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Episode 36: Elevating the World with Entrepreneur and Storyteller, Ryan Letada



Born in Kuwait to refugee parents, Ryan Letada was raised in the Philippines before his family immigrated to the Bronx. His journey from failing student to CEO of his own organization has taught him a thing or two about luck, grit, and survival. While living and going to school in the Bronx, Ryan was awarded the Posse Foundation Scholarship, a recognition that paved the way for a Fulbright. During his Fulbright year, he launched the One Laptop Per Child program in the Philippines (the country’s first one-to-one digital learning program in rural communities).

Ryan is now the CEO and founder of NextDayBetter, a media company that exists to humanize the migrant experience. Their vision is to create the world’s largest library of migrant stories, seeking to reimagine migrants, immigrants, and refugees as a benefit to humanity. But creating change as an immigrant entrepreneur is fraught with ups and downs. He also serves as a Google Next Gen Policy Fellow focused on advocating for inclusive tech policies.

Ryan spoke to our hosts, Erik, Dave, and Jeff, about his own personal journey that has inspired his following his life’s passion to bring recognition, agency, and awareness to the stories of migrants and refugees around the world.

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Episode Transcript

Ryan: A lot of the people that we fear are just like us. Immigrants to also go through cancer, Alzheimer's disease, a lot of issues that everyday Americans are going through. If you see our selves in our common humanity from that place that we are just like them, then I think there's an opportunity to really build a more accepting, tolerant and empathetic world.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Eric Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map, that map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Jeff: Today we meet Ryan Letada. Born in Kuwait to refugee parents, Ryan was raised in the Philippines before his family immigrated to the Bronx. Today Ryan is CEO and founder of NextDayBetter, a media company that exists to humanize the migrant experience. With the goal of creating the world's largest library of migrant stories, the company seeks to re-imagine migrants, immigrants and refugees as a benefit to humanity. Ryan also serves as a Google NextGen policy fellow and he's a Fulbright scholar, Posse Foundation alumnus and on the board of trustees of Wheaton College, Massachusetts.

Erik: We're totally excited to have Ryan Letada here with us today. This is amazing. I think you have an incredible No Barriers story, Ryan and we want to dive into that today. It's not like the prototypical No Barriers story of a physically disabled person who's broken through barrier, but definitely it taps into these ideas that we talk about at No Barriers, which is the invisible challenges. Every human being on earth are tied by the challenges that we break through and maybe they're not all that different. You've had a really incredible journey building NextDayBetter media and you must've gone through incredible challenges building that business and organization.

Ryan: Yeah.

Erik: Want to tell us about it?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I am a Filipino immigrant, born in Kuwait, raised in the Philippines and eventually immigrated to the Bronx, New York. My family actually, even though they are Filipinos, they were also refugees at some point when they escape Kuwait and during the Gulf War and went to Amman, Jordan. A lot of their story in terms of being immigrants and migrants around the world has just been just awe inspiring, heartbreaking. My parents, my dad told me a story when someone pulled a gun to his head when he was waiting for food during the Gulf War and Kuwait and I was only five years old at that time. I think about their story and how in today's world their story is largely invisible. They're these invisible people walking through the streets of New York or America and their stories are largely untold and the amount of resilience in what they've faced in the world is largely untold.

Ryan: That's kind of a reflection of what's happening in the world today and how we're thinking about migrants and immigrants and refugees, right? We built NextDayBetter so that we can win this global PR battle around immigrants and what it means to be migrants and refugees, et cetera. We built this media company, we are growing, we're telling more stories around the world and continue to do so. But hey before Trump, when we started this company in 2014, it was hard to get funding, investments and people to care about immigrants. It was hard to get brands to care about immigrants, right? But now with what's happening in this political climate around the world, not just in America, now people suddenly care about what it means to be an immigrant and engaging immigrants in meaningful ways and so it's been a trip.

Ryan: I mean, I could go down a road and tell you all the rock bottom moments that I've had in terms of helping build this company, sort of moment where I have had $27 in my bank account and not being able to afford lunch to just the painful moments of saying like, "Should I continue to push forward?" And I'm glad I did.

Erik: Go into that a little bit for us. Tell us now that we're there already. We dove down fast, but tell us about the challenges of growing this organization. I mean, what was the rock bottom moment?

Ryan: We had multiple.

Erik: I heard you almost went bankrupt or maybe did have some struggles in the beginning.

Ryan: Yeah, for sure. I'm a person that is focused on just living a life of service and life or purpose. I've felt that way since as early as I can remember. And one of the first things I did before I build NextDayBetter was one of the founding individuals who started the One Laptop per Child program in the Philippines. Have you ever heard of a One Laptop per Child, remember that at all?

Erik: Yeah.

Jeff: For sure.

