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Alumni Spotlight // Advocacy

THE STARTUP SUPERCONNECTOR

Spark Revenue’s Roland Navarro de Ros `04
Spark Revenue Vice President Roland Navarro de Ros `04
Spark Revenue Vice President
Roland Navarro de Ros `04

Marketing technology executive and humanitarian Roland Navarro de Ros `04 defines himself as a “passionate superconnector,” dedicated to fostering social change through mentoring entrepreneurs in the United States and Southeast Asia.

Growing up in Palmdale, California, Navarro de Ros idolized Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and hip hop culture, dreaming of a better life beyond his family's financial struggles.

At UC Santa Barbara, Navarro de Ros majored in Asian American studies and dove headfirst into everything college life had to offer. He served as president of his fraternity Zeta Phi Rho, political and cultural chair of Kapitirang Pilipino, performed as a Spoken Word Art activist and participated in the Education Abroad Program in the Philippines.

After graduation, he worked at General Electric and clickXchange Media before moving on to leadership roles at Tracking202, Bloosky Interactive, LLC and MediaTrust. He now serves as vice president of Spark Revenue, LLC, an Inc 500 Listed performance marketing technology company based in Los Angeles, California, and maintains advisory partnerships, investment and marketing for high-tech startups. He also is a trustee and co-chairman of the Ros Foundation and serves on the board of directors of Ros International Holdings in the Philippines. Recently, Navarro de Ros co-founded Hella Fraiche, a culinary experience company, he owns and operates with his brother Chef Christian Navarro.

Inspired by his EAP experience in the Philippines, Navarro de Ros co-founded his first not-for-profit organization Kamay at Puso Inc. in 2004. He now serves as an advisor for NextDayBetter and Kaya Collaborative, both initiatives that empower the Filipino diaspora to help implement social change in the Philippines.

In this Alumni Q&A, Navarro de Ros shares what’s on his career bucket list, how UCSB shaped his life path and why he is passionate about mobilizing the Filipino American community.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia and Roland Navarro de Ros `04 (Photo courtesy of Roland Navarro de Ros)
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia and Roland Navarro de Ros `04 (Photo courtesy of Roland Navarro de Ros)

Where did you grow up? What fascinated and inspired you as a young teen?

My mom raised me and my brother. We grew up in an interesting household. Technically, we were born into a family with lot of resources. My father was a famous heart surgeon in Los Angeles. But when my parents divorced, we went from living in a well-to-do place to living below the poverty line. We moved into someone’s home, where I lived under someone’s stairs.

Back then it was traumatic -- to be born in a place of wealth and then to be raised where we were financially always wanting. This was why a lot of my biggest inspirations in high school centered around social justice. I was fascinated by the civil disobedience movements of Gandhi and Dr. King. My biggest focus as a teen was writing for the school newspaper and challenging the status quo. I founded the Junior Statesmen -- a lively debate club that tackled issues of the day.

I was also very inspired by hip hop culture. We grew up poor, in a place where it was easy to get into trouble and hip hop culture was a way to get away from the gangs. You DJ’d, rapped, painted, and breakdanced – that was a way to get away from the drugs and violence affecting the community.

What drew you to study at UC Santa Barbara?

Even though my mom raised us, one of the things I will attribute to my dad helping me develop as a person -- I saw him only the weekends after they divorced -- was how I got to attend UC Santa Barbara. My dad served as a Lieutenant Colonel during the Gulf War. When he suffered a stroke, he lost his practice because he couldn’t perform heart surgeries any more. Unfortunately, because of what happened to him in his service to the country, I was able to get a full ride to a UC school.

UC Santa Barbara was just such a beautiful place. I was excited to have the opportunity to study in a place that was the exact opposite of where I grew up. I grew up in the Mohave Desert, in Palmdale – a place that people jokingly refer to as the “armpit of SoCal.” Then I found myself studying on this campus near the ocean. Obviously the academics are first rate – but beyond that, it was a place I could express myself and be who I wanted to be.

That’s really what UCSB gave me – a breath of fresh air and a chance to grow and define who I was.

What was your student experience like? Who were your mentors at UCSB?

