If you’ve ever wanted to find out how far the human potential can reach, just go search Clara Aseniero’s name online.
The top result is, naturally, her Instagram account, but what follows begins to build her impressive profile. The second entry is an article about her work, and the third is her actual profile in the company for which she works: a consultancy firm that helps governments in the field of development. The link on her Instagram bio leads to a sharp essay she wrote for another publication about the public art in BGC.
For a moment, I thought I was reading about a different Clara Aseniero, and not the model I was tasked to talk to for this article. The photos online reassured me she was one and the same.
Being this impressed with the contrast of these two professions—that of model and of development consultant and analyst—would easily lead anyone to fall into the trap of classifying Aseniero as something extraordinary. But she is quick to correct me (her opinions on development in the Philippines don’t automatically make her a humanitarian, for example) and downplay any notions of deifying a human being who is, to be honest, just living out and pursuing her interests as much as she can.
So here is the story of Clara Aseniero, model, analyst, researcher, writer—simply all of those things at the same time; nothing more, nothing less—in her own words.
How did you end up getting into History and Anthropology in university and postgrad, and into your career? Is there some awesome origin story behind this?
I have always been interested in history. At school it was my favorite subject, so I knew I wanted to pursue it in university. But I also wanted to try something new and anthropology seemed like a good fit with my interest in people and society.
I came back to the Philippines after university in London. By then, my parents had already moved from Manila to Zamboanga del Norte, where my dad's family is from. I spent a year there involving myself in development projects in social housing and agriculture before I left for New York in 2016 to pursue my Master's degree at Columbia University. I don’t think "humanitarian" accurately describes what I do or how I see myself.
If "humanitarian" isn't an accurate word to sum up what you do outside of modeling, what would you use, then, to describe yourself?
It just gives me far too much credit. My official title is "analyst," but I've always thought of myself as a researcher because that is something I have consistently done, both as a student and in my professional life now.
In the world we're living in, it would've been so easy for someone like you to get by and be comfortable with just their looks. When and how did you decide that you would do something more meaningful with your life instead?
I had an interest in the social sciences from a young age and did well enough in school to be able to pursue graduate and postgraduate studies in three great institutions. It was there that my academic interests became more defined and I found myself getting really into Philippine history, which I think has given me a better understanding of contemporary Philippine culture and society.
The same Google search brings up an article about the issues you'd like to bring awareness to.
My articles are reflections on some of the things about the Philippines, and specifically Manila, that interest me the most: the history of urbanization, the relationship between physical and social mobility, public space—or the lack thereof. My postgraduate thesis was a history of conservation and natural resource management in the Philippines. It’s a subject that I would like to explore more and be able to speak more knowledgeably on given the growing importance of environmentalism.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest societal issue we need to solve right now? And which one do you think can we solve easily and right away?
I hope this doesn't come across as a pageant answer, but I think mobility and pollution are two major issues that need to be tackled if we want Manila to be a livable city for everyone. There are no easy solutions or immediate remedies, and government reform is a long process, but we can always support local organizations or initiatives that are pushing for change outside formal political channels.
What's something you wish people would stop saying about you—in person and in features like these?
Titles get thrown around a lot and very gratuitously, like “humanitarian” or “supermodel”—to be clear, I am neither of those things.
Do you genuinely enjoy modeling?
I genuinely enjoy modelling when I get to work with friends and participate in their creative vision. Shooting with people I love and whose work I admire is always a lot of fun.
What do people say when they find out about your consulting job (or when they find out you're a model after knowing you as a consultant)?
Some people are surprised to learn that I do both, but for those who know me it's consistent with the person I am and the interests I have.
What's the worst misconception you get about your job?
Worst misconception about modeling? That it’s lucrative.
What about your consulting job?
The biggest misconception about my consulting job is that I work for the government. I actually work for the private sector, but we advise on government affairs, doing things like political risk and policy analysis.
What should/can people easily start doing for the better use of public space, given the things you've learned in your job?
The revival of Escolta is a good example of a citizen-led movement to preserve public space. It also encourages people to explore the city and engage with it in a way that they're perhaps not used to. Similar initiatives can be taken to protect places that are of value to communities.
Would you ever consider getting into politics—or, at the very least, public service?
I work as a consultant advising the private sector on policy issues, so its my job to analyse Philippine politics. I have not considered getting into politics and don't think I ever will, for several reasons, but I would like to think that the line of work I am in contributes to national development by offering solutions to pressing problems.
What's your dream project, something you'd devote your life to?
I'd love to get into documentary film making, or writing for programs that examine the aspects of society, culture and history that interest me.
Photographs by Patrick Diokno
Styling by Mano Gonzales
Styling assistant Clara Villanueva
Makeup and hair by Zidjian Floro