Ryan: This XO durable laptop that was designed out of MIT to go in developing countries, we were able to launch that program in the Philippines with the secretary of education of the Philippines. We were able to launch 500 laptops in our pilot program in a rural classroom in the Philippines and then expanded to 2000. We got all this media, we got all this press and all of a sudden, I look at my bank account, in the first time, it's my first rock bottom moment, I only had at that point less than 50 pesos. $1 is equivalent to 50 pesos, right, roughly right now speaking. I could not afford to buy a 27 peso lunch and that was 60 cents. Here's this Filipino American coming back to the Philippines to start this program and I couldn't afford lunch and I was getting all this press, all this media. I was doing the handshakes with celebrities to influencers to government officials and I couldn't afford lunch.

Ryan: That was the first rock bottom moment and I was like, "Wow, why am I doing this? I'm able to help all these children in all these classrooms and teachers, but yet I was unable to help myself." That was my first rock bottom moment before I even started the NextDayBetter and that helped me kind of think through kind of like, "What, well, how am I going to do this different?"

Jeff: Let me ask you then, so you said early on that you have the spirit of a certain leader, right? That you've always kind of looked at life through that lens of wanting to be of service. You moved to the Bronx when you're young, your parents move you over there and then but because of who you are, you decided that you could create the most impact by going back to the Philippines. Now, as you struggled, you're talking about not being able to even put food in your mouth there, did a part of you understand that this journey that you were on was going to take you down this fraught with challenge path that you signed up for and that you would ultimately transcend it? Did you get that... did you know that in the back of your mind or it was sort of a why always me moment, how am I ever going to get out of this and why did I choose this?

Ryan: I mean, that's such a good question. I knew it was going to be hard, right? Change and creating change in the world is difficult and hard, but I did not know it was going to be that hard. I did not know I wasn't going to be able to afford that lunch and I remember when that happened and I pulled out the money in my pocket and there was nothing in my bank account, I teared up. Mind you, I was also a Fulbright scholar in the Philippines and I co-started One Laptop per Child and it was such a hit in the ego that I think I went through a level of depression and said, "Wow, this is my dream to make a difference and change in the world." But wow, it took such a mental, emotional and physical hit, that to a point I had to call my parents.

Ryan: This is when I was in my early twenties, right, and I was like, "Hey, mom, I need to go home, back to the United States. Can you bring me home?" I came home, I was getting ho- Again, this is at the height of getting all this media attention and accolades and after a Fulbright scholar, I'm getting written up about in terms of my research and my work with One Laptop per Child and I find myself working at Banana Republic after that period. I kind of took that time to really assess, there has to be a better way to do this and a better way to fill up my tank and make sure that I don't put myself on fire to keep other people warm. That was my biggest lesson from that notion.

Erik: Because you're doing amazing things in the world and you're spiraling downward and not able to buy lunch so that's a huge teaching moment for you, right?

Ryan: Absolutely, like a life lesson and it's just in order for us to help others and amplify the impact in the world, I pay attention to my emotional and mental wellbeing. It was from that point upon returning in the Philippines, I'm in my mid thirties now and that was early twenties, the way for me to get out of that funk and that depression was to go to therapy. My business advice for anyone is to go to therapy.

Jeff: Let's explore that a little bit. When you say therapy, you're talking about your own mental health, right? Because felt like because of these extraneous circumstances that you had really intentionally put yourself in, you were sort of swimming around the bottom of the barrel right there, that your mental health was taking a beat. If I'm correct in understanding your trajectory in how it went for you, really I mean, it sounds like your mental health needed some fine tuning as well, but you needed to figure out a better business model. You needed to learn-

Ryan: Absolutely.

Jeff: ... Right? You need to learn how to be of service, but continue to figure out how to put food in your mouth. Did you ever have any discussions with any professionals that could help you develop I guess more of a detailed business plan?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. It was after that experience, I did a self assessment. I sat down and kind of just reflected, and this self assessment by the way, took months, right. This is not just instantaneous, the one sit down. In addition to getting a therapist and support in that way, I also looked at coaching. My therapy and mental health support looked at my past and why did I do what I did in order to kind of create this "change in the world". So that was a look in my past and I took up coaching to think about my future and think about the business model to help make that change sustainable. That was the journey there, to help me arrive to NextDayBetter. [inaudible]

Erik: So, you decided to start coaching yourself or be coached?

Ryan: Be coached, I'm sorry.

Erik: How does one go out and get a coach if they're in that situation? Because also the other piece that I thought was really interesting is in one of the articles I read, you were saying that 50% of entrepreneurs go through mental health issues so this is not just you or just a few people, this is a lot of people struggling with the same [crosstalk 00:13:54].

Ryan: Oh, absolutely. I love what I do with NextDayBetter and the stories we tell, I get to travel around the world, but the business part can be very sadistic. It could be an emotional mental roller coaster even though you're achieving all the success, whether it's getting in revenue and building more partnerships and growing your team, it's really difficult. I think for me, I am a brown immigrant in America. My parents have cultural expectations of me becoming a doctor, an investment banker or et cetera and so there was-

Jeff: They didn't think you were going to go into the world of philanthropy and humanitarian, that wasn't on their card of what they wanted their son to do?

Ryan: No.

