A Woman’s homebusiness – Working at home, connecting to markets abroad

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Women are a driving force in national economic development and their share in the labor force and the business sector continues to rise. They are involved in enterprises at all levels as managers and owners, and have made an important contribution to the growth of the national economy.

Such is the story of a woman entrepreneur from Talisay City, Cebu Province. Being a full-time mother and a businesswoman, Epie Labajo juggles the tasks of being a wife, mother to four children, and entrepreneur of her own native fashion accessories business.

As a businesswoman, she is entirely hands-on in her business. “I personally handle my business. It’s difficult to entrust the responsibility to someone else. If you want to profit, you must work hard,” she said.

Labajo started her business in 1991. Out of mahogany shells, dried banana trunks, coconut shells, and rice straw, she creates fashion earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, and ornaments that have kept her family business alive and booming. Trained mainly by experience as worker of an exporter of fashion accessories in Cebu, Labajo has managed to run her own. She has a steady stream of local customers and buyers abroad. To cope with huge capital requirement for producing the fashion accessories, Labajo said she requires an advance payment of 35 percent from her overseas buyers. “This way, I am able to buy the raw materials and pay the workers,” she explained.

With her bullish attitude, she has earned the reputation of being the neighborhood’s superwoman. Most of her hours are spent working, especially since her work shop is just in her house. Her days are well spent to the last minute because of the seemingly endless tasks: customers coming in to press for their orders, her children vying for some attention, deciding on what food to prepare for the family. But of course she has time to unwind and be with her friends. As the regional organizer of the Pambansang Tagapag-ugnay ng mga Manggagawa sa Bahay, Labajo encourages other housewives to be like her. “You can’t just be a full-time housewife, you also need to think of earning.” Her organization, the national network of home workers, recognizes the need to seek means to protect their rights as small-time business persons. While capital assistance and trainings are an external help, the key really is persistence, including external support. WINNER (Women in the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement), an initiative of UNDP with assistance from Italian Cooperation, has likewise helped Labajo in promoting her products through the Internet. “Our counterpart organization in Iloilo participated in training on e-commerce and gained access to overseas buyers,” she said WINNER aims to showcase the women’s products in the Internet for business matching and to consolidate suppliers for volume and quality as well as to strengthen the micro enterprises’ bid for global trade.

As a home-based entrepreneur, Labajo feels gratified to see that she has provided well for her family. “You strive on your own; you don’t reap what you did not sow.”

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Natural, organic farming practices engage community enterprises

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A community-based people’s initiative to promote the use of environment-friendly technology and innovative ways of caring for and conserving the resources in the environment has caught the imagination of micro and small-scale enterprises in the southern Tagalog region (Luzon) of the Philippines.

The initiative is known by its acronym, F.A.R.M.S.(Farmers’ Agricultural Resources and Management Services). Participating in this program are community farmers of selected towns in the provinces of Laguna, Batangas and Quezon.

Recently, the group of micro and small-scale farmers’ enterprises that are dedicated to advancing natural and organic farming practices have showcased their products (including fresh farm produce) at the F.A.R.M.S. resource and training center, which had been set up at a property located at San Fransiso highway, Tagaytay City (province of Cavite).

The two-hectare land property is ideal for locating training and demonstration workshops as well as other related activities, including ‘one-stop market place’ for organic and naturally-grown vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs.

Conceptualized and designed by Ms. Aleli Pansacola; president of Daila Herbal Community Enterprises and woman-leader and innovator of various wellness products, the F.A.R.M.S. resource and training center is hub of activities conducted by and for community enterprises and women from rural communities.

Participating in the development of the land property are various community-based farmers and enterprises by contributing materials and labor as well as ideas in setting up an integrated area for showcasing products and spreading the practical ways of farming without harming the environment and use of chemical inputs. The first-stage of land development which was recently inaugurated includes: Kiosks for selling/merchandising products and produce from backyard farms; pavilion which serves as business center and training hall for trainees from the communities; bamboo huts for accommodation; campsite for those who wish to set up tents instead of using the bamboo huts; activity center for socials and bonfire parties; and gardens for showcasing practical ways of natural and organic farming.

According to Ms. Aleli Pansacola, “the place will promote the use of environment-friendly technology and advance the women’s advocacy for natural and organic farming practices, environmental resources protection and management.” She added that through the Daila network of community enterprises, she hopes “to bring to the awareness of more people in more communities the benefits and advantage of natural farming methods as well as the need to take care of the environment which is an important capital of future ganerations.”

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Nepalese woman wins business prize, wows market at international fair

captionOne of the top business awards given by Nepal’s business community went to a woman entrepreneur who dreamt of becoming an employee but ended up as an employer instead. Sharada Rijal, who owns and runs her company called Milan Garments, also serves on the board of WEAN (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal). She bested other entrepreneurs, mostly men, for the national recognition in Nepal’s Search for Top Ten Best Entrepreneurs.

