Deprivation of access to information and communication, restrictions on movement, underpayment, physical abuse—Filipino IT entrepreneur Myrna Padilla is familiar with these stories. She had heard plenty during the 20 years she herself worked as an “OFW”, or Overseas Filipino Worker, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
With 10 percent of its population (about 10 million people) working overseas, the Philippines sees many reports of abuse and exploitation each year. Myrna, who now runs her own business process outsourcing company Mynd Consulting in Davao, has been working on the rights of OFWs for many years. Myrna’s work has been supported by a Microsoft Citizenship grant. In addition, to share her knowledge and experience about these issues, she was invited by Microsoft to speak at a 2011 Telecentre.org event in Santiago, Chile, and in 2012 at the 45th ADB Annual Conference in Manila.
Her latest effort is the online portal Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Watch, launched in 2013 to help migrant workers who have gone missing or need emergency assistance. The social network uses Facebook and Twitter to create a network of member OFWs. When an OFW reportedly needs help, messages will be sent to OFWs living in the vicinity, and recommendations will be given on the best course of action they should take, such as visiting the person’s home to check on their well-being.
To tap on the high mobile penetration rate amongst migrant workers, a mobile app was created, too. It provides information, including listings of all Philippine embassies and consulates and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration legislation on the rights of overseas workers; the information can also be accessed offline. The app comes with a currency convertor, translator and Philippine news. A new version that alerts OFWs when someone near them is in trouble, is being tested.
Thanks to support from Microsoft Philippines and BizSpark, a Windows version of the mobile app will be launched soon.
With the sheer number of overseas Filipino domestic workers, Myrna and her team believe the website will raise awareness and mobilise swift action, as well as serve as a prototype for similar tools to empower the 52 million domestic workers worldwide. Myrna also observed that the OFWs volunteering for the site experience higher levels of self-esteem from being engaged in a meaningful project that goes beyond mopping the world’s floors or cleaning the world’s toilets.
Myrna’s activism started years ago in Hong Kong where she established the Mindanao Hong Kong Workers’ Federation. Even her company is a continuation of those efforts as it hires women to allow them to earn a livelihood near home. She is an advisor for several corporate social responsibility initiatives, including a Microsoft-Overseas Workers Welfare Administration partnership which teaches OFWs basic computer skills.
Myrna said that migrant workers make up the large majority of human trafficking victims and suffer from much abuse and discrimination, thus she hopes to help them regain dignity and respect for their basic rights. She emphasised, “Migrant workers are not useless or hapless. All they need are tools and opportunities, and they will be able to do something for themselves, and contribute to society.”