A Jewel that Inspires: A feature on Nicole Martinez Nieto
Sapphires are known as the birthstone of September and have always been associated with royalty. In 1981, this stunning pure bluestone became more famous because of Princess Diana — with her 12-carat blue sapphire engagement ring. Princess Diana was a remarkable woman, who's well known all over the world. But among all the things she was known for, her kindness and generosity were what captured the people's hearts. She was a jewel, whose legacy has inspired so many young women, including one of Miladay's muses, Nicole Martinez Nieto.
Nicole was recently awarded the prestigious Diana Award, for her social activism and services during this pandemic. In a time like this, it's young women, like Nicole that show us that there is still hope and that small acts of kindness can really make a difference. Here is our quick Q&A with Nicole, as she tells us her experience when she received the award and the work that she does.
How does it feel to be the first Filipina to receive the Diana Award?
Growing up, I didn’t know why Princess Diana was the people’s princess. I used to think it was probably because she was the most beautiful princess the world saw. It was only when I, too, started getting involved in pursuing social impact that I realized that it was, in fact, because she had the most beautiful heart. It was a heart that pushed her to go beyond her world in order to help make other’s worlds much better.
Thus, to receive an award in her name and legacy is such a huge honor. I am grateful for the recognition, excited for the opportunities for greater impact that can come with it, and immensely humbled by the deep sense of responsibility that comes with being a Diana Awardee. To me, this is but the start of even more work to be done and I feel inspired more than ever to continue doing what I can to address poverty and further sustainability in the Philippines and abroad.
I also hope that by winning the Diana Award, I am able to inspire, support, and pave the way for other changemakers in the Philippines so that very soon, I would not be the only Diana Awardee our country has.
What is the significance or relevance of the Diana Award in today's current situation?
At his congratulatory address to this year’s Diana Awardees, Prince Harry mentioned that “today, we are on the cusp of change. The question is what that change ought to look like.”
The pandemic has exposed so much of what is wrong, exploitative, and missing in today’s society and systems. It has shown in great detail the massive work that needs to be done.
But through the Diana Award, we are reminded not only of the work that needs to be or has been done but of the work that can be done - by people like you and me. It reminds us that change is not only in the hands of today’s leaders or experts but is in the tips of all of our fingers. We need only to care, to listen, and to act.
The world is in a terrible and rough shape but it can still be better because we can still choose to make it better. This is what the Diana Award and what each changemaker I meet, see, and read about near and far remind me of every day.
What inspired you to pursue your social work?
Growing up, I would see both my parents use their professions as doctors to serve the underserved. It’s because of this that, even from an early age, my brothers and I were taught the value and the gift of service. It’s because of the model my parents presented us with that I have always believed in our responsibility to use whatever resources, platforms, or skills we have to serve, especially those often left on the sidelines.
Last 2015, I had the opportunity to spend time with marginalized communities. It was here when everything changed for me. Getting to know, befriend, and truly care for the people, suddenly everything became personal — poverty became very personal for me, too.
I started by co-founding BMB Solutions in 2016. Through BMB, my co-founders and I used our chemistry background to provide electricity and water to marginalized communities.
Today, I wear two hats — I work on the ground supporting communities with their basic needs while also working on a higher level trying to elevate the practice of sustainability nationwide.
Through our One Cainta Food Program, my family and I work to provide food to at least 1000 people every day. Since the pandemic started last March 2020, we have provided over 1.1 million food hampers to about 400,000 people in Cainta and across eight other cities in Luzon. We have also supported about 1,000 front liners across seven hospitals in Luzon.
As for my work in the field of sustainability, I serve as the President of the Society of Sustainability Practitioners or SSP - the country’s first association for sustainability professionals nationwide. Through SSP, we convene, capacitate, and support sustainability professionals in furthering sustainability in their organizations and/or communities.
If anyone asks me why and how I keep going over the past six years, my answer is simple - I love what I do and I believe in why I do it. I do not need an award to feel as if my work is valuable nor rewarding. My ability to reach out, help, and even just make another person smile is, in itself, “the prize.” I firmly believe that to be able to serve others almost every day is one of the greatest blessings anyone can receive. I do not take it lightly nor for granted.
Of course, that is not to say that I do not wish for my work to be irrelevant. I think that, if I have one major vision in mind, it’s that of a world where there would no longer be a need for a lending hand because everyone would have already had the access to the resources and services they need to survive and thrive as humans.
Seeing everything that’s wrong with the world knowing that absolutely no one deserves to go through the pains of poverty, inequity, and injustice bring, it’s so much harder not to do something that it is to try to. Mas mahirap walang gawin. Thus, so long as there’s work to be done, my family and I will continue to do the work.
By winning this prestigious award, what message can you give to young women today?
Tiwala lang - just trust. This has been my line and philosophy over the past few years. Whether while it’s down big on a championship game or as I write down notes on grocery kits to be distributed to communities wondering when this will all end, tiwala lang.
The world can be a very scary place, even more so today. It can become very easy for us to feel hopeless about our circumstances and powerless amidst it all. Yet, we can always still trust. We can always hope. It may no longer be a hope that stems from a childlike expectation of good things to come simply because it always has, but we can still hope that better things can come despite seeing what could be the worst that already has because we can still choose to go out there and make it better.
I know the world’s challenges can be daunting but so long as we can act, we can hope. So long as we do act, there is hope.
And you don’t need to set the whole world on fire to do it. Illuminating even just the corners of the world you can touch is already more than enough. We all bring some form of medicine, magic, and goodness into this world. Explore yours and use it to illuminate your part of the world. If you ever think that your vision, advocacy, or dreams are just too big to achieve; if you ever catch yourself wondering whether or not you’ll even “make it,” I challenge you to look back at your life. If you do, you’d see that it’s brought you to so many places, people, and moments you never even dreamt of. Now, although we can never truly predict whatever it is we are meant for, I think that if the years we’ve lived thus far prove anything — if my winning a Diana Award shows anything, it’s that so long as we keep moving, we can be meant for anything.
So keep moving, dreaming, fighting, and believing. Tiwala lang, kaya mo yan.