“I am honored to be selected as one of the best in the business in Nepal. Truly, an honor I share with all the women working for their rights in a society dominated by men,” she said.

“Why be an employee when I can be an employer instead? I can employ myself, for starters, then as the business grows my family, then others,” she quipped, provoking thought.

By that attitude alone, there is already the spark that makes a person suited to business. Indeed, quick thinking and bold decision making are characteristics of one who runs an enterprise. This is the measure for pitting one against others in the competitive field of business, tough and straight talk in cutting deals and keeping the wheels of production turning.

When Sharada led a business mission to the Philippines, as participant in Manila International Fair, she brought with her representative products of companies belonging to members of WEAN. Many fair visitors were impressed with the variety of items, from herbal products, gems and fashion accessories, food delicacies and crafts, including Milan Garments’ product line of pashmina shawls, stoles, jackets. She was pushing for the products of her fellow women entrepreneurs at WEAN like they were hers, more than she did her pashmina shawls.

“The clients here in the Philippines do not go for warm garments, so I had to promote more relevant items from Nepal. But garments and hats are really my line and these are destined for the west,” she explained. Very intricately woven, colored with vegetable dyes and with typical Nepalese designs, the pashmina shawls could easily be on the shelves of high priced boutiques in Manila and Hong Kong, elsewhere.

Balancing the roles of wife, mother and entrepreneur is the biggest challenge of all. She does not consider the role of wife and mother an extra burden, but rather as an inspiration that keeps her going in her business.

“While I am attending to business, half of my mind is on household matters. But somehow, I can give both a hundred percent attention. It’s not a choice between one over the other. Both are important responsibilities I have to meet.”

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A woman-led Philippine company pioneers in Asia-Africa technology cooperation

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A shipbuilding project in Ghana, West Africa, involving a woman-led Philippine company, has been implemented with the training of Ghanaians at a shipyard facility in General Santos City, Mindanao in Southern Philippines.

A first-ever interregional technical and economic cooperation, the project is a multi-party private sector initiative for the purpose of upgrading and modernizing the fishing industry in Ghana. The project was packaged by Rainbow Fish Consultants of the Netherlands, which was introduced by the Technological Information Promotion System to the Philippine fiberglass-hulled boat maker, Stoneworks Specialists International Corporation.

The initial discussion on the terms of cooperation and the subsequent negotiations resulted in an exchange visit of the principals of the major business partners from both the Philippines and Ghana. These activities culminated in the signing of an agreement at a ceremony held in Accra, Ghana, where major partners and associate partners were present to seal the arrangements for implementing the project. Participating in the implementation of the project are: DaySeaDay, which will export fish catch to Europe; SARFABLES (San Roque Fishermen Association/Bigkis Lakas Eastern Samar), which will train the Ghanaian fishermen; and a Ghanaian NGO, Gratis Foundation, which will recruit the shipyard personnel for training.

According to Stoneworks Chief Executive Officer / President Marilyn Ong, “the role of the Philippine company is to transfer the technology in building fiberglass-hulled fishing boats and to provide the skills in fishing operations. On the other hand, the role of the main Ghanaian partner, Inter-Seas Fisheries Ltd Ghana, is to help modernize the inland and marine fishing fleets and upgrade the fish processing industry in Ghana.”

“Together, these partners, along with associate partners, will engage in a major effort to address the need of the fishing industry in West Africa while contributing to environmental sustainability of the Ghanaian forests. It is noted that building of wooden dugout canoes in Ghana has taken a heavy toll on the forest resources of the country.”

“Under the project, it is envisaged that 9,000 wooden boats will be replaced within 5-6 years, with a projected replacement rate of 1,500 – 1,800 per year. For commercial fishing vessels, about 500 will be replaced with modern fishing vessels made of fiberglass, at a yearly construction rate of 30 – 40 trawlers,” Ms. Ong said.

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A success story: skills training brings hope, self-worth to women in rural communities

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Busy with cross-stitch work, a group of mothers in their early twenties to late thirties engage in hush-hush talk about problems of family life and how they are coping with it. In the background, cries of babies being given nutrition care by visiting health workers distract the attention of mothers. Now and then, they cannot help but give a hand in pacifying the fretful children. Such is the scene of a typical day at the Children’s Clinic of Kasipagan, an association of mothers’ clubs in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental (Philippines).

