, starting in 2018.

Martins is the Deputy Project Manager of Conservation International in Timor Leste and for nine years, he has shared his expertise and leadership in various projects funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Josefina Dizon, professor at the UPLB College of Public Affairs and Development and RSAA president, shared the values that the alumni should emulate.

She summarized these values as a new acronym for Searca – Strength in unity, Engagement, Adaptiveness, Resilience, Collaboration, and Acceleration – and noted that by embracing these values, both scholars and alumni can sow seeds of innovation toward agricultural transformation in Southeast Asia.

Also a Searca scholarship alumna, Dr. Serlie Barroga-Jamias, UPLB professor in the College of Development Communication, served as moderator during the forum.

Another Searca alumna, Dr. Asdi Agustar of Andalas University, Indonesia, and Vice President of RSAA, said Searca plays its role by giving birth to a cadre of leaders in different fields.

Asdi said these leaders inspire change in those who follow, thus, ushering transformation toward regional development.

Gregorio said Searca underscores the importance of harnessing the potential to address pressing issues of poverty and food security, and thus the forum highlighted that the alumni are Searca's best resources and partners, especially in areas in dire need of transformation.