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:14:35].

Ryan: Absolutely not. In their mindset, it's like they went through this hardship in life again being refugees and carving their place in the world and they didn't want me, their son to kind of go through a challenging experience like that. That is the need, what I needed to unlearn was some of these cultural expectations and pressures that I put on myself. I needed to unlearn kind of my perceptions about how to create change. I needed to unlearn in terms of thinking about philanthropy versus creating a sustainable business model where you're bringing value not to just the people you want to serve, but for your brand partners or whoever else. It was a lot of process of unlearning that I had to do through coaching and through therapy.

Erik: That's so interesting. What I'm hearing is you saying that, correct me if I'm wrong, but if you go through all kinds of adversity and challenge to get to a country and your mindset becomes safe, like go out and do the safe thing, right, like become an accountant. Just stability is what you need to achieve and maybe that constrains you from thinking a little bit bigger and differently.

Ryan: Absolutely. I think it's that feeling of safety, that's what your parents want for you, right-

Jeff: Right.

Ryan: ... as immigrants and you become risk adverse. The messaging that many immigrant parents have is like, "I've gone through this risk, you don't have to." In my particular culture, entrepreneurship is a rarity and it is not as supported as it needs to be. But entrepreneurship is key to generating wealth, right, or creating jobs for your community. I was really discouraged to take this entrepreneurial route by many people. For example, not just my parents, right, just the cultural, there's also the societal pressure of saying, "Don't be an entrepreneur in some shape or form." What is an example of that? I immigrated to the Bronx. The Bronx educational schooling system, right, is not the greatest.

Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erik: Right.

Ryan: In many ways, if you take a look at a school in the Bronx or have you been to the Bronx? [crosstalk 00:17:13].

Erik: Yeah.

Jeff: Sure.

Ryan: Or our experienced the school infrastructure?

Jeff: Well, [crosstalk] I don't think we've been in the educational system necessarily. But I'll tell you, I mean, it's just like so many other communities. There's the gentrified area that's upper class, upper tier in the Bronx, right? But then you've got the heart and soul of the Bronx, which is probably what your experience has with education, where the money's not there. It's probably a rundown building with a rundown curriculum, I imagine.

Ryan: Yeah. And [crosstalk 00:17:46].

Erik: I remember back in the 80s when I lived in Connecticut, there are certain places in the Bronx that you were always said, "Don't go there."

Ryan: Yeah. I mean, as an immigrant who came to the Bronx at the age of 11, one of the first things that I saw was one of the teachers get stabbed by a pencil-

Jeff: Oh.

Ryan: ... in their hand. I saw a student stab the teacher with a pencil and so I was just like, "Wow."

Jeff: Welcome to America, bro.

Ryan: Yeah, welcome to America, right. Then you go to this place and you go to see the school and you notice from the outside that there's a lot of... it's like a caged-in fence. There's a lot of metal caging to prevent theft or for security purposes in that particular school. Then you just kind of think to yourself like, "Wow, this is what a normal school would look like, in actuality it kind of looks like a prison." I am going into school and I am being padded, if I have a knife or if I have a weapon. The moment you go into school in the morning, every single day you're getting padded and that sends a message to you that, "Whoa, you're a criminal, can be a criminal or this is not a safe building, not a safe institution."

Ryan: Then you go into kind of your learning experience and then I had a guidance counselor that told me once, I'm looking at this college or university and he was so discouraging and he said, "Well, you will never make it there and you will never make it in terms of college." Right? Not only are you getting this message from your parents that, "Hey, don't take this risk because there's a likelihood and chance that you will not succeed with entrepreneurship," but you're also getting this messaging as an immigrant in the Bronx that, "Wow, you're not good enough, that you will not succeed in the world, that you belong in this prison like school environment." That is so much to take in as going into adulthood and that's something that to this day I'm still unlearning as an entrepreneur. Right?

Ryan: So, a lot of those things, that message then tells me like, "Oh, I don't belong. Right. I don't belong in these decision making table rooms or these conferences where they feature entrepreneurs." A lot of that is something that I have to battle internally in my head as part of building NextDayBetter.

Erik: There is nothing in that educational system in the Bronx that prepared you or was there any positive light? Was there any teachers that kind of broke the mold or were there any entrepreneurial organizations that you could join or you're saying that it was pretty barren, right?

Ryan: I think it is barren in a way that how it sets up your mindset-

Erik: Right.

Ryan: ... as you kind of go into life in trying to amplify your impact and presence in the world. But it's more of how do you say this? I remember when I speak to investors, they ask me, "One of the things that we're looking for is grit. We're looking to invest in individuals with grit." And I tell them, I was like, "Well, my life as an immigrant in the Bronx is about grit. What is entrepreneurial grit, if not my life in the Bronx and my immigrant experience wherever I am in the world." That is my main takeaway from my experience in the Bronx is the need to hustle and to be resilient and to live with a gritty sense of meaning.

Erik: But maybe as you said, coming back to maybe don't think too big because that's unrealistic.

