Product design clinics level up capacity of women’s enterprises for market competitiveness

In a highly competitive marketplace, product brand identity creates an edge over other products. In many cases, the identity results from an innovative process that brings out the commercial appeal of the product to buyers. Concept, eco-friendly material, craftsmanship, price and production consistency combine to make the product a cut above the rest.

Aware of the need of microenterprises to have a fighting chance in the global marketplace, the Philippine Commission on Women recently launched a nationwide drive to help women’s microenterprises level-up their capacity to come up with products that are world class in design and quality. Through its GREAT Women (Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women) Project, it engaged the cooperation of ECHOSI (Enabling Communities with Hope and Opportunities Sustainable Initiatives) Foundation to field to various regions around the country a team of product design consultants.

GREAT Women is a 5-year project which aims to support and promote the economic well-being of women through increased access to training, credit, technology and microenterprises. It is supported by the Canadian government through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with a grant to the Philippine Commission on Women.

Intensive product design clinics drew women in micro/small enterprises to take advantage of the expertise and experience of world-class product designers who volunteered their talents and time to help women entrepreneurs embrace the innovation process in product creation and production.

The design clinics are interactive sessions that include discussion of the elements of product design, factors of market appeal of products as well as critique of products of women’s enterprises, with  the view to giving them strong brand identity and attraction to buyers. The inaugural design clinic was held in Lucena City, Province of Quezon and subsequent design clinics will be conducted in Camarines Sur, Bohol, Leyte, Davao, North Cotabato and Ifugao Province. These locations have been pre-identifical as areas where there is abundance of unique raw materials for products, concentration of women in micro/small enterprises as well as potentials for product brand identify take off.

To enter new markets, women’s micro/small enterprises must focus on consistent high product quality as well as strong and reliable production capacity. Once products are viable in the market, easily microfinance for capital becomes available to help these women’s enterprises scale up their business, increase earnings and attain financial freedom. Among the important topics taken up during the clinics are: eco-friendly packaging, price competitiveness, continuing research and development (innovation) as well as keeping abreast of developments in the marketplace and trends in buyers’ preferences.

Present at the launching of the first of roving product design clinics were: designers Jeannie Javelosa and Tess Pasola, former Ambassador Romy Manalo, Imelda Canuela of ECHOSI Foundation, Pablito Budoy of the Department of Trade and Industry and Jenny Ann Nabia of the Department of Science and Technology.


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Bangladeshi women rediscover market opportunities for business sustainability

Regional cooperation through business exchange and sharing of economic benefits has surged in some parts of the world, particularly in South Asia. This has deepened the spirit of cooperation and interdependence among players in filling consumer needs where supply is short from one country but substantial from a neighboring country.

Recently, a major trade fair sponsored by SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation), an economic forum of the countries in the South Asia region, drew producers, suppliers, wholesalers and retailers and various industry leaders to a common venue for starting direct contact and negotiation with their counterparts for business relations. Women entrepreneurs from Bangladesh were among the exhibitors in the fair.

Women who belong to the WINNER-Bangladesh network took advantage of the opportunity to reinvigorate business relations with markets closer to home, even as their traditional markets overseas are shrinking due to economic troubles spawned by the global economic crisis.

The women leaders who participated in the 9th SAARC Trade Fair in Lyonpo Khandu Mangchuk, Bhutan are: Tahmina Khan, Sharmin Ahmed, Rabiya Mahfuj, Parveen Hossain, Alfroza Sultana, Barnaly Chowdhury Lopa, Sonia Hoque, Latifa Akter Lata, Mazeda Khatun and Naharih Chowdhury. These women are makers and exporters of home textiles, imitation jewelry, jute products, handicrafts and garments, among others.

WINNER-Bangladesh has been conducting various training courses for existing women’s businesses as well as women who are planning to go into business. The training curriculum covers various aspects of improving business sustainability as well as modern business practices and information and communication technology tools.

