“Tuloy po kayo sa aming bahay!”

This is how Google very warmly welcomes its media friends and the upcoming year. Why not? After all, the tech giant known for bringing the entire world to our fingertips is finally staying in the country for good.

The colorful Google logo, stylized to resemble the Philippine national flag emblazoned on a simulated bahay na bato (stone house) just like the ones found in Batanes, welcomes the visitors upon entrance. A long sofa sits directly in front, flanked by a map of the country with a glowing red location marker over Manila.

Google Philippines Head of Communications and Public Affairs Gail Tan noted that it’s not electricity that makes the marker glow.

“It’s all code,” she said casually.

The lay of the land

The Google HQ feels like an unusual hybrid between an executive’s office and a child’s playroom. There are workspaces equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, but there are also fancy chairs, beanbags, and numerous costumed Andy the Android action figures.

There are various conference areas named after Philippine scenic spots (“Bohol” and “Palawan”) and even the Cordilleran tattoo artist “Whang-Od.” A resting room, equipped with a massage chair, aptly named “Inay,” is also present.

Occupying a large spot the entire floor space are workstations, which look more tables arranged according to high school cliques. Apparently, the colorful setup is meant to facilitate collaboration among about 40 to 60 employees.

Of course, there’s “Café Fiesta” where everyone can get a bite. Legend has it that there’s always free food at Google. Truth is, there’s always heaps of free food.

Three major announcements

As if their new office isn’t enough of a surprise, Google Philippines Country Manager Ken Lingan unveiled three more major announcements prior to the tour, the first being the company’s commitment with DigiBayanihan.

Tagged as a digital and digitally-enabled literacy and inclusion program, DigiBayanihan aims to equip all Filipinos with basic knowledge and skills related to information communications technology (ICT) and the internet. The program realizes this objective with a “train-the-trainer” model through volunteer “DigiBayanis” (digital heroes).

Through its philanthropic arm Google.org, which champions people and projects who combat 21st-century crises, Google extends support to DigiBayanihan through a grant that is expected to reach one million Filipinos in the Visayas and Mindanao regions over the next 18 months.

“This step is part of our continuing effort to create a stronger, more inclusive digital economy in the Philippines. While the internet penetration has improved over the last five years, 2 out of 5 Filipinos are still missing out on the huge opportunities that come with being online. We want to empower them with digital know-how so that they can make the most of the Internet,” Lingan says.

Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, who was a distinguished guest of honor during the launch, welcomed Google’s initiative in providing digital inclusion and empowerment, saying that “it is necessary for individuals, businesses, and communities to have the right skills to thrive in today’s modern economy.”

From startup to scaled-up with Launchpad Accelerator

With the word “economy” coming into play, Google focuses on its second announcement: its commitment to helping micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) grow to become thriving businesses through its program called Launchpad Accelerator offering equity-free support to startups.

The impetus for this is the results of the recent Google-commissioned Temasek report showing that the country’s online market value can skyrocket up to US$19 billion by 2025.

Lingan acknowledges MSMEs’ potential contribution and impact to the e-commerce industry, saying that “what they do has direct impact in people’s lives.”

Innovative real-eastate startup Zipmatch, known for its utilization of 360° technology in its online portal, is the first Filipino participant in the Launchpad Accelerator program. Other MSMEs are expected to follow suit, what with Google and DTI’s digital training sessions nationwide.

It’s more fun in the Philippines

Lingan’s third announcement introduces an update to Google’s Street View, a 360-degree panoramic imagery within the Google Maps app featuring street-level images of places that further allow virtual exploration and navigation.

Google Philippines added 188 new local sites on Street View, including key attractions and landmarks such as Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon in Palawan and Barrio Savidug stone houses in Batanes. The addition raises the number of total documented sites in the country to 300.

In addition, Google has expanded its partnership with the Intramuros Administration to feature 360° virtual reality tour, accompanied by an audio guide, of 17 locations within the walled city. The Administration’s historic collection of religious sculptures dating back to as old as 1600 is also exhibited along with the tour under the belt of Google Arts & Culture.

Google’s big launch is as big as it gets—and the tech company sees no slowing down. With the Philippines joining other HQs in the Southeast Asian region, Google is gearing up to further bridge the world’s space through improving user experience and championing digital inclusion.

About The Author

Luigie Hadap

Luigie Pantoja Hadap is a journalism graduate and a millennial teacher who devours tech updates when he gets his hands on them and students when they get too rowdy (luckily they don’t). He lives in the South but enjoys the activity of Manila.