Ryan: Yeah. What a shame.

Jeff: Eric and I have played around with this friend of ours 25 years ago, quoted this thing and I can't ever shake it. It was when we were first starting climb together and she said... what was it Eric? She said, "Shoot for the stars and maybe you'll get the moon." I think is what it was.

Erik: Yeah.

Jeff: Then that just poses this question of what's more satisfying to establish a goal that is absolutely within reach and you're pretty confident that you will attain that goal. Or contrary, to set a goal that is just absolutely astronomically difficult and that the chances of a likelihood of success are in the single digits and then if you fail versus the success on the one where you absolutely should get it. What do you feel? Where's your mind? How are you wired and is this kind of in the spirit of what we're talking about right here?

Ryan: I love that question. Wow, this is like a therapy session, huh?

Erik: Yeah, call us doctor. Dr Jeff and doctor...

Jeff: It's good.

Ryan: Sure. I think the way I'm wired is I think in astronomical ways. I mean, our mission envisioned that NextDayBetter as a media company is to rebrand migration and to get people to imagine migrants and refugees in more powerful meaning ways and that we are a benefit to humanity and I think that's a pretty astronomical goal and it's also a scary one. This is I think maybe the statistic part of my entrepreneurial experience, is that I get anxious, I get fearful of this vision, but when I am achieving steps towards it and we're publishing a video that gets a million views, that gets people to think differently, I consider that as wins towards that goal. If I don't reach that particular goal, I'm just going to figure out a way to find it. But it's just like I just lean into that fear and just know that that's just part of this process that I have.

Erik: What I like though is that even though it's an astronomical dream and goal, you marry that with realism because I've heard you in different articles talk about the idea that you got to be kind of what we say in No Barriers, you have to have a pioneering entrepreneurial mindset where you're marrying your talents and your passion to the market. That's I guess what it means to be an entrepreneur, right? You got to take the stuff that you want to achieve and the stuff that you think you're good at and love and marry it to an actual opportunity so that there's a pathway forward that's sustainable, right?

Ryan: Absolutely.

Erik: So, how did you kind of come around with that? It sounds like from that moment of kind of being at that low point, that being a teachable moment and then coming back and getting coached and so forth, and with your business background, you start to be able to see maybe a potential market there that you want to step into.

Ryan: Yeah, for sure. I guess I'm just so curious also about your expeditions and your climbs and Mount Everest and I think a lot of that I would... part of that journey is a lot of training and asking and learning. And I think with the entrepreneurial journey my Mount Everest is to get people to think about immigrants in more loving and accepting ways. Part of getting there is knowing that I need to work with brands, with big platforms to put out this message and so how can I bring value to them? How can I test out different products and offerings that is going to maximize their investment, but also create the changes that I see in the world. So, a lot of it is just training how to build those products, how to market those products and do business development in order to get to that particular goal with the stories that we want to tell and are in our mission and vision. I wonder what's that process for you guys as you're kind of going through these climbs?

Jeff: No, it's the same.

Erik: I think at a macro level it's similar. You are kind of an... Jeff and I are both in this kind of adventure world and you kind of have to be an entrepreneur in a way to make it happen. You have to have a plan, a big long game plan. It is sort of astronomical trying to get your mindset to believe that you can stand on top of this thing. Then you go through a process that's at a macro level, I think very similar to growing anything in life. The tons of physical training, but also Jeff and I will go up in the mountains in the winter and be pushing through chest deep snow and not a chance in hell that we're actually going to get to the top. But you're just training your mind, maybe you don't sit down for 10 hours so you're training your brain to suffer and be nimble in those tough environments and you got to build a team. It's all so [crosstalk 00:27:11].

Jeff: I always think of it as metaphorically as you're developing these growth calluses and whatever it is, whatever that objective is, whether it's a physical or emotional or professional endeavor, repetition builds performance. You eventually will have this sort of hardened effort after you've been through it a lot of times. That's why I like people who sign up and just go do Everest these days and pay $100,000 and then they get in trouble way up high. They don't have those calluses, they don't have that experience, right, so then they get their ass kicked and people have to rescue them, right. That's one way to look at it and then with entrepreneurs it's the same thing. Over time, you went down that deep hole, but your intentions were pure and that's the greatest thing I'm hearing from you, is your intentions were really, really honorable. You knew you wanted to create an impact, but you didn't anticipate it being that tough on you as an individual.

Jeff: Can I pivot for just one second because I've always been fascinated by the displaced refugees and immigrants. I worked in Nepal after the earthquake medically and saw a lot of displaced folks, I mean, thousands and thousands. Then I was in Iraq a couple of years ago and the displaced refugees in the middle East right now are absurd. I mean, I think Turkey is the leading country. I think it's over 3 million people have been displaced just from Turkey alone. But I know there's millions per year, I think there was over a couple million in just 2018-

Ryan: Right.

Jeff: ... that added into this whole thing. So, you being an immigrant yourself, obviously that's where this whole thing virgin from was from your personal experience. Can you just take us into that world of displaced refugees and immigrants and give us, those who don't know a lot about it, just a bit of a upper level view.

