20 September 2016
Keynote Message, Go Negosyo Book Launch, 55 Inspiring Stories of Women Entrepreneurs, Manila Polo Club, Makati City
There’s definitely something about women. There’s strength in our softness, steel in our smiles, there’s something compelling in our gentle touch, and when we win—others win as well.
As I look at this room full of amazing women, seated beside men we can call honorary women, I sense an electrifying energy. I feel like we can change the world where we sit.
I salute each and every woman who is featured in this book. You make success look so easy! And yet you are truly the embodiment of hard work.
Women are born with physical disadvantages. We won’t have the physical strength of men even if we pump iron every day at the gym. And because we are the vessels that bring children into the world, by default we have the most difficult job of all, which is mothering.
So when women build and succeed in creating a business or a social enterprise, there is more to that achievement than meets the eye.
We are grateful to Go Negosyo, for shining a light on the women in this crowd who prove that there is no limit to excellence.
Let me also point out that you have built businesses in a country where setting up an enterprise is not necessarily the easiest thing to do.
This is changing now, of course, brought about by the landmark Go Negosyo Law authored by Sen. Bam Aquino, with the help of Go Negosyo and the Department of Trade and Industry, with a new Secretary that has made support for small entrepreneurs his life’s work!
But when you were all starting out, this was not the case! To navigate the bureaucracy, to operate without having to pay grease money, to be honest with your books, to link to a loyal market, and above all to be sustainable, is not exactly a walk in the park.
As we celebrate the re-publication of this book and what strong women stand for, let us also think about how to harvest this tremendous entrepreneurial energy to build not just businesses, but a nation.
This requires shifting our gaze on women at the fringes of the economy. Those who, like you, have burning desires and ideas; except that theirs are still waiting for the right opportunity. Sadly, that opportunity may never come because of poverty.
The World Food Programme says women and children around the world account for 60% of those who are chronically hungry. In the Philippines, women account for 11.2 million of the poor or 25.6%, second only to 12.4 million, which are children.
It will take you and I, and many others out there, to create opportunities for them. I believe that is the direction that Go Negosyo is going.
Women empowerment through economic freedom is also one of the Office of the Vice-President’s carefully chosen priorities in our race to change the face of poverty.
We believe that when women are empowered enough to dream, their families, especially their children, develop the audacity to dream as well. They are more hopeful they can shape their world.
They are more confident and that confidence and hope sparks excellence. Excellence, in turn, breeds success. This is how change can begin from the people we are committed to help.
There must be a system for this. The task is huge, and if we are to be effective, we must proceed with order, with care, and with participation from the poor who we seek not just as beneficiaries but as real partners.
One of the things that we did in our almost three months in office is to dialogue with women’s groups, from big corporations to micro-entrepreneurs. We went inside boardrooms and we trekked to the far-flung mountains and seaside communities.
We discussed in big meetings, and we talked among very small groups in far-flung communities. We listened and we shared ideas.
Our plan is to come up with a comprehensive roadmap on how to empower women across all sectors in the next six years. Let me give you a preview of what we have learned so far.
One, it is time for our micro-entrepreneurs to level up and become SMEs. They must have better access to inclusive supply chains, and when I say ‘they’, I mean both men and women.
There are two existing innovations on this that caught our attention. One is the Partnerships Against Hunger and Poverty in Naga City, where local government units buy 30% of food needed for their supplementary feeding program from women farmers. This provides income for women and addresses problems of malnutrition at the same time.
The second are examples of Jollibee’s Farmer Entrepreneurship Program, where the fastfood giant buys agricultural produce from small farmers in Nueva Ecija. Women also earn additional income by peeling onions.
McDonald’s buys lettuce from rebels turned farmers in Leyte; big supermarkets buy coco sugar from far-off Alabat town in Quezon.
The most effective models now are those where the approaches were holistic. They attacked many problems on different fronts at the same time. The solutions work because they are not cookie-cutter approaches copied elsewhere, rather they were solutions based on intimate knowledge of the needs of communities.
Small farmers were given direct access to big markets without having to go through layers of middlemen.
The second lesson has to do with social entrepreneurs working closely with women at the grassroots. Picture this: what if every woman featured in this book personally mentors five women from the fringes of society who are trying to build their own businesses?
What if they spend at least an hour of each day to encourage, teach, and do some handholding. What if we can use the power of mentoring to create pockets of hope among the poor?
The poor are smart, but most of the time they are paralyzed by self-doubt. They need someone who will listen, who will believe, and who will mentor them. They need exposure. They need you.
