Maricel Pangilinan-Arenas, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Play Innovations Inc., told her dad, engineer-entrepreneur Donato Pangilinan, about the opportunity she was given to head and build the first KidZania franchise in the Philippines, her dad “fell in love with it.”When
Pangilinan-Arenas says, “I shared the concept with him and he immediately got it. He said it was a ‘play city’ just like bahay-bahayan (playing house) but on a bigger scale.” This, and her younger brother Kiko’s (former Senator Francis Pangilinan’s) insight that this endeavor would honor their father and mother’s parenting legacy, convinced her to accept the challenge posed by ABSCBN Corporation chairman Eugenio Lopez III (EL3) and ABS-CBN CEO Charo Santos-Concio(CSC) to lead the start-up company. ABS-CBN owns 73% of Play Innovations, with the remainder owned by a Singaporean company.
Thus, Pangilinan-Arenas signed up as employee number 00001 on October 1, 2012. By her fifth day in office, she was en route to Mexico, the headquarters of KidZania, an educational, experiential playground for kids aged four to 14. What followed was a long and thorough study of the potential of such an innovative concept in the Philippines.
“It was a totally new business for ABS-CBN. There was no template within the organization to follow. This has been a very complicated project logistically, from the viewpoint of project management, architecture, engineering, child safety and security; it was not simply taking in everything the franchise offered but making sure each section of KidZania in Manila would be relevant to Filipino children, their parents and educators,” says Pangilinan-Arenas.
Igniting hearts and minds
A former advertising executive, she touched base with many former clients to engage them with the vision of “igniting the hearts and minds of Filipino children, empowering and inspiring them to create a better world” using their Godgiven talents. This resulted in 50 individual partners, each eager to present a unique experience for each child who enters and plays a role in the global play city that KidZania is.
These days, she gets to practice many Lopez Values at work, foremost of which is a pioneering entrepreneurial spirit, especially considering the scale of the project entrusted to her.
“I grew up on the smell of concrete, gravel and sand, and form lumber. My dad always brought me to construction sites even as a child, but I’ve never encountered anything on this scale (KidZania) in my life,” she recalls.
Nationalism comes to the fore not only in the use of local trees such as narra, balete and bitaog encompassing the structural posts, but also in the general theme of KidZania where children are given the opportunity to play responsible roles in society whether as farmer, pilot, fireman, doctor, cable technician, delivery person, ice cream maker, cookie baker, radio announcer, singer, actor, banker and urban gardener, among other constructive and productive assignments.
“The noble vision behind KidZania is what drove me. We want to plant seeds of what it takes to make a good community. We are giving children the opportunity to see beyond themselves, to care for and see what they can do together for their community,” she says.
Full power of play
KidZania also practices social justice, giving underprivileged children the chance to play in the city through corporate sponsorships, with a designated percentage of entrance tickets reserved for the purpose. Corporations willing to sponsor public school students may avail of discounted rates.
Pangilinan-Arenas sees her involvement in the KidZania venture as way to thank her parents, who allowed her to experience the full power of play while she was growing up with eight younger siblings. The older Pangilinan children would create a pretend haunted house in their bedroom and sell “tickets” to the younger ones.
She also attributes her sense of mission to her family.
“My parents are very patriotic and civic-oriented. My dad, in particular, is a dreamer and an optimist. He was always involved in leadership, working to drive change in the communities and villages where we lived as we grew up. He helped set up and then ran workshops on entrepreneurship at the UP (University of the Philippines) Institute of Small-Scale Industries. He taught us to make the most of every circumstance. To our parents, it was always God, country and family in that order and then work, work, work. That is how I learned to be accountable, to be responsible.”
Service to the Filipino child
Her message to fellow members of the Lopez Group: “I appreciate the boldness of (EL3 and CSC) to go into a totally new direction with KidZania. Direct engagement with the child is a huge responsibility. KidZania Manila will be a real service to the Filipino child; it will be a living laboratory where we, the adults, will be the biggest students as we watch the children play daily. This is a real investment in the future.
“I want to shout out a big thank you to the many Lopez companies that are supporting KidZania, namely ABS-CBN TV and Radio, Star Cinema, Star Magic, ABS-CBNmobile, SKYcable, SKYbroadband and First Gen Corporation, and of course, all the other industry partners who dared to believe in this bold vision that, ultimately, honors the Filipino child. Together, we will help children discover their talents and equip them with the confidence to dare and to dream big.” (Story/Photo by: Carla Paras-Sison)