Joji Ilagan Bian BING GONZALES

MANILA, Philippines — Joji Ilagan Bian is best described as a trailblazer, carving her own paths to success in the fields of business, education and advocacy for social development. She has the distinction of achieving many “firsts” throughout a career that spans more than four decades and has changed the lives of countless young people in Mindanao.

Bian's professional career began with the founding of Joji Ilagan Career Center Foundation Inc. in 1982. She single-handedly ran what used to be a one-classroom vocational school, motivated by her desire to help young people transform their lives through of quality education.

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“In 1982, tech-voc (vocational-technical) education was not an attractive option for young people due to the state of tech-voc schools in Davao and the Philippines. My desire to see our young people, especially those from the impoverished sector, gain financial empowerment and independence as early as possible gave me the motivation to change the perception of technology and vocational schools”, recalls Bian, then a university professor.

“So what I did was build my own technology school with state-of-the-art facilities with a focus on hospitality. But that was just the first step. Along with this, I started a strong campaign to defend the opportunities that a technological education can offer; that tech-voc is a worthy and respectable profession; that in three to six months it is possible to find work and help the family and even pursue higher education”, he adds.


Bian's training approach was also immediately differentiated by his passion for instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in his students.

“People started looking at tech-voc differently. Our qualified graduates were immediately hired by the industry and the rest is history,” she says.

Under his leadership, the pioneering venture, with an initial capital of just P350,000, grew into what is today the Joji Ilagan-Bian International Schools (JIB), a network of learning centers in Davao and General Santos cities that offer skills transnational- education and training based on industry standards, allowing its students to obtain internationally recognized certifications.

The JIB network includes Joji Ilagan College of Business and Tourism; Institute of International Entrepreneurship in Culinary and Hospitality, the first culinary school in the cities of Davao and General Santos; International School of Management; Stockbridge American International School; and Joji International School of Hotel and Tourism Management.

In 2007, she founded JIB e-Academy, the first call center and English language academy, and JIB Welding Academy, the largest and most modern welding school in Davao City, both serving trainees from poor families who take the courses with a scholarship.

Sunday program

To enable domestic helpers, workers and young people who do not attend school to obtain diplomas and skills certificates, JIB has launched a “Sunday Programme” so that they can undertake training on their days off. JIB also provides free training in basic cooking, food service skills and hairdressing to grassroots communities in Davao and General Santos cities through its community outreach work.

With the ability to engineer the phenomenal growth of her companies, provide excellent training to students, and help achieve good impact in their lives, Bian has been recognized as an innovation leader in technical and vocational education in Mindanao.

These achievements have also catapulted her into leadership roles in the business and educational communities. From 1993 to 1994, she became the first woman to lead the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She then chaired the influential Mindanao Business Council (MBC) from 1998 to 2003, at a time when there was a great need to have a united voice for business to ensure the southern region's meaningful inclusion in the national government's international development agenda.

Under his leadership, the MBC united all chambers of commerce and governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote a common economic and social agenda, becoming a key player in the regional cooperation program called the Brunei Darussalam East Asia Growth Area -Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines, which helped open new trade and economic routes through the country's back door.

In recognition of her active role, she was chosen as vice-president of the East Asean Business Council from 1998 to 2003.

Business-friendly policies

While at the helm of MBC, Bian was able to guide business groups in forging strong collaborations with Mindanao's political leaders in promoting transparency and good governance, a legacy that has left a lasting mark on Mindanao's economic journey.

She effectively used the MBC as a platform to consistently advocate business-friendly government policies, to increase public spending in Mindanao, and to call on the government to cease its policy of total war and resume peace negotiations with the Moro rebels.

Bian was also involved in the leadership of other business, educational and social development groups and associations, demonstrating in all of them her professional talent and determination to obtain results.

To honor her personal achievements and contributions to the community, the Davao City government honored Bian with the Datu Bago Award in 1997. At age 41, Bian was the youngest to receive the citation since it began in 1969.

Former President Joseph Estrada also presented Bian with the National Presidential Kabalikat Laang Bisig Award for promoting and developing technical and vocational training in the country. And in 2005, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo awarded him the Presidential Service Meritorious Medal.

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Outside the country, the Asean Women Network cited Bian as an “Asean Outstanding Woman Achiever” in 2017, the same year she was cited by the Canada-based Global Filipina Network as one of the “100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the World.” .