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Young Filipinos shape the future

Jessica de Torres

The future is unwritten. It is also right around the corner, with scores of young people around the world shaping it, improving it, and making it more equitable. Each year Britannica collates a list of young people under the age of 40 (as of January 2022), who have already left their mark on the present, and surely have much more invention, innovation, creation, and interpretation ahead of them. (The 20 Under 40 Series: Young Shapers of the Future.)

These young people work in many fields, embracing every corner and intersection of health and medicine, science and technology, business and entrepreneurship, social activism, and politics. They are people of ideas, framing the intellectual questions and concerns that will guide future thought. Unlike other lists or awards, these “Shapers of the Future” are not necessarily well-known, but they are certainly spurring incredible changes that will shape our futures.

Maria Isabel Layson
  Ragene Palma
Ragene Andrea Palma
  Rodney Perez
Rodney Perez
The inclusion of four Filipinos in the Shapers of the Future list comes at the same time as Encyclopaedia Britannica donated 100 copies of its new one-volume children’s encyclopedia to the National Library of the Philippines.

This year Britannica’s list of young mavericks includes four “Shapers” from the Philippines.

One Shaper, Jessica de Torres (aged 35), studied environmental and sanitary engineering, including mine rehabilitation, at Batangas State University. She then specialized in the design of sanitary systems, including calculating water demand and other hydraulic issues that can be challenging where water is not always readily available. While working for a consultancy in Dubai, her projects included commercial blocks, hotels, and housing developments. For her work in plumbing engineering, de Torres was honoured at the 2020 Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Middle East Awards in Dubai. Of a field where women are still relatively rare, she says, “Gender dominance in the industry can serve as an inspiration for us women to work hard. As a woman, I know I can impart my knowledge and make a huge difference.”

De Torres is joined by 18-year-old Maria Isabel Layson. After attending school in Singapore, Layson returned to the National High School in her native Iloilo City. During her advanced science studies, she discovered that an abundant berry called aratiles or sarisa, contains antioxidant compounds that combat diabetes. In 2019, when she was 16, she presented her findings at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She won Best Individual Research in Life Science at the National Science and Technology Fair. Layson is now a student at the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City, where she also operates a bakery that makes keto-friendly pastries.

After studying tourism at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, Ragene Andrea Palma (aged 31) became interested in how Manila and other cities in south-eastern Asia were growing in response to population pressures and environmental change. She worked as a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development as a planner for disaster relief organizations. While in Singapore, she studied the nation’s widespread system of green spaces and how such a system could be introduced to her native city. Her blog, Little Miss Urbanite, has found many followers interested in social inequality, and other problems involved in urban planning.

Rodney Perez (aged 32) studied food science at Visayas State University, on the island of Leyte, and then won a scholarship to Kyushu University, in Japan. At the University of the Philippines Los Baños he studied bacteriocins; naturally occurring toxins that can kill related strains of bacteria implicated in food poisoning. Perez is now working on technologies to introduce these bacteriocins as part of food packaging processes – for instance, replacing artificial and potentially harmful steroids in dairy products with helpful bacteria from lactic acid that combats mastitis in cattle. Perez is the first Filipino to have earned several honours for this work. Considering many health-related problems, Perez said, “With microbial technologies we are able to make these tiny microorganisms work for us.”

The inclusion of four people from the Philippines in the Shapers of the Future list comes at the same time as Encyclopaedia Britannica donated 100 copies of its new one-volume children’s encyclopedia to the National Library of the Philippines. The books are to be made available through public libraries and bookmobile operations that serve remote areas of the country. The Britannica All New Kids Encyclopedia, edited by world history author Christopher Lloyd, is a richly illustrated 424-page compendium of knowledge to satisfy curious minds, packed full of reliable facts.

In a statement, the National Library of the Philippines said, “The Britannica All-New Kids’ Encyclopedia will pique Filipino children’s interest and instil a love of reading at a young age. This beautiful one-volume encyclopedia will encourage our children to become keen readers and consumers of information.”

“Britannica is thrilled to support the Philippines National Library to promote the reading habits of our younger learners and potentially nurture future Shapers,” said Theodore Pappas, executive editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Our children’s encyclopedia is a wonderful book for early learners for sparking their curiosity about the wonders of the world, both big and small, and for readers in areas without easy access to the Internet or to new educational resources.”