Empowered women entrepreneurs

What is your passion?

“Coffee!” Chit Juan exclaimed.  She eats, drinks, breathes, and thinks coffee.  This fixation, whether raw, ground, roasted or powdered, has taken Chit to many places, meeting and bonding with other women of the same like.

However, at a recent women’s convention held in China, Jeannie Javelosa and Reena Francisco, partners of Chit at the green retailer ECHO Store, saw other products that women owners and entrepreneurs can spearhead or excel in.  It strengthened the trio’s resolve to tap more women in the Philippines to be the new kid(s) on the block through their Great Women Brand (GWB), a specialized product label under the umbrella of the ECHOsi Fondation.

ECHOsi Foundation looks for women-led livelihoods and economically empowered women who are at the helm of their business ventures.  “No figureheads and dummies therefore,” said Reena.

To this end, Chit, Jeannie, and Reena went to six provinces” Quezon, Davao, Iloilo, Naga, Leyte, and Bohol” to search, interview, and identify women engaged in small backyard-developed businesses.  “These women showed business characteristics that could make the grade,” said Jeannie.  Because of their sheer number, ECHOsi Foundation had to put an elimination process in place.  They formulated four levels to serve as the yardstick of excellence.  If these women pass these four levels, they are deemed worthy to become partners of GWB, adding their produce to the roster of GWB products known for its high standard of quality.

“What benefits to my business would I get?” asked a woman entrepreneur.  Through ECHOsi Foundation, these women will have access and links to established retail merchandisers, food brands, (Tesoro’s, Milky Way) and professional designers (Lulu Tan Gan, Ann Pamintuan) who can carry their products under their own well-known trademarks or tailor-make new products that the market may demand, thus expanding their reach, through retail and/or export.  It also opened doors to government agencies that could help them in obtaining certifications, of testing and identifying markets, and even securing technical and modest funding assistance from foreign agencies like CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency).  They also gained access to training seminars, assemblies, and trade fairs. 

Among these women entrepreneurs are:

Ronavelle Amen, peanut products manufacturer from Iloilo.  Ronavelle’s family has lived off on peanuts for many decades. “My mother had to take over the rein of raising us when my father got sick,” she said.  Out of necessity and sheer will, Ronavelle’s mother experimented and created her own peanut recipes, kitchen-testing them on their neighbors.  Little Ronavelle remembers sterilizing recycled bottles so that her mother can use them for their peanut products.  “We could only sell in the town market.  When I took over from my mother, I wanted to go big, but our production was small and I didn’t have the capital,” recalled Ronavelle.  Under ECHOsi Foundation and the GWB mantle, Ronavelle was able to acquire technical skills to improve her peanut line without losing the traditional recipes that were handed down from mother to daughter.  “My mother would have been very proud,” she remarked.

Vivencia Mamites took the microphone to share her classic journey to becoming a businesswoman.  She recalled Jeannie informing her, “We are going to launch your inabal woven cloths, we need you to come to Manila. Vivencia was filled with anxiety. “Is traveling to a big and strange city part of being a business-woman?” she asked.   At present, Vivencia recreates the 11 inabal woven designs handed down by her 109-year-old grandmother who is now blind and unable to weave. Beautiful patterns, skyscapes, and dream interpretations all tell wistful stories. Despite having exquisite weaves, Vivencia lacked entrepreneurship skills to market her products, so she struggled to find new buyers who could buy products at fair-trade prices. “On Saturdays, I sell native food items on the market. When there is money for rice to feed my family, then I can weave inabal,” she said. 

ECHOsi Foundation got Vivencia into workshops on product design and development where she met designers like Len Cabili of Filip & Inna (caters to online and special-edition collection).  Len, impressed with the designs, agreed to use inabal pieces for GWB label.  Vivencia holds on to her dream, “Someday, I want to make weaving a permanent business, for the sake of my family and to preserve the heritage of weaving.   

Teodora Aquino, crabpaste maker from Gainza, Camarines Sur, exemplifies the struggle of the womenfolk in Gainza to support their families through crabpaste processing. After learning to pre-process crabmeat and crabpaste manufacturing from a crabpaste buyer, she joined an informal group of crab-paste manufacturers. She invested her hard-earned cash into her business and sold her products to major buyers in Luzon. 

Her determination to pull her family out of tenancy and poverty opened opportunities for her to take a direct hand in improving her lot. Teodora now heads the association of crabpaste producers as well as an organization of worker-mothers. She was also able to get a government grant for revolving credit to members.  Having gained confidence and knowing now where to go, Teodora registered her business with the Department of Trade and Industry and started her own label of crabpaste products under Everlasting Food Products.  Teodora’s crabpaste comes in spicy and garlic flavors. 

I tried the spicy crabpaste on fresh pasta and it sure raised my cholesterol to a dizzying level, what food buffs would describe as a “what-the-heck-you-only-live-once” indulgence trip.    

On Tuesday, March 19, the GWB products will be launched with Ronavelle, Vivencia, Teodora, and a host of women-entrepreneur partners of GWB, at the Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza, Makati City.   Everyone is invited to view, sample, and take home food products, woven cloths, fashion accessories, and other quality-made products bearing the GWB label.  Each product has an amazing story to tell, a seeing-beyond-the-logo moment, all women-owned and managed.  Proof that there is life “a sustainable livelihood” outside coffee.

Source: Philippine Star