For many women from these communities in once was land of sugar plantations, it means doing livelihood work while taking care of their little ones. Thanks to the leadership of June Villarante, the prime mover of Kasipagan, this has been made possible. Making the most of the time at home while attending to their young ones, mothers can produce something for which a market need can be identified. All it takes is the production skill to start with, and the support services to see the products through to its buyers. The latter is what June does as business manager and marketing agent of Kasipagan for the mothers/producers.

In the 1980s, sugar prices collapsed worldwide and spelled disaster for the sugar-producing provinces of Negros. Families were badly affected as the fathers/breadwinners soon found themselves without any incomes. Some of the unemployed men were able to eke out a living ferrying passengers in pedicabs, but the daily income was not enough for their families. Oftentimes, to augment the family income, the wives took jobs as laundrywomen, househelpers or caregivers in more affluent neighborhoods in the community. But such work took its toll as it kept the mothers away from their children who soon became malnourished, even sickly.

Desperate, various women’s groups or mother’s clubs banded together and sought help for their malnourished children. Thus, the San Carlos Children’s Clinic was established to give venue for extending much needed health care and nutrition supervision to children in these communities.

Someone suggested that some skills training be given to mothers who frequented the clinic. Since it had been established that the major cause of malnutrition in the communities was poverty, it was hoped that the mothers can gain from learning new skills, such as embroidery, and use this new skill to augment their families’ incomes.

“The Clinic has fully rehabilitated around 1,000 malnourished children to date. Of the mothers who went through the skills training on hand embroidery, 300 became the core producers of Kasipagan. Most of the products we make find demand from overseas buyers. It merely shows how competitive our cross-stitched products have become. For the women who broke into entrepreneurship, this means a lot, in terms of self-worth and confidence to face the future,” June Villarante reported.

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Local government units support women’s economic empowerment, small business start-ups

PhotoThe participation of local government in the economic empowerment of women, particularly in developing their capacity to engage in livelihood activities, is an important factor in building sustainable and transformative communities.

Women have embraced the triple bottomline concept in nurturing their small business start-ups, at the local level, and linking up with other like-minded individuals to introduce their products to larger markets.   These women form associations to improve their negotiating skills in dealing with financiers, buyers and suppliers.

In the training courses for women, WINNER has emphasized not just the financial benefits from business, but also their social and environmental responsibilities, which together characterize a transformative business venture.

WINNER-Philippines has conducted over fifty training sessions in various localities around the country, in partnership with selected local government units. These directly benefited thousands of women in rural and depressed urban communities.

The local government plays an important role in these training programs as they provide the logistical resources, physical venue and facilities and even resources for mobilizing, and sponsoring qualified  women to participate in the capacity-building exercises on such subject  as enterprise-creation, availing themselves of trade opportunities and reaching markets as well as e-commerce tools.

Some of the local government units that joined hands with WINNER along with local people’s organizations of women are: Meycauyan (Bulacan), Buhi ( Camarines Sur), La Trinidad (Benguet), Sta Barbara (Iloilo), Kabacan (N. Cotabato), Sorsogon City (Sorsogon), San Pablo (Laguna), Batangas City (Batangas), Las Pinas  (National Capital Region) Tagbilaran (Bohol), Santiago (Isabela), among others.

From the start of WINNER in 2000 up to present, more than 12,000 women from Asian and African countries participating in the UN Women-sponsored program received technical assistance and guidance in developing their enterprises as well as in gaining access to trade opportunities. Some 10,000 women’s products are currently promoted through web portals.

 

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Information communication technology keeps women in micro, small enterprises engaged in markets

Cover PhotoA number of women in micro and small enterprises from selected developing countries across Asia have realized life-changing results from their involvement in the economic empowerment global project of Unifem (now UN Women).

The project has provided training courses on enterprise management, international trade practices and e-commerce as well as customized assistance to women entrepreneurs seeking business contacts outside their domestic markets.

The project called WINNER (Women into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement) has received numerous letters of compliments and critical views on the project going forward to the next stage.  Experience of these women-beneficiaries has been documented and compiled in a monograph prepared by Devnet, the project execution agency tasked by Unifem (UN Women)/UNDP.

Researchers-writers were commissioned to interview a random sampling of women-micro entrepreneurs in the local communities.  Their stories gave insightful information on how they as start-up business people in their communities,      grew their business ventures and used the Internet to find new markets.