Ryan: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there are over 244 million migrants around the world, that includes immigrants, refugees and internal migrants, et cetera. And that's a pretty powerful number to think through and think about. We live in an increasingly migrant world and so one of the biggest misconceptions is immigrants are a bane to economies, that they're taking advantage of different job opportunities. But to think that immigrants are not also just folks that are displaced, there's forced migration, there are folks that are also immigrating around the world freely to look at different opportunities or to experience life elsewhere.

Ryan: There's this one linear misconception about what it means to be an immigrant and I think that's something that we really, truly need to kind of debunk, right, and unpacked. One thing is when we think about the refugee narrative, we're really thinking through what's happening in Syria, in the middle East, in Syrian refugees, but quite frankly, there is a massive refugee crisis that's coming out of Central America. We're talking about individuals that are escaping political, religious persecution, individuals that are running away from gang activities that was actually born out of the United States. We're talking about the MS-13 gang, right, in Central America. We have an influx of individuals coming from Central America as refugees and so how do we think about those individuals and thinking about the humanitarian crisis that they're particularly the facing.

Ryan: In America we also have refugees or asylum seekers that are coming out because they are being persecuted for being LGBT, gay, lesbian, transgender in their particular communities, right? What does that particularly look like and how do we particularly serve those communities, not here just in the United States, but also in many Western countries as well? That's one element of refugees, in the aspect of immigrants, if you take a look at the top Fortune 500 companies, half of them are actually being led by immigrant CEOs or founders.

Jeff: That's awesome.

Ryan: In terms of this narrative around what are the contributions of immigrants in America? It's actually quite powerful and not a lot of people are thinking through that as well. But then we take a step further, right, because we're just talking about the economic contributions of immigrants and refugees to America because they are leading these Fortune 500 companies. But a lot of the people that we fear in terms of immigrants are just like us. What does that mean? Immigrants too also go through cancer, Alzheimer's disease, a lot of issues that everyday Americans are going through. If we see our selves in our common humanity from that place that we are just like them, then I think there's an opportunity to really build a more accepting, tolerant and empathetic world. And that's what's missing from all of this.

Jeff: Is that the main objective with what you're doing? Do you feel like that's the main ingredient or I guess avenue to use to be able to create empathy for immigrants is to say, "Hey, we're just like you."

Ryan: Absolutely.

Jeff: I mean, is that the most effective tool? Sounds like it is, but is that in your mind what your main emphasis is?

Ryan: Yeah, I think that's the main emphasis for storytelling as a whole, right?

Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ryan: Storytelling has the ability to humanize our experiences, but also build this empathy and connection. But also at the same time, storytelling can propel people to take action and that's incredibly important. Something that people don't really know about, have you ever read the book Sapiens, for all your listeners?

Erik: Yeah.

Ryan: Right.

Erik: I've read it, but I highly recommend it-

Ryan: Right.

Erik: ... to folks.

Ryan: With Sapiens, right, we know that the history of sapiens or human beings on this planet is a story of migration, right? That's why we were able to migrate away from East Africa and build all these civilizations. But the people that were builders of civilization were actually folks that we're able to tell stories. They told stories about communities, they told stories about organizing themselves as nations and that stories led to public policies that enabled people to organize better and at scale as civilizations. That still is the same concept today. We as immigrants and migrants need to own our stories, not to just build empathy, but because we know stories also inspire action and policy change that benefits all, right? Right now the work that we're doing and why I keep saying there's a global PR battle is because as immigrants, we need to own and tell our stories and that's part of the mission that we have at NextDayBetter as a media company.

Erik: And just to be clear, watching some of your videos, I mean, you're building content around diving into people's real lives and their experience as well as the history of immigration and the history of migration and so forth, right? You're trying to flush out all that through, would you call it a network? Would you say NextDayBetter is really a media network or is it more PR?

Ryan: I think it's a media network so what we're building now is the largest library of video content that humanizes the migrant experience, so looking at it historically, looking at in a present day and the future of migration, that's the content that we are pushing out and will be pushing out. For example, we're working with AARP, we need to advocate for Asian American or Asian veterans that have fought for this country. Not a lot of people know that Vietnamese refugees, many of them actually serve in the military. There's this anti refugee narrative that's happening in America, but yet many refugees actually serve in the United States military.

Erik: In some of your videos I was listening to that Filipinos, the same thing, incredible amounts of Filipinos have joined the US military and supported America in that way.

Ryan: Right. Over 250,000 Filipinos fought for the United States during World War II. Unfortunately there are some policies or bills that are in place at the moment that is preventing many children and family members of these World War II veterans from coming or staying in the United States. That story is largely untold and because it's untold, people are not advocating for the children of these veterans and ensuring that they stay here in the United States and be able to come here in the United States as well.

Erik: It's like when we are kids and we learn about Thanksgiving and we learned about this really sanitized version of history, how the pilgrims and the Indians got together so well and shared a meal and really when you dive into it, it's way more complicated-

Jeff: Clash genocide.