According to WINNER-Bangladesh Director Dil Alfroze, the WINNER project has provided new skills to women and strengthened their capacities to sustain their businesses.

“Our training courses for these women have prepared them to compete in the marketplace and equipped them with the tools to sustain the growth of their businesses. Many of these women have contributed to the improvement of the conditions of life, for themselves and their employees, as they have attained financial independence,” she said.

“While ever increasing numbers of women are entering the labor force, particularly in the micro and small-scale enterprises and informal sectors, women continue to face discrimination and dominate low-paying jobs. Nevetheless, women’s initiatives in the production and trade fields have been recognized as these represent a vital economic resource.”

WINNER Project was launched in Bangladesh in 2001. The training cycles included basic computer skills, Internet/e-commerce, entrepreneurial management, fair trade practices, business documentation, export procedures, among others. The women who are participating in  the project have produced impressive results. Women home workers have become formal business women, obtaining trade licenses and certificates.


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Nepalese women in MSMEs sharpen business tools for innovation and leadership

To manage risks and enhance quality business decision-making. Nepalese women who are engaged in micro, small and medium enterprises recently participated in a series of training programs designed to prepare them for greater challenges in the field of business.

Co-organized by the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and WINNER-Nepal, the short skills-upgrading courses provided the women entrepreneurs preparation to deal with issues and problems associated with the dynamics in the workplace, disruptive situations in the industry and uncertainties in the changing conditions of markets. The training programs included: negotiation skills in crisis situations; aim-oriented performance appraisal; strategic planning; and leadership development.

Recent political turbulence and industrial desruptions, as Nepal transitioned from  monarchy to republican democracy, have impacted the nature of business and harmony between business owners and workers. To provide valuable lessons from the experiences during the transition period, the organizers of the training program on negotiation and crisis management invited experts and leaders in the business community, to share their insight and expertise as resource persons: Sanu Raja Shilpakar of the Lalitpur Chamber Commerce and Raja Dharubhadel of Bhaktapur Chamber of Commerce as well as Dharma Shakya of the Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal.

Productivity has been a continuing challenge to business organization, particularly in light of trends in the emerging markets overseas. To cope with keeping financially healthy businesses, and improving productive capacities, a short-term training course was conducted to provide women entrepreneurs the basic tools in assessing performance, measuring results and using the insight from such evidence-based data for strategic planning and development of business. For this, the organizers invited a resource person from the academe, namely Prof. Timila Yani Thapa of the Institute of Engineering, University of Tribhuvan, who showed the participants the practical applications of metrics and insights from data and information as basis for plotting a course of action for business.

Harmony in the workplace is vital to business growth and development.  Achieving harmony can best be enhanced by two-way communication.  Motivating people to work together is also a challenge to leadership in a business organization.  Invited to handle the training session on innovation and business leadership was Dr. Niti Rama, director of the New Era Career Development Academy.

Some sixty women from micro, small and medium enterprises across the country attended the training programs, with majority of them representing various industry sectors.

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Opening window of business opportunities for rural women though e-commerce

Thousands of women in rural communities in the Philippines have already gained access to opportunities in the global marketplace through the Internet, after having participated in the WINNER seminars-workshops on Internet e-commerce, international trade practices and enterprise management.  These women are engaged in micro and small enterprises, producing various goods and products that are slowly gaining exposure to international buyers.

Sponsored by UN Women, WINNER program is implemented by Devnet in selected developing countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

In the Philippines, the Technological Information Promotion System /Devnet implements the WINNER program (Women into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement), and has already conducted a number of roving seminars/workshops in selected local communities around the country. This is done in collaboration with non-government organizations and local government units, thereby directly benefiting over 10,000 women micro/small entrepreneurs since the start of the program in 2000.