My big, huge influences at UCSB were great professors -- Kip Fulbeck, Diane C. Fujino at Asian American Studies, Chela Sandoval at Chican@ Studies, Richard Applebaum at Sociology and Global/International Studies, Celine Shumizu at Ethnic Studies, and Mark Juergensmeyer from Global Studies.

What Juergensmeyer and Applebaum provided was the global context of the social justice issues that were affecting me at that time. Fujino gave me the heart behind my passion for Asian American studies – and she introduced me to activist Yuri Kochiyama during my internship at the Asian Resource Center. One of my best achievements was helping to bring Yuri to the UCSB campus to speak. Yuri told me never to give up. For someone like Yuri Kochiyama to be so humble and yet going out and speaking so powerfully…that impacted me to this day. Every time I’m down on life, I always remember her words. It was crazy to see her face on Google Doodle this past May, in commemoration of her 95th birthday. She continues to inspire me to this day.

It was Chela Sandoval who drilled it home from the spiritual standpoint. She broke down for me by providing a postmodern context to look at love as a powerful instrument for social change. She intellectually contextualized love as a powerful tool and instrument.

Kip Fulbeck taught me how to express life like a work of art, and just go for it.

If you triangulate all these influences – the environment, the students, our faculty and our social organizations -- UCSB really shaped my world view and shaped my destiny.

What made you decide to go to the Philippines for your Education Abroad Program experience?

The Education Abroad Program is probably one of the biggest perks that any UC Student should always take advantage of, to broaden your horizons.

I had friends who went to Russia, Korea and Italy…and saw how they were impacted by this experience. I was taking these global studies classes and learning globalization in the Asian American context, and I remember seeing the map of the Philippines and thought…”yes, this is it.” How could I say no? I was part of Kapatirang Pilipino, the Filipino-American group on campus, and I was trying to encourage everyone to join – but I ended up being the only one going.

I was the only one from UCSB on that trip, but I met 31 other people from the UC system. So not only you get a global experience – you expand your horizons with students from every single UC. They became some of my closest friends. My interactions with all those kids from the different UCs also made the experience richer.

The Philippines is an amazingly beautiful country – there is just so much history. That was the first time I visited the Philippines. All our classes were taken near the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, far away from the main city Manila. (This was a tactic to isolate us from going to the city and partying a lot!) The professors would take buses and and other forms of public transportation from the main campuses of UP, the Ateneo and La Salle in Manila, and teach us Tagalog, psychology and history.

The second part of this experience were the outings and community work we did, beyond the school work. We would climb mountains and visit the Aeta people. We went to Angeles in Pampanga and saw the impact of the American air force base in the community and the environment. These impacts were right in our face – from the effects of toxic waste, to the heart-wrenching tour of the poor communities of the Philippines. This crystalized into a nonprofit Kamay at Puso Inc., started by my colleagues, to help provide solutions to those issues we saw. I appreciated this trip so much because of the exposure we had to the realities of life.

What drew you to your current career choice? (What drives you to do what you do?)

One of the things that drove me to my current career was my father’s death in 2005. His passing brought the family together. It was a stark reality to face: that life is indeed very short, and here was this successful heart surgeon who lost everything by the end of his life. It just showed me that I need to go out and crush it – that the world owes me no favors and it’s not going to wait for me.

If I made a change in my life it would have to come from within.

My first job, post-graduation, I worked for GE. I found the path to online marketing and internet tech by accident. I was in the fraternity Zeta Phi Rho at UCSB – and it was through that social circle where Charles Wang, one of my fraternity brothers, asked me if I thought of doing something in social media and internet technology. I saw the opportunities in applying technology as an agent for disruption. At a trade show, I met individuals who used technology as a channel to disrupt the marketing space. Since then, my whole entrepreneurial journey began. I developed and sold a company in 2009 and another in 2012. In through the financial gains from each of those capacities, I was able to serve as a mentor and advisor for other entrepreneurs. It has been a really cool experience.

Being an entrepreneur, there were a lot of challenges. I just did a graduation speech at USC – a few months ago and I remember telling the audience to stop being scared of failure. “Failure is the engine of growth,” I said. I compared life to a muscle – the only way a muscle can grow is through hypertrophy, the act of a muscle healing then becoming stronger.