Erik: ... and violent.

Ryan: Right.

Erik: But I learned from one of your videos about the Filipino experience in America. It's like the Rescission Act, I think I learned about where they rescinded people's citizenships and all kinds of crazy complicated things that looked pretty unfair.

Ryan: I mean, that's one. The rescission act was a powerful one. A lot of individuals did not notice but during the 1920s Filipino immigrants particularly was a cornerstone and backbone of the agricultural economy of both Alaska, Hawaii, California and Washington. Actually, along with Cesar Chavez, Filipino leaders organized and really led the labor movement during that time. There's all this untold stories about immigrants and migrants once again, not just Filipinos who have actually shaped America and we need to tell those stories because they're still happening to this day.

Jeff: Right. Because there's that spirit of empathy again. I think people, especially, not even just in this country, I mean I think it's a global phenomenon. Everybody says, "This is my offense, this is my property, this is my country and I don't want anybody else in there." But when you show those similarities, for instance, "Hey, we have a similarity. I came as an immigrant and I fought for this country because I'm grateful to live here." When you tell that story, then you're invoking a... you're almost stepping across that fence in a way and saying, "I'm not just coming here to take, I'm coming here to give and protect and show compassion, right, and loyalty." I think once people see that, hear that, feel that, that they're almost able to transcend that whole spirit of you're not welcome here [inaudible 00:39:31].

Ryan: Yeah. I think the biggest barrier in the human mental psyche is the fear of each other, right? And so it's how do we overcome that sense of fear and really build bridges because our commonality is our humanity. Whether you're an immigrant, new citizen, new American or you're just a traveler in this the world, right? How do we build that human connection and remove that fear from the equation? I think that's the big challenge that we have at hand.

Erik: So, you're building empathy, you're kind of cutting down on that fear, you're building bridges, but also there's... I read that you want to create collective action and that totally makes sense. There's kind of an outcome of sharing these stories. You want people to own their stories, to have collective action, to kind of lean together and get more powerful, right? Then there's got to be some political stuff like when Trump, calling immigrants all violent and rapists and stuff like that, that must have just been like a shot of fuel in the motivation of your work.

Ryan: Right. The good thing about Trump...

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:41:00].

Ryan: The good thing about Trump is that it has surfaced and galvanized energy, resource and momentum towards immigrant or migration based advocacies. Now people care more in some shape or form and so I can say that confidently that more is being invested and realizing the potential of immigrants in this country and around the world. That's the benefit of him being in power. I mean of course there's other things that we could go into in terms of policy and all the negative policy and rhetoric that he has. That's for I feel like another conversation.

Ryan: But actually now, our company is working on census to make sure that every single person in America, whether you're an immigrant, documented, undocumented is counted into census. That is part of our constitution and that is impart message that everyone needs to participate in. So, we're doing something called WhyWeCount where we're getting Filipinos, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans because they are migrants themselves, especially after hurricane Maria, to participate in census 2020. Getting counted means, and getting your communities to get counted means you will get more resources towards things that your communities need. That's the one civic action that we're working towards through NextDayBetter.

Erik: I mean it sounds like you can't just stop it, telling good stories and stuff, you have to get a little political it sounds like and really with that collective action to get people to have that voice and have a bigger political power, right? I mean, is that part of the equation.

Ryan: I think it's-

Erik: Is that a [inaudible] part of the equation or is that maybe just implicit or not at all?

Ryan: ... I think to say it's just political voice or political action as the end result is limiting, right? I think the power-

Erik: Right.

Ryan: ... of story and connecting with a story is to get an immigrant to say, "Wow, I watched a story, therefore I matter." Right? So finding a sense of meaning.

Jeff: Self-Worth.

Ryan: Yeah, self-worth and then when you watch a story, you say, "I am not alone. I have a community. I belong."

Jeff: In a way Ryan, jeez man, this is your story. I mean, right? You just actually did a full circle for us right there because at the very beginning you talked about sitting in these meetings and wondering about value, your own value and do I belong and so forth. You're creating a narrative that answers your own question and that's fascinating man. Right?

Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff: I mean, you have told your own story through your efforts and that is the most American thing that anyone can possibly do, is your story. So, dang dude, well done man. You're a remarkable fellow doing remarkable things.

Erik: Tell us about Intersections, that's your latest project. Is that related?

Ryan: Yeah, for sure. Intersections is our series that is actually being broadcasted and viewed across five continents around the world. We are telling stories of who Filipinos are becoming, sharing stories of how Filipino immigrants for example, are fighting for indigenous rights in Alaska. To Filipino sex tech entrepreneur creating a shame-free sex education for in San Francisco. To a surfboard shaper and surfer fighting for climate change in Hawaii. We're telling these very human stories of Filipino immigrants in that way and we will continue to do so.

