Nico Pablo: Striving to Build Inclusive Communities
Nico says he did not officially enter the development field until he joined Ashoka two years ago. However, his past communication experiences have been inseparable from the idea of development, which is about advocating for access, striving for social impact, and increasing visibility. Nico’s story illustrates a changemaking journey in which development and communication intersect, detailing how Nico uses such an intersection to create multiple inclusive communities.
You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Nico was formerly a creative director. Today he is the communications manager for Ashoka Philippines. Nico loves poetry and started to write when he was as young as nine. But what drove him to enter the development field with a communication background?
Supportive people matter in any changemaking journey, accompanied by an enabling and safe environment. But Nico didn’t have the latter growing up. Reflecting on his high school years, Nico frowns. He recalls attending a conservative all-boys catholic high school in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The school emphasized masculinity as a sign of physical and emotional strength. Nico felt very uncomfortable in that environment as someone who is naturally drawn to literary and artistic forms of self-expression.
Luckily enough, Nico was surrounded by supportive people through his life. When Nico was frustrated with the school’s intensive and competitive sports environment, he always found a safe space with his English teacher, who is now a life-long friend. With his teacher, Nico could talk about literature, practice his writing skills, and hold engaging conversations about things they genuinely cared about. It was through this positive relationship and the teacher’s encouragement that Nico decided to launch something with his peers ––– a literary club.
As a young student leader of the club, Nico and his peers were determined to create a platform that deviates from physical and aggressive forms of self-expression. Instead, they were eager to invite other students who shared the same passion and spirit for writing.
The creation of the literary club encouraged Nico to discover his own commitment to pursue creative writing more seriously. But most importantly, the sense of belonging and fulfillment that the club offered him also enabled Nico to see the power of building an inclusive community. Besides, Nico’s parents never pushed or forced Nico to do anything he was not deeply passionate about, a trait he still admires.
These early experiences buried the seeds that contributed to Nico’s inter-sectional path in development and communications. Nico began to employ his creative skills to explore new paths that generated positive social outcomes. For example, in college, Nico was actively involved with a socio-civic organization. He was motivated to adapt his affinity for writing to produce videos and promotional materials infused with strong social messages calling for a better world.
Now, Nico is building a community that focuses on the development of young people to be changemakers, especially those who lack access to a supportive and enabling environment. Noticing the lack of opportunities in rural areas, Nico realizes development should not only focus on the young generation living in Manila, but young people across the Philippines. To make step-by-step changes, he convened the Youth Years Collective Philippines as the community manager to use his communications skills to change the way young people grow up so that they have the skills and confidence to thrive in a world of change.
In a creative community outside of his job, Nico continues his passion while helping others. They are actively involved with Global GRACE-UP, a community that advocates for equality by exploring how “digital literacies and creative writing can be used to disclose forms of discrimination and stigma that LGBTQ young people face in the Philippines.” Committed to wellbeing and human rights, the community aspires to mobilize young creatives and generate a cultural shift to embrace freedom, choice, and inclusivity.
Nico eagerly joined when he received a poetry fellowship sponsored by the organization. There, Nico freely expresses his queerness and identity through the world of poetry. By doing so, Nico also encourages inspirational creatives outside of Manila to share their literary talents as a helpful way to explore their unique identities and passions.
The intersection of development and communications is a community that fosters care. Communication is a tool for development, and development helps construct community. Nico’s changemaking journey has been one of continuously creating inclusive communities: that is not just for masculine self-expression, but also for people who are drawn to literary expression; not just for youth in Manila, but for all youth in the Philippines; not just for poets with traditional gender expressions, but for everyone. Nico's journey is one about enabling himself and others to unlock their inner confidence and express their identities through their creative passions.
This story was written by Anastasia Zhang. This story was edited for length and clarity.