I remember when me and my partners only had $5,000 in the bank and we had all these employees to pay. At that point we really felt we failed. But in that failure, me and one of the partners went on a mad dash and found a way to sell a particular service for the company. We made enough sales to keep the company going for a couple of months and were able to launch a business product that took us from zero to $400,000 per month in sales in two months.

Dealing with those failures are the biggest and best lessons you can have as an entrepreneur.

Roland Navarro de Ros `04 interviewed by Rich Kaarlgard
Roland Navarro de Ros `04 interviewed by Rich Kaarlgard, publisher of Forbes Magazine, at the OC Business Summit (Photo courtesy of Roland Navarro de Ros `04)

What drives your many endeavors to supporting community outreach and social change here in the United States and in the Philippines?

The realistic response in regards to my passion for social justice is that there are certain elements that are just stuck in the 60s on how you can implement change. These days, you can’t just stage a protest and expect something to happen. I fell in love with social enterprise – creating businesses of value that calculate and calibrate social benefits. For example, micro-finance organizations -- savings groups that invest in the enterprises of mothers and daughters.

I do spend a lot of time helping the Philippines. When I sold my last company, I became focused on giving back to the community. My current passion is engaging the Filipino diaspora to in creating social change in the Philippines.

I serve as an advisor for NextDayBetter, a storytelling platform that has successfully built a network of Filipino influencers around the world.  Through campaigns like our partnership with Doctors Without Borders, we're able to engage the Filipino diaspora into action, to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures and pressure big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer to lower the cost of the pneumonia vaccine that kills so many Filipino children every year.

I am also super excited and proud to be part of Kaya Collaborative a fellowship program that sends top Filipino American college students to the Philippines. EAP was the life-changing experience for me when I studied in the Philippine. It crystalized my identity –you grow up with a certain appreciation for the country. What we do at Kaya Co. is in addition to sending them for 8 weeks, we pair them with a social enterprise that matches their passions. This current batch of students -- our third batch now --  had students from Berkeley, Georgetown, Washington, and McGill. With every batch, the alumni group continues to grow – each and every one in the fellowship do amazing work. The mission is to see how we can expand that to a much bigger program.

This fall, we are helping to organize an innovation summit with the World Economic Forum. To grow from an idea, to putting our goals on the map -- I’m super excited about the type of work we’ll be doing

The allegory of the balikbayan box to explain the mission of Kaya Co., a nonprofit created to inspire and educate diaspora youth to lead social change in the Philippines. (www.kayaco.org)

So what’s next for you? What are your future goals and plans?

I will continue to advise and mentor startups. Before I die, I want to mentor and coach 1,000 entrepreneurs. I want to be a good steward of my resources to benefit the Philippines. I also want to use my time to do the things that make me happy.

My end game to get to that 1,000 goal is to go back to school and teach marketing – maybe through UCSB’s Technology Management Program (TMP).

I also want to continue to sending students to the Philippines. One of the reasons why I continue to be intentional to build my profile as a business leader is to increase and form strategic partnerships for social enterprise.

I also serve as a mentor and business coach for my family and friends.My brother Christian Navarro is a chef who matured in the kitchens of Chicago and served as a private chef for celebrities like Victoria and David Beckham, Nick and Joe Jonas, Demi Lovato, and Zoey Saldana.(Delete Cayman Islands, that was a difference client). Together, we co-founded Hella Fraiche, a business centered on love, food and unexpected experiences. Technically my brother would be one of my thousand -- I'm so inspired by his heart. I just continue to encourage him to look for ways to creatively express his love.  Oprah just told his story on national TV just this September!  I'm so proud of him!

I was also really impressed with how UCSB alumni were engaged during Give Day. We got a lot of friends to donate during that campaign. That is one of my dreams: in a couple of years, after a good win, I would love to have my name on one of the buildings at UCSB.

The number one thing that drives me right now is waking up knowing that there is a limited time I have here on Earth. I always talk about how an average person lives between 25,000 to 30,000 days.

I have the opportunity and the means to use my circumstances to create something amazing before I die. So I just pray that I just live out my purpose, just doing my best, and helping others at the same time.

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