Some testimonial letters received from the women-beneficiaries of the WINNER project  revealed interesting breakthroughs for them in reaching distant contacts and clients.  Some excerpts of these business letters are:

We have been benefited with new skills when we took part in the training organized by WINNNER in Zimbabwe.  Since then we have managed to improve our business linkages though the Internet…. Now my company is doing business with a partner in India…

I am one of the rural women who took part in the e-commers training held in Mountain Province (Philippines) a couple of years ago.  I remember the advice of the WINNNER trainor who encouraged me to introduce my products to the international market by using the internet and sending my product and business profiles for inclusion in electronic market place of WINNER.  Indeed after several months, an importer from Australia tapped my company to supply its requirements…

My association with WINNER has provided me an opportunity to establish business contacts in Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria and Georgia. Later, through WINNER, I was introduced to business contacts in Ivory Coast and Ghana, with the assistance of a Dutch organization that was  collaborating with WINNER… 

 

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Filipino women bat for sustainable agriculture through research and development

Women in farming communities and leaders from various sectors of Philippine society recently joined an open dialogue on the role of women and their contribution in agriculture.  Theme of exchange of ideas and experiences was “Women in Rice Farming”. The dialogue was one of various activities lined up for the celebration of the National Year of Rice 2013.

Among those who attended the program to share their experiences and insights were last year’s awardees in the search for outstanding women in rural development.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) along with the Philippine Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Commission on Women have joined efforts in advancing women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition and promoting environmental sustainability through research and technology development and improved farming practices.

Rice affects the lives of people, in particular the hundreds of millions living in rural areas around the country.   Rice production provides staple food, livelihood and income for poor rice-farming communities.

The event also showcased to members of media and representatives of civil society organizations the research and development breakthroughs of IRRI in developing rice varieties that grow well in harsh conditions. Featured was its latest rice variety called “golden rice” which has been found to be rich in beta-carotene, iron and zinc.

In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7 million children and one out of every ten pregnant women. Golden rice variety shows a potential way to reduce malnutrition.

According to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization, women play an important role in supporting their households and communities as well as in achieving food and nutrition security. They also contribute to the local economy through their agrienterprises.

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Philippines is Asia’s best performer in closing gender gap, ranks 5th in the world

The Philippines is Asia’s best performing country in closing gender disparity this year, according to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report.

Previously in eighth position, the Philippines has climbed to fifth spot besting other Asian and non-Asian countries.

Iceland remains at the top while Finland placed at the second spot. The remaining top countries are as follows: Norway (3rd), Sweden (4th), Philippines (5th), Ireland (6th), New Zealand (7th), Denmark (8th), Switzerland (9th) and Nicaragua (10th).

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), this is the first time the Philippines entered the top five list of countries “due to small improvements in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindexes.”

The report furthers that the Philippines ranked 10th on the Political Empowerment subindex and “remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the Index. Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health.”

The country garnered 0.783 points, higher than 2012’s 0.776 and 2011’s 0.7685.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the lead policy-making and coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns, is elated that its efforts are now paying off.

The collective hard work of government agencies, non-government and civil society organizations, academe and various stakeholders proves that the country indeed is recognizing and valuing women as active drivers of development.

“Though this improvement in rank reflects that gender disparities are narrowing, we cannot be overconfident because the index does not show overall development levels which are still wanting”, the PCW said.

“Efforts to keep children in school, to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres of society as stated in the Philippines Magna Carta of Women”.

Recent trend showed an increased number of women winning in the last elections. There are six women senators out of 24 and 79 women legislators in the House of Representatives, while 647 women occupy third level positions as opposed to 749 men.

 

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Nepalese women garner volume sales at handicraft expo

Pooling their efforts to stage the biggest ever and the best handicraft product exposition, women in micro and small enterprises in Nepal recently held a five-day trade event to cap a year-long series of activities.

In 2012, women in Nepal participated in various products shows around the country and in trade expositions in the South Asian region.

For the outstanding participation of women entrepreneurs, accolade was accorded them, resulting in robust sales and volume of pledged orders during the year-ender product show. This was acknowledged by Nepal’s Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun, when he extolled the outstanding efforts of Nepalese women during his speech at the opening ceremonies.

Among the product bestsellers at the trade event were: woolens, silk garments, handlooms, toys, natural dyes, pashminas, holiday ornaments, shawls, baby stuffs, candles, felt products, table mats, embroideries, teas, rugs and carpets.

The women’s enterprises that took center stage at the product exposition were joined by non-government organizations that champion social entrepreneurship. Two of the prominent NGOs were: Women for Human Rights and Entire Power in Social Action. These groups exhibited the best products from their respective beneficiaries and constituents. These included: various herbal teas, nettle and cotton bags, bed sheets, table cloths and gift items for all occasions.

The positive reaction of buyers and visitors at the trade event was such that some of the women entrepreneurs were practically guaranteed orders to last throughout 2013.

WINNER-Nepal has been very active in improving the capacity of women in micro and small enterprises by conducting skills training, marketing seminars and various capacity-building forums. Some of these training programs centered on quality management, access to markets, use of information technology tools, cooperation and competition, among others. These activities were jointly conducted with cooperation partners, particularly the Women Entrepreneurship Development Forum of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

 

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