There are already widening spaces for technical training, capacity building, market linkages and skills and all other ingredients for entrepreneurial success. These spaces need to be sustainably increased, for sure.
But what the women in the fringes of society need is mentoring. There is power in the mere thought that someone like you would care enough. There is power in the idea that you would take the time. After all, good taste for quality, global brands are not easy to impart in a technical training.
Our “nanay negosyantes” have to see you, talk to you, observe the things that you like, to have an idea what the discerning market out there prefers!
The Filipino CEO Circle has some of the most powerful, most successful women in the country as its members. They started asking themselves the question: what else can I do aside from lead my organization and ensure there is profit for my shareholders?
They reached out to our office, after their soul searching led to a desire to seek a different kind of profit. One that has nothing to do with their company’s bottom line but a lot to do with national well being.
So, they have agreed to share their leadership skills and time to mentor not just women micro-entrepreneurs but women local chief executives as well. It is amazing how women, as I said, like to win together.
National transformation will begin when we link the powerful with those who have little. When strategies are holistic and take into account all aspects of development, we can punch bigger holes in the ugly face of poverty.
You see, for every one of you, there are hundreds more women out there who are hoping someone can hear their silent plea of “How to be you po?”
We are still finalizing the framework and roadmap for our five advocacies—women empowerment, universal health care specifically maternal health and stunting among children, food security and nutrition, rural development, and education.
Housing is also another task we have been entrusted with. All of these advocacies are interconnected; as if someone’s unseen hand guided us in choosing them.
Let me share with you what we see are potential areas where women like you could get involved.
One: use your intense understanding of the market and collaborate with civil society and the government on how to help small businesses scale up. I know Go Negosyo is already doing a lot of work on this.
We are offering the OVP as a convenor for such collaborative effort.
Two: influence LGUs to provide a conducive policy environment and develop the necessary infrastructure for women micro-enterprises to thrive.
We understand that many in the private sector don’t necessarily like dealing with local government. The OVP can, once again, provide that bridge.
Three: you can advocate for the proper use of Gender and Development (GAD) budget among LGUs and national government agencies, so that 5% of the budget of every government entity is properly used for projects that will benefit women, as stated in the law.
The OVP will partner with the Philippine Commission on Women in conducting trainings on budget planning and monitoring to use GAD funds better. It is not common knowledge that down on the ground, this 5% budget, which accounts to billions of pesos nationwide, is sometimes misspent on non-productive projects.
Those funds from taxpayers could instead be used for things like paralegal training for domestically abused women, livelihood, and leadership trainings, or a bridge fund for our women who have the necessary skills but not access to capital.
You may ask: what does the GAD budget and how it is accessed by communities have to do with me? You probably never heard of it and never had a need for it in your life.
As I speak across the country to women like you—powerful, successfull, seated at tables where society’s future is decided—I am reminded that we are a sisterhood of women.
What happens to the least of us will have an effect on a future that affects all of us.
Women empowerment leads to other freedoms— freedom to participate in family decision making, freedom to provide for children’s needs, freedom to say no to vote buying, freedom to participate politically, and even freedom to improve one’s self, among many other things.
Many times, it is only when women can stand economically on their own two feet do they feel strong enough to stand against abusive relationships.
If you look around, real-life stories prove these to be true. A woman in Pampanga who raised and sold vegetables earned enough to send her children to school.
When they finished college, she pursued her own dream and one day, her children witnessed her get a college diploma. Another woman in Jagna, Bohol, pursued her dream of marketing the lowly calamay by setting up a cooperative of disadvantaged women.
Most of her kumare sa negosyo thought it was a waste of time; they were more concerned about their daily tasks of washing clothes and dishes and cooking for their families.
She persevered with her vision, infected the other women in her community with excitement, and now the cooperative is providing a steady stream of income for women who are in dire need of funds.
Many of the borders that limited the world’s global economy 100 years ago have already been torn down.
Transportation, digital technology, stronger political institutions have redefined what are possible and what are not possible. In an age where there’s talk of driverless cars and travel to Mars, there is no excuse for letting poverty and gender inequality taint the progress of our society.
As we strive to make a difference, remember that things don’t have to change the world to be important.
Your work in women empowerment could change your own workplace, or the strength of one family, or facilitate the empowerment of one person.
You always have my admiration; whether or not you feel that you have to take baby steps.
We can move the nation one family at a time, one life at a time, one small microenterprise at a time.
Because when the best women win, everybody wins.