The Women of Valore: Issa Cuevas-Santos
Most people define success by the amount of money they earn, the kind of car they drive, or the home address they hold. Though we believe that these practicalities are necessary to live, we also think there is more to living than counting the things we’ve obtained over the years that don't really hold a deeper meaning in our lives.
To live a life fully lived is to value those beyond the meaningless material things. It’s to be intentional in picking the things that matter to us and it's to give more value to those that fill our lives with love and joy – our families and friends and the simple moments we have with them. Placing our relationships at the forefront of why we do what we do in life gives our every day a more meaningful and joyful layer.
The good news is we’re surrounded by these awesome people who are changing the world because of the things they value and we’ve picked three of them to be the advocates of our newest Valore Collection. We all love them to bits and we’re honored for you to meet and be inspired by them!
Meet the first of our three R2R advocates for the Valore Collection: Issa Cuevas-Santos.
Issa is one of the pioneers and founding trustees of Gawad Kalinga, a global movement that transforms slums into peaceful and productive villages. She started as the youth coordinator in one of the first communities of GK, Bagong Silang, working with over 2,000 youth in the most troubled urban slums in Metro Manila. She also led the expansion in Mindanao, including Muslim communities in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Currently, Issa serves as the head for corporate and shared services, leading GK’s marketing, finance, HR and IT services to ensure corporate governance and transparency as a global non-profit.
We sat down with her to talk about the wonderful work that she does, why she supports social enterprises like R2R, and the things she value the most.
1. Women are multi-tasking and we wear so many hats so well! If you can make your own title-in-life (hyphenate away!) what would it be?
Mine would be wife, mom, and missionary – a "title" I started using since 2003 but it’s more like a commitment and daily reminder of my purpose and primary roles in life. These days, there can be many demands on women and it is all the more important for us to constantly seek our center and choose wisely what to prioritize.
2. What are your passions in life and why? You can talk about your company, organization, and advocacies!
As most people know, my dad was assassinated by the NPA when I was 13 years old, and although that unimaginable loss brought so much pain, it also helped me discover my passion. I believe in building a better world for our children and our children's children – one where they are free to play, to dream, and to never be afraid. I believe we can all work towards a future full of hope, free from slums, violence, and poverty. And that we can all do our little share to make it happen.
This is why I've dedicated my life, and in many ways, our whole family's life to the work of helping end poverty through Gawad Kalinga and supporting the many other organizations and social enterprises – R2R included – who are our partners in achieving this mission. Poverty is massive and it may seem almost impossible to end it in our lifetime but I have seen it happen one family and one community at a time. There is no question in my mind today that we can do it. The only question is how fast we can do it by engaging so many others to also do their part.
I know that if we all support one another and take little steps, like choosing a more eco-ethical lifestyle, or regularly sharing what we have with at least one poor family or community, these seemingly small but collective acts of caring and sharing is what is slowly transforming our country and inspiring the world. And I could not be more hopeful!
3. Describe your family! What are your favorite activities together?
Our little family is composed of Manny and I, and we have two children, Kuya Aaron (12) and Calliya (8). As parents, we believe in exposing our children to as much of our country and the world as we can, raising them conscious of the world around them and the responsibility we carry as citizens and to hopefully pass on the legacy of faith so they can grow up loving God and committed to living out their purpose with compassion and kindness.
As such, we love being active and outdoors and usually spend our weekends playing sports, going on road trips, or going on various GK activities to serve together. We also love having game nights or music nights at home, or watching movies and discovering a new hole-in-the wall in our neighborhood. Overall, we just like to spend quality time together whenever we can, especially because Manny and I are both quite busy, so we try to bring them to our work and mission whenever we can.
4. Why are you an R2R advocate? What are the R2R values that you resonate with the most?
I love R2R because in the end, it is all about people. And it is evident in your marketing materials, in the way you work, and the greatest testimony is the transformation in the lives not just of the artisans, but also in us ambassadors, who are given the opportunity to choose a better way of living and shopping by supporting the brand.
I think R2R connects us to one another in a powerful way, starting with knowing the names of the artisans who made our bags, but more importantly in sharing the stories of ambassadors and artisans. In your words, allowing us to weave joyful stories together. What resonates the most is the empowerment of artisans and the pride in our being Filipino because these two are critical in helping our nation rise. And it is a story that deserves to be heard, over and over again, so we can inspire the world that it is possible.
5. Complete the sentence (with words or even a paragraph!): Home is _____.
Home is where my loved ones are.
6. In fashion and life, what are the principles you live by?
Less is more. In fashion, in the choice of friends, in what we do in our daily lives, in life – what is important is to find the rare few that will stay with you for a long time and even get better with age. And to be happy with what we have instead of always wanting more. The simple life is the happy life.
Stay true to who you are. In the end, we are all called here for a purpose that is unique to us and the key to happiness is discovering that purpose and staying true to it no matter what.
Choose eco-ethical. And this is something I really must thank R2R for. You taught us more that purchasing has the power to transform our world, simply by making better lifestyle choices. But you also made that choice available and a lot easier to make by creating excellent products that we would buy anyway. It is wonderful to know that style can be sustainable, and that our purchases can have purpose. For that, we are forever changed and grateful.