Social enterprises make women’s groups viableBy Chit U. Juan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets yearly to discuss women issues for about two weeks at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.
For the 56th session of the CSW, I was asked by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to join them in a side event of the Philippine delegation last February 29.
As head of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (WBCP), I have been tasked since last year to sit in many events of the PCW to represent the business sector of women.
One of these projects is the Great Women Project (GWP), which is a flagship enterprise of the women agency together with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
I have attended meetings of the GWP in Davao and Manila and have visited some of their project sites such as the municipality of Pavia in Iloilo, where a model cooperative headed by Joy Palmada is making great strides in developing women-led enterprises.
Palmada’s women cooperative has taken over management of the municipality’s public market to the satisfaction of the local government.
One of the reasons why we are able to explain the sustainability of such women-led groups is our very own social enterprise called ECHOstore sustainable lifestyle.
My two partners, Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa, and I thought about putting up a specialty store to be able to showcase the country’s best products from small and micro-enterprises. That was in 2008, when we first opened ECHOstore in Serendra and we went around the country looking for products that could level up and be “dressed” for the global market.
We continue to do this search, and now with more partners like PCW’s Great Women Project, we are able to reach many more women communities.
My partners (while I was at the UN) had gone to Iloilo for GWP and then to Camiguin Island, this time supported by the New Zealand Embassy.
Many organizations look for the different kinds of “service” and “assistance” ECHOstore gives, as I am blessed with two artistic partners who are both good at creative stuff, and they actually operationalize ideas into actual products that we sell in our stores.
This is why I shared our ECHOstore story with the delegates of the UN meetings. The theme of the CSW session this year was helping rural women out of poverty.
Money not enough
Well, we have actually been doing this from the start and so it came naturally that if I just told the story of ECHO to our audience, they would appreciate that money alone cannot a person feed, sustainably that is.
You may feed her fish, but in teaching her (the rural woman), you will have to teach her about value chains and about moving up the chain, so to speak.
Secretary Soliman, for her part, shared the story about conditional cash transfers (CCTs), which alone cannot be sustainable, admittedly.
The little cash that a poor family can get their hands on should also be parlayed into a thriving enterprise, however small it is.
A few days before the UN event, I also shared my story about ECHOstore at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, held in two venues: The Kennedy School of Government the first day and at the Harvard Business School on the second.
Here, I was made to share how a social enterprise like ECHOstore can be a model for sustainability and how to “source from the Bottom of the Pyramid, or BOP.”
So I told the audience how we sourced our products mostly from rural women who had no market access and how we shepherded them to prepare their products for the global markets.
It was not coincidental that I was asked to speak about the same subject in two different venues. I think that anything involving women empowerment through business, sustainable social enterprises, and sourcing from the bottom of the pyramid are today’s hottest topics, be it at the UN, Harvard and even here at home.
A day after my arrival from the United States, I headed straight to Iloilo City to speak about the same subject: social Entrepreneurship. And a week after, I was asked to talk to a class in UA&P for Strategic Thinking using