Among the major partners of WINNER program are: (Northern Luzon) STREAMS, Benguet Entrepreneurs Association, National Tribal Council of Elders of Cordillera; (Southern Luzon and Visayas) Pambansang Taga-Ugnay ng Manggagawa sa Bahay (Patamaba); (Mindanao) Kababaihang Kaagapay at Kasama sa Hanapbuhay (KAKASAHA). In the micro/small enterprises sector, women account for 90 percent of home-based livelihoods and business start-ups.  The competitiveness of these women’s enterprises depends on the conditions over which they have no control.   Thus, to address this need, networking for sharing knowledge and information on market opportunities improves their sustainability. Through the WINNER program, the products of these women’s enterprises are promoted online through various websites, thereby providing these enterprises exposure to markets and opportunity to be contacted for orders or sub-contracting by large exporters.

Majority of these women’s enterprises are engaged in agriculture and fishery products, food processing, handicrafts, body care products, garments and woven products, among others.

Partner organizations of WINNER host Help Desks,  consisting of computer with Internet connection to provide follow-up activities to the training conducted in local communities.  Some of these Help Desks are located in: La Trinidad, Benguet; Buhi, Camarines Sur; Santa Barbara, Iloilo; Surigao City, Las Piñas City, Baguio City; and Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Programme, during its recent celebration of International Day of Rural Women, recognized the outstanding contribution of women in rural communities to the well-being of their families and the development of their communities.

With the training on Internet/e-commerce conducted by WINNER for women in rural communities, a window of opportunity has been opened to these women.  Through the use of computer with Internet connection, these women are able to learn new skills and to manage social relations as well as improve work productivity. Tess Roseus, one of the participants in the WINNER training held in Tagaytay City, said: “With knowledge of Internet, I was able to network with women producers and buyers.  In fact, through the Internet, I received an order from one of the agencies of the government for conference bags to be used in an international conference.  I hope more companies get to know about us through the WINNER network…”


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Innovating knowledge and practice through women’s empowerment in rural communities

The relationship among decentralization reforms, local development processes and women’s empowerment is the core theme of Universitas Forum, a publication of Knowledge, Innovations, Policies and Territorial Practices for the UN Millennium Platform (KIP). The publication highlights case studies from the perspective of those who actually contributed to empowering women and who engaged in development issues.

According to Sara Swartz, director of KIP and coordinator of the Universitas Forum, “Knowledge is central to empowerment and this theme is treated from different angles in many of the case studies in the publication. Women’s knowledge, and that of poor rural women in particular, is often not acknowledged as such, and as part of the processes to strengthen women’s personal, economic and political empowerment, much effort has been made to help existing knowledge emerge and gain legitimacy. This has produced concrete benefits for women involved and for their communities. Their knowledge of traditional plants and indigenous vegetables are just two examples”.

The editorial materials in the publication are products of research projects jointly undertaken by KIP with Husiron Commission, International Development Research Center of Canada, UN HABITAT and UN Women.

Previously, KIP and Devnet agreed to cooperate through their respective programmes, namely IDEASS and WINNER, to build the supply of information innovations for human development and to disseminate the same to as many countries as possible, particularly throughout the developing regions of the world. Committed to work within the framework of the UN MDGs, both networks  have wealth of field experiences, particularly in the areas of practical and improved technology and best practices in stimulating sustainable development.

The IDEASS Programme (Innovations for Development and South-South Cooperation) works in collaboration with territorial human development programmes implemented by UNDP, UN Women, ILO and UNOPS in such countries as Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. On the other hand, Devnet undertakes activities that contribute to the economic empowerment of women that stimulates sustainable economic development in selected countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.


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Women’s trade show strengthens Nepal-Tibet economic cooperation

To increase economic cooperation between Nepal and the Autonomous Region of Tibet, representative women’s organizations from both economies recently put up a trade show to highlight various products with distinctive traditional designs and raw materials. The five-day trade show also drew eighty women’s businesses that cater to the export market.

