The capacity to inspire people to be better and strive for their maximum potential is a gift. It takes patience, tenacity and a deep passion to help others. To be a teacher and educator entails a great degree of selflessness, where the people around you matter the most. It stands to be one of the most difficult jobs out there, but Filipina educator and entrepreneur Joji Ilagan Bian has taken on the challenge and is savoring the journey.
Her resume is comprehensive, and she plays multiple roles in education, business and choice government initiatives. These come only next to her familial obligations as wife, mother and grandmother. In no way does Joji feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities brought she has taken on. In fact, she takes pride in them.
“My fulfillment comes with being able to transform lives,” says Joji, who has founded nine schools in the Philippines to date, in the areas of business, tourism and hospitality.
“My school and other businesses continue to prosper as they are managed by special men and women who share my passion and love for my work. My employees are like ‘tiny grains of rice’ as they nourish and nurture all of our businesses.”
Joji comes from a family that emphasizes discipline and hard work. Her father, Jose Ilagan, was a lawyer from Taal, Batangas, and her mother, Ma Celina Javellana Ilagan, a homemaker, from Bacolod, Negros Occidental. Joji credits her parents with having influenced her the most. She tells me, “They always taught me to believe in myself and to always dream big.”
Joji’s entrepreneurial and career-oriented spirit are also reflected in her own family. She is married to entrepreneur George Hao Bian, and the couple has three children and four grandchildren.
Her eldest, Dyan Joyce Hao Bian, resides in Vancouver, Canada, and runs her own preschool, The Learning Place. Her son, Michael Hao Bian, runs his own call center in Davao City. Another daughter, Nina Nicole Bian, manages all Bian’s hospitality and tourism schools. Evidently, business and a high priority for work run in the family.
Davao City, a booming metropolis on the island of Mindanao, is where Joji has made a name for herself. She spent her early schooling in the area before moving on the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, graduating with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration. She eventually returned to Davao City and built a career for herself in education and hospitality, while also participating in government, cultural and philanthropic initiatives.
The Joji Ilagan Foundation – College of Business and Tourism is one of Joji’s biggest accomplishments. Outside of this, she is chairperson of several international schools, including the Institute of International Culinary and Hospitality Entrepreneurship (Davao City), the Stockbridge American International School (Davao City and General Santos City ), the Joji Ilagan International School of Hotel and Tourism Management (General Santos City), International Management School of Tourism, Hospitality and Entrepreneurship (Davao City), and Career Institute of Southeast Asia (Davao City).
Her work has been duly recognized as she received several awards in recent years. She is a Datu Bago 1997 awardee in business and education, the highest award conferred by Davao City to individuals who have made an impact to residents. Also, she is a 1997 Kabalikat Laang Bising awardee for her promotion of development of technical vocational training in the Philippines.
Joji’s commitment to service is grounded on a deeply religious faith, which she attributes to her mother’s spirituality. “My mother practiced and preached kindness and selflessness,” Joji adds. “I learned from her the virtue of humility. ”
Her tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit come from a drive to help others, and this is shown in her continuous involvement in education, tourism, politics, religious affiliations and business. Despite her achievements, she remains deeply cognizant of the opportunities that have come her way.
“My life is a tapestry of different weaves and colors, symbolizing the very diverse experiences that give me a wider perspective and understanding of the complexities of life,” she observes. “I have walked the halls of power, as well as dined with the poorest of the poor, and from these experiences, I have learned that it is what we share with others that matters most. ”
Even in the midst of myriad accomplishments, it is her sense of gratitude and keen self-awareness that make Joji Ilagan Bian a role model to emulate for generations to come.