Ryan: The goal is we are going to scale this to other diaspora migrant groups. The next part is Puerto Rico, hopefully Mexico and telling more stories of how they're making an impact in the world in some shape or form. So, Intersections is one of our theories and we're definitely going to be growing that and actually casting already for a season two and season three, which is going to come out next year.

Erik: How do people see it?

Ryan: You could go to nextdaybetter.com\intersectionsph. If you are an immigrant or a migrant or whether you are Filipino or not and anywhere around the world, you can go to the nextdaybetter\intersections and you could actually submit to potentially be part... to participate in future seasons of Intersections PH. That would be very wonderful if we could get more people to tell their stories through our platform.

Jeff: We'll have those listed in the show notes afterwards too so folks can check that out as well.

Erik: I have one last question, Ryan, about, so we touched on this a little bit with AARP, but what about... and isn't Google one of your partners? How do you get these amazing companies to kind of believe in what you're doing and maybe even see a value in it for them?

Ryan: I mean, so we partner not quite yet with Google, but I do work with Google on another aspect. I'm a civic tech policy fellows, so we work on inclusive technology policies and so that's my work with Google. But we work with Doctors Without Borders, with MailChimp, other brands, leadership conference. And here's the fact because there are over 244 million migrants around the world, it also means that they are prospective customers for brands that are trying to grow around the world.

Ryan: We live in an increasingly migrant world. It is a force with innovations in technology and our ability to travel around the world and as borders and physical and digital borders come down, that means there will be more migrants. That is the story of humanity. If brands accept the fact that these individuals could provide economic value and customer base, that will be better for their businesses in the long run and that's why they work with us. They don't work with us because it's just a corporate social responsibility play or it's the right thing to do, but it makes business sense. Absolutely. The fact that brands can see that, the better position they will be in the world.

Erik: Because that social responsibility, I don't know, maybe it's too blunt to say it. Sometimes it feels like a little bit of a side gig, right? But if you can get them to believe in it in their DNA in terms of their survival and how they flourish, it seems way more effective.

Ryan: Yeah. For example, colleges and universities, a lot of their revenue are derived from students from abroad and because of the rhetoric from the current administration, that number from students coming from China, India and places around the world has significantly decreased in hurting our institutions of higher learning. This is what I'm talking about, that there is economic value in migrants and immigrants and even refugees, right? We need to kind of reframe it in that way, but of course not exploit them in that way because that's a different conversation.

Jeff: Well, as you continue your work Ryan, you're clearly not going to run out of subject matters, sadly, clearly with climate change, migrants, displaced refugees, I think secondary to climate change, which I think is the real disease and war and conflict, that it's probably the most important issue that we have on a global scale. So, what you're doing is sadly, it's probably the most important job right alongside folks who are battling against real climate change and you're not going to be hungry for work I don't think as time passes.

Ryan: For sure.

Jeff: Storytelling too is something that I'm hearing you say is sort of the cornerstone of everything you're doing and storytelling is clearly the most effective way to transmit information through time, wouldn't you say?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's what's going to last in helping us really imagine ourselves through inclusive storytelling. I do have one last question for you guys in my end.

Erik: Yeah.

Ryan: I'm just curious, every day of my existence there is an element of fear, right? Today I'm going to meet with our investors and our board and we're going to talk about how we're going to scale NextDayBetter and I'm going in there with a sense of fear. But I tell him myself that I am not going to die.

Erik: I like that. Good basic strategy.

Ryan: But when you guys are climbing Mount Everest, I mean, there is a possibility of death with your decision making as a leader, as a climber. How do you walk through that fear of death in kind of your decision making?

Jeff: Go for it, Erik?

Erik: I take that one?

Jeff: Yeah, go ahead.

Erik: Well, there is a sense of fear for sure. Every climb you do, there's a sense of fear. Partly, I think we talked about the idea of preparation, I think that can reduce your fear. If you train like crazy, if you get totally prepared in your environment, you stop to really understand your environment and be super hyper aware of what you're doing, if you have a built in team, so all of that... as you said, you've gone out and failed and flailed and bled enough that you have it built into where you have some huge adversity on the mountain. It's not going to be the first time you experienced that stuff. So, I think there's ways to minimize the risk and feel safer out there.

Erik: But I think maybe over time you sort of begin to... that fear begins to be replaced by awareness, by confidence, by joy, by slowing down time and trying to make things be really present. After years and years of training, as you know, sometimes the goal is to just be present in the moment and just not experiencing that fear, sort of pushing the fear back and you have kind of a fortress of awareness and confidence and joy around you that replaces that fear. I imagine that's true with everything that we do. We work our butts off and then we get these moments of presence. But I think most of life is trying to minimize that fear, that risk and trying to push it back, while doing these big things at the same time. That was a little rambly but...

Jeff: Pretty effective. I think that was a good stab at it for sure. It's very subjective too. It's tough to really have a cookbook version of that because I think we all internalize and externalized fear in what we do. I think the goal is always to sort of re appropriate fear into fuel in some fashion like sort of redefining it. My kid's 14 and he plays pretty high level athletics, football, lacrosse and he's been in some big time games. And I try to relate to him some of the situations that I've been in in my career and whether it's standing in front of 4,000 people in an audience and we're getting ready to talk for an hour or being on the front end of a rope, way up high with lots of exposure.