Among the exhibitors from Nepal are women who belong to WINNER-Nepal: Mahalaxmi Shrestha, Bee Keeping Shop; Neera Vaidya, Neera’s Handicrafts; Parbati Shrestha, Palanchok Bhagwati Pashmina; Riddhi Amatya, Bluebell Herbals; Urmila Tamrakar, Peognanni Handicrafts. The products include: beads, crystals, stone jewellery, herbal soaps, oils, shampoos, herbal medicines, body care products, silver accessories, honey and honey-based products as well as various pashmina products.

Gracing the opening day of the two-country trade show were: Mr. Lekhraj Bhatta, Minister for Commerce and Supplies of Nepal; and Mr. Wu Xinjgie, Executive Vice-Chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. They visited the WINNER stalls and met the women entrepreneurs who explained to the visiting dignitaries the production process and unique selling features of their products. The trade fair is organized every year, alternately, in Kathmandu and Lhasa.

The show received a large number of visitors from China. All five WINNER entrepreneurs generated sales and also received new contacts for future business. Average sales for each day by each WINNER entrepreneur was not lower than USD 1,000. Of the five, sales were higher for honey, pashmina, beads and crystal jewellery.

According to the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), majority of the Nepalese women entrepreneurs are in the cottage industry, producing food stuffs, handicrafts, natural fiber, jewelry,   paper products, woolen ítems and garments.

Through trade fairs, selling missions overseas and forging cooperation with counterparts elsewhere in the world, these women’s enterprises have broken through to larger markets. Specifically, training courses on enterprise development, best practices, e-commerce, product development and export competitiveness as well as production quality standards have been regularly conducted for the benefit of these women’s micro and small enterprises in Nepal. Todate, numerous trainings on various subject matters have already been completed since the start of the FNCCI-DEVNET cooperation in implementing the WINNER program.


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Ending discrimination against women gets boost from Philippines-Spain project partnership

Recognizing the fact that discrimination against women is far from being eradicated, the governments of the Philippines and Spain entered into cooperation agreement in addressing gender disparities in the Philippines through the full implementation of the Philippine Magna Carta of Women.

The partnership aims to strengthen institutional capacities of national and local governance agencies in upholding the human rights of women and their economic empowerment. The partner organizations to take lead in fulfilling the commitments to support eradication of discrimination against women are the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

The cooperation agreement was formally signed by Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Jorge Domecq together with AEICD General Coordinator Vicente Selles Zaragozi, on the side of the Spanish government,  and PCW Chairperson Remedios Rikken of the Philippine Government.

According to PCW Chairperson Remedios Rikken, the Magna Carta of Women needs to be fully explained and advocated for, and government line agencies and local government units need to be assisted to execute their obligations under the law. “PCW, being a very small agency with tremendous responsibility, needs all the help in implementing the MCW mandate. The project partnership comes at a very crucial period in the full implementation of the provisions of this landmark legislation,” she said.

“Spain and Philippines are real partners for development in terms of common goals of poverty alleviation, reduction of inequality and promotion of inclusive development,” Ambassador Domecq said. He emphasized that gender equality should be a “real political priority” as it is fundamental in having a modern, democratic state committed to justice and solidarity.

The PCW-AECID project further boosts the capacity of PCW to fulfill its role in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the various provisions of the MCW. The three project components are: institutional capacity building of PCW; capacity development of oversight national government agencies, local government units, and non-government organizations; and strengthening local and national support and services for women’s economic  empowerment and human rights.

AECID General Coordinator Vicente Selles said that the Philippine Government is responsible for designing  and defining the strategies to correct gender inequalities. Speaking in Filipino language, he said: “Ang papel ng kababaihan sa pag-unlad ng Pilipinas ay napakahalaga para sa Cooperación Español. Kung walang kababaihan, hindi uunlad ang kinabukasan. Sa usaping ito, marami pa kaming maaring matutunan sa inyo (The role of women in Philippine development is very important for the Spanish Cooperation. There is no future without women. We have a lot to learn from you in this area of concern.)”

