College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Statements Feature: Gaining Knowledge to Grow Community

Gaining Knowledge to Grow Community

An advanced degree is known to affect future career opportunities and earning potential. But to master of public policy (MPP) alumna Belinda Batang Esguerra, ‘07, advanced knowledge can also be cultivated to create a ripple effect for societal change.

After receiving a bachelor’s in chemistry from Cagayan State University in her home country of the Philippines, Esguerra decided to continue her education in the University of Northern Iowa’s MPP program, attracted to UNI’s focus on “students first.” Esguerra had been employed with the Philippines government and wanted to learn more about how governments work with the people they serve. She would later also receive a diploma of IT - systems administration from Polytechnic West in Perth, Western Australia.

This extensive education led to her current role as a senior data analyst with World Vision International, a global relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with communities to overcome poverty and injustice. The experiences also helped shape a long-held desire to give back to her own community in the Cagayan Valley.

In 2015, Esguerra created a small team consisting of herself and four other Australian government scholars. Their goal: to start an entrepreneurial food processing project for women farmers in their hometown communities. The team applied for and won an alumni grant from the Australian government that is offered to Filipino scholars. And with that, they immediately got started, targeting women farmers through the local Rural Improvement Club of Nueva Vizcaya (RIC-NV), Philippines.

With the help of club officers, participants were screened based on need and interest in the program. Recipients would not only receive hands-on training in fruit and vegetable processing but also materials, start-up capital and the development of a long-term marketing strategy for their products. 

In the end, over 300 women farmers from the 10 towns in the Cagayan Valley were trained as a means of augmenting their farm income. Each town also received funds to continue developing income-generating projects after the training concluded.

Esguerra points out that the project was, “not merely a venue for participants to learn how to make candies and food items, but more importantly, for the women farmers to take pride in themselves [to learn] they too can upgrade their skills, upscale their food products and upend their economic situation.” 

After Esguerra’s training was completed in 2015, RIC-NV has taken on the project as one of its regular community activities. With additional funding, Esguerra​ hopes to help replicate the project and empower women in municipalities across the Philippines.

“It was my degree from UNI that opened my eyes to varied challenges and problems in society where I can be part of the solution,” reflected Esguerra. “I believe everyone has a part in changing the world for the better.”


For more information about UNI's Master of Public Policy program, visit Learn more about Belinda's project at