Jeff: Those are all really the same because it's a matter of harnessing that and turning it into something that you can use so it doesn't paralyze you. That's what you're going to do today. You're going to find that opportunity to sort of recalibrate what it means to be afraid and you've prepared, you know what you're doing, you have the vision, you have everything you need.

Erik: Ryan, I mean, I think part of it is we haven't, none of us have chosen this easy life and so part of it's just a mindset, knowing that it isn't easy, it is scary, that's just part of the equation. I know that I'll never eliminate fear from my life. I mean, I know there are certain people that are very lucky. I think maybe there's... who knows whether it's environment or a little bit of genetics, but certain people have a lower threshold of fear and those are anomalies, those are different kinds of people. Most of us-

Jeff: [inaudible 00:54:41].

Erik: ... just have to learn to wallow in that fear sometimes. As Jeff said, convert it into something that powers us forward and you've clearly done that. I call it alchemy and I think you've done that for sure. You've taken a tough upbringing and your experience and you've created it into fuel that is driving the world forward and elevating the world and elevating people's lives. That's why we asked you on the No Barriers podcast because I think your story can help a ton of people figure out the recipe for their no barriers life.

Ryan: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I mean that's just... I just always just think about my fear and it takes a lot of energy to turn that fear into a positive energy into whatever purpose you're doing in life. But I always say to myself, "You know what? Be more compassionate because you're not going to die." And you'll continue to push forward because that's what you've just been doing all along. And so just to get your perspective on how you handle that in life and death situations, I think is the [soap bar fund 00:55:51]. Thank you for what you do.

Jeff: I like what you just said though. What you just said is really interesting because there is an exchange that has to take place because nothing's free. In order to con- There's a conversion and it's that straight physics, right?

Ryan: Right.

Jeff: There's a conversion that has to happen and it takes bandwidth. You can't just do it without any effort. It takes currency and that currency is your effort in your mind and that's not free. And so to acknowledge that I think is a big is a big part of it.

Ryan: Yeah.

Erik: There's a Latin expression I've just read and I'm all excited to share it and it's thousands of years old and it says, through adversity, the stars. I think that's cool. I think people have been preaching that and understanding that philosophy for thousands of years. This idea that something in the process of struggle can unleash potential and purpose in people's lives and that's what we like to see because a lot of our community folks have gone through some tough times. Whether it be physical challenges or multitudes of invisible challenges that we face. But thank you Ryan so much. I really appreciate it. I think this is so helpful for people because Jeff, I think a lot of our community, they have the passion, right? They're beginning to translate some of their fear and challenges into the sense of purpose, but now they got to figure out, what's the Avenue? Right?

Erik: Ryan, I think expressed this idea of how you create the pathway, right? You have this passion and you go out and you get crushed a little bit, right? You're delivering something really important to the world, but yet it's personally taking a huge toll on you and it's unsustainable. But he created a sustainable pathway forward where he built a business around his passion. I think that's kind of everyone's dream, right? To take your sense of purpose and build a pathway forward where you can take care of yourself and your family and you can also do incredible stuff in the world. There's kind of a marrying process that I think he illuminates for us all.

Jeff: I'm not going to lie, when I... I just got back from Nepal last night, so I'm a little jet lagged and I read about Ryan this morning and I was trying to connect the dots and I didn't see them very clearly at first as I was trying to sort of anticipate lines of questioning and so forth. But as soon as Ryan started telling his story, there's so much amazing relevance. I mean, from a cultural perspective, a personal societal perspective, but I mean also his story is phenomenal. The way that he was kind of cast into this situation that brought out the best in him and asked him to go down to these deep places. It was so good to hear that he struggled through it and in his desire to be compassionate.

Jeff: I love the fact that he's in the midst of what I think is the biggest humanitarian crisis we have existentially is displaced refugees. I love that he's using storytelling as his medium because, obviously you and I both are storytellers Erik and I love the fact that that's the oldest method of communicating information and creating empathy and passing down really critical pieces of our culture and telling the story of immigrants to be able to establish a connection with the rest of us that live amongst each other. There's just so many great things, I mean, that was really enlightening for me in so many ways and I'm grateful to have some time with Ryan.

Erik: Ryan, we're learning a lot from you, thank you so much for being a part of the podcast.

Jeff: Thanks Ryan.

Ryan: I guess. Thank you so much you all. I really appreciate it.

Jeff: Thank you, man. Really appreciate your time buddy and keep fighting the good fight bud.

Ryan: It could happen.

Erik: All right, No Barriers. Thank you everyone.

Jeff: See you next time.

Dave: All of you for listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.Com special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, which is called guidance. The production team behind this podcast includes producers, Didrik Johnck and Pauline Shafer. Sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman, graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Karly Sandmark and Megan Lee. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.



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