The PCW-AECID Project will have as partners various government oversight agencies, including National Economic Development Authority, Departmant of Budget and Management, Department of Interior and Local Government, Civil Service Commission, and Commission on Higher Education along with the provinces of Albay, Aklan, Iloilo, Mindoro Oriental, Sarangani and Surigao del Norte.


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Brand identity to create strong presence for Nepalese products in niche markets

With the increasing economic integration of the world brought about by globalization, it is crucial that Nepal should define and sustain its competitive advantage in various products bound for foreign markets. Advantage in the use of natural materials unique to Nepal coupled with available cheap labor and indigenous designs along with modern marketing practices could use added thrust to its export drive.

This was the gist of the recent training program on marketing held in Kathmandu, Nepal for business owners, manufacturers export consolidators, suppliers and aspiring or would-be entrepreneurs, particularly Nepalese women. Organized by WINNER-Nepal in coordination with Handicraft Design and Development Center (Handecen), Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal (FHAN) and the Women Entrepreneurship Development Committee of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), the program focused on further consolidating the presence of Nepalese products in the overseas niche markets which have significant demand for such products as crafts, arts, pashmina, lokta paper, silver jewelry and similar fashion items.

According to WINNER-Nepal Director, Ms. Nibedita Shrestha, “Nepal producers need to create a national identity for its products, particularly a distinctive brand that meets the criteria of quality, unique Nepalese designs, reliability and compliance with good manufacturing practices expected by importing countries. Further, as Nepalese products now cater to niche markets abroad, the brand identity will significantly contribute to its strength as competitively produced, designed and priced products.”

“A united and single identity serves the purpose of creating a strong presence for Nepalese products in the European markets, highlighting the originality of product design and craftsmanship unique to Nepalese artisans and crafts makers,” she said.

One of the main resource persons of the training program was Mr. Klaus-Peter Bergman, a marketing expert from Germany. He covered the topics on introducing Nepalese products to the European market through business fairs and product exhibitions.

Mr. Bergman advised the participants to pay close attention to preparation for fair participation by selecting the best and new product line, informing target buyers in advance by e-mail and other means of communication and making available product catalog for items to be exhibited at the fair.

He also urged the Nepalese producers to highlight in their products the unique selling prepositions such as the producers’ affiliation with Fair Trade, compliance with eco-friendly marks and similar quality standards that create advantage for the Nepalese products over other products from other countries.

“With national branding, product identity and right marketing strategy, Nepalese products will stand a good chance of meeting the competition challenge in the export market, particularly in Europe, as well as creating lasting relationship with buyers, wholesalers and retailers in Europe,” WINNER-Nepal Director Shrestha said.

Some of the women entrepreneurs from the WINNER-Nepal network who shared their success stories include: Ms. Darshana Shrestha of Nature Nepal (vegetable oil-based soaps); Ms. Sitara Rajbhandrai of Home Spices (organic spices); Ms. Sharada Rijal, producer of textile-based items; Ms. Sulochana Gosai and Ms. Junu Shrestha, both exporters of lokta paper products. The other women entrepreneurs represent the sectors on silver jewelry, metal crafts and pashmina.



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Youth, handicapped, elderly and indigenous people top agenda of women’s agency

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) will pay more attention to less popular concerns such as those about youth, handicapped,      elderly, indigenous people, electronic violence against women and climate change. This was declared by the PCW Chairperson Remedios Rikken during the agency’s recent celebration marking its 37th anniversary.

“It seems like such a long time ago when the world first started to recognize that women are partners of men in development,” chair Rikken recalled. “When the United Nations declared the First International Conference on Women in 1975, and the first generation of women leaders in the Philippines lobbied the national government for the establishment of what the UN calls the National Machinery for Women, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women was born,” she stated.

