Philippine Commission on Women, ECHOSI Foundation partner for  women microentrepreneurs

The Philippine Commission on Women-GREAT Women Project and the ECHOsi Foundation (Enabling Communities with Hope and Opportunities Sustainable Initiatives), the development arm of green retailer ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle are partners on a social enterprise approach to grow sustainable women-led livelihoods and economically empower women. The program enables women micro-entrepreneurs to create, upgrade and sell products that continually profit and can be permanently traded.

With technical and funding assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women (GREAT Women) Project is a governance and capacity development  project that aims to promote and support a gender-responsive enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment, particularly those in microenterprises.   On the other hand, ECHOSI Foundation is a non-profit, social enterprise organization that ‘levels-up’ and promotes products of local enterprise groups, women microenterprise groups and cultural communities. 

The ECHOsi Foundation grew out of the need of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle, the pioneering green retail store, to organize the developmental efforts which the founders, Chit Juan, Jeannie Javelosa and Reena Francisco were doing all over the country since 2009.

Within 2012, GREAT Women Project and ECHOsi Foundation sought for women-produced community products in Quezon, Metro Naga in Camarines Sur, Bohol, Iloilo, Leyte, Davao del Sur and PALMA+PB Alliance in North Cotabato, Today, products of women micro-entrepreneurs once sold only as generic products in communities, have been upgraded with the technical assistance of product and design experts from GREAT Women Project, the ECHOsi Foundation and national government agencies.

  Improved products have either found their way to markets outside their municipalities, while higher quality specialty products were selected to form an exclusive GREAT Women brand.  The GREAT Women brand is a marketing and branding platform to help a distinct product line of upscale food products, lifestyle goods and other artisanal products made by women micro-entrepreneurs throughout the country.  Through the partnership, market access has been reached and women have seen their community products turn into high-value specialty products with ready markets. Here are some stories of women micro-entrepreneurs participating in the Intensive Design Clinic Series. 

Indigenous woman weaver 

Indigenous tribeswoman Vivencia Mamites, 38 years old, is one of only five women handed down with the knowledge and techniques of making inabal, a traditional cloth of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe.  She learned inabal weaving from Salinta Monon, a national artist by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) awarded for her legendary weaves of traditional Bagobo textiles.  At present, Vivencia recreates the 11 inabal woven designs handed down by her grandmother, Lingnan Manuel, whose designs were usually interpretations of the skyscape. Inabal was traditionally used as the garment weave for ancestral royalty, and worn traditionally for the tribal day of the Managa when the datu would seek inabal woven costumes for the town parade.

Vivencia’s weaves lack new buyers and she only gets little income from weaving. She had long held to hopes that her inabal would find potential buyers in trade seminars and fairs.    Vivencia’s participation in the Intensive Design Clinics Series in August and November 2012 led designers to discover her woven creations. Designer Len Cabili of Filip & Inna, a designer brand catering to an “trunk show” and oline export market has agreed to make an inabal collection for the GREAT Women brand launch.   The order for inabal weaves will bring in business opportunities to Vivencia and traditional inabal weavers in Bagobo.  Vivencia is grateful that the GREAT Women Project and ECHOsi Foundation have helped her improve the quality of inabal weaves and the chance for inabal weaves to reach the national and international markets. 

Producer of cassava chips

Another story, Emelia Galia, 43 years old, is a woman micro-entrepreneur who leads a group of ten cassava chips makers, known as the Bubon Food Processors Food Association in Baybay Leyte. Her participation in the Intensive Design Clinic Series, allowed her to develop new variants for cassava chips or cabcab.   Cassava chips were reformulated to new flavors such as malunggay, munggo, sweet and sour. These new variants were sold out in an instant when market-tested in the Bahandi Regional Trade Fair in Manila last November 2012.

Before the Intensive Design Clinic Series, Emelia Galia saw that women micro-entrepreneurs in her group found it hard to sustain their food association. “Unless these women are paid on hand, no one stays working for the association really, ” Galia states as a matter of fact. But with the Intensive Design Clinic Series, Galia became encouraged that their cabcab food business “could become big”.  “I continue to encourage them that the business could grow, while we have access to different ideas, variants, and most importantly new markets through GREAT Women Project interventions.” 

Weaving trainer of women

Ludivina Boston, 65 years old, is a weaver from Midsayap in North Cotabato. She worked in a home-weaving business since the 1970s, and was able to train six other women on handloom weaving at the Rural Improvement Club in Midsayap. For a time, she opted to take a sewing job in Manila, and temporarily shelve plans of being a self-made entrepreneur.  “I had no plans of going back to Cotabato, if not for the GREAT Women Project”, Ludi Boston recalled. But participating in the GREAT Women Project-sponsored Intensive Design Clinic from the local area coordinator in January, she is willing to try once more in reviving women loomweavers belonging to the Rural Improvement Club of Midsayap and later re-settling in Midsayap.  She found that the women weavers she trained discontinued weaving because of experiencing financing difficulties, while their looms were either sold or dismantled.” 

“But I am not giving up. Through this project, I know I can help women from our town to be more productive. Encouraging women to work will succeed if you let them see that markets exist and that you have the capital to pay for the price of their labor,” Ludi shares her learning from the GREAT Women Project capacity development initiatives. Vivencia, Ludi and Emelia are just three among many other women who became revitalized entrepreneurs and women leaders, through the partnership of GREAT Women Project and ECHOsi Foundation.  Selected and upscaled women’s products will be introduced to the public on March 19, 2013 at the Yuchengco Museum at the RCBC Plaza, Makati City. 

Source: GMA News