One of the critical development challenges of the Philippines is rapid population at a fertility rate of about 3.7.  Maternal mortality ratio is 172 per 100, 000 live births. More than six million women are considered at high risk should they become pregnant, as they are either too young or too old. The Philippines has a very young population. About sixteen million, young (15-24) are of reproductive age. More than three million belong to the age group of over 65 years.

In 1987, the government took the initiative of drafting the Philippine Development Plan for Women (PDPW), with the view to creating a planning environment that is sensitive to gender concerns. The blueprint is the strategic guide for the efforts of the national machinery for women. Since the adoption of the PDPW, the Philippine government has already listed milestone achievements in institutionalizing gender concerns.

The Philippine Commission on Women was instrumental in the Philippine ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Countries that ratified CEDAW commit to improve the status of women and end discrimination and violence against women.

The Magna Carta of Women, a landmark legislation, changed the name of NCRFW to PCW and transformed it from an advisory to a policy-making body. With new and complex issues emerging, PCW has equipped its staff and provided technical assistance to partners in government and civil society organizations in mainstreaming gender concerns in all aspects  of economic, social and political life of the nation.

The PCW, aside from its policy-making functions, is also a coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns under the Office of the Philippine President. As an oversight body in women’s concerns, the PCW acts as catalyst for gender mainstreaming.


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Rural women feted for outstanding achievement in sustainable agriculture and development

Five Filipino women were recently recognized for their achievement and work in promoting sustainable agriculture and development.  Each received the honor of being named most outstanding rural woman of the year.  The awards were presented by the Philippine Inter- Agency Committee on Rural Women composed of the Philippine Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Commission on Women as well as other relevant government agencies.

The recipients of the Outstanding Rural Women of the Year Awards were: Myrna Conmigo-Acayen (Goa, Camarines Sur): Remia Navarro-Apostol (Koronadal, South Cotabato); Rebeca Castro-Tubongbanua (Buenavista, Guimaras); Marina Tumala-Inapan (San Juan, Siquijor); and Virginia Dentero-Dureza (Brookespoint, Palawan).  They received each corresponding citation and cash prize.

Leading the awardees as Most Outstanding Rural Woman is Myrna Conmigo-Acayen, an integrated organic farmer from Goa, Camarines Sur.   She is a farmer-trainor  of MASIPAG, a non-government organization dedicated to diversified and integrated farming system.    She has been growing rice and vegetables following natural farming principles and practices.  Despite the fact that she was not able to finish high school  and got widowed twice, Acayen was still  able to provide for her children’s needs through hard work and dedication. She received Philippine pesos 50,000 cash prize and citation from the Philippine Department of Agriculture Gender and Development Focal System and the Inter-Agency Committee on Rural Women. In her acceptance speech, Acayen urged her fellow women farmers to recognize the equal rights of women and men and to embrace sustainable agriculture.

During the awarding ceremonies, Philippine Department of Agriculture Secretary Processo J. Alcala recognized the contribution of rural women in addressing hunger and cited their enormous untapped potential to generate results.  He said that rural women are not just “helpers” of their farmer-or fisher-husbands but also the decision-makers in looking for capital, selecting crops, handling recordkeeping of finances and paying of debts.

The national annual search for outstanding rural women is part of the worldwide celebration of “International Day of Rural Women”, which highlights rural women’s critical role in food production and food security.  This year’s theme is “Celebrating the role of rural women in sustainable food production.”

The search recognizes rural women who have excelled in  their fields of endeavor and made outstanding contribution in the field of agriculture and fishery, thereby making significant impact on the lives of rural folk in their respective communities.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, women worldwide produce 60 to 80 percent of the food  requirements in the developing countries.  For this reason, the whole world recognizes the multiple roles that women play, most notably as farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs in the food sector. Representing over a quarter of the world’s population, rural women greatly contribute to both the well-being of their families and the development of their rural economies.

“If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4.0 percent, thereby reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent,” Ann Tutwiler, United Nations Food Agriculture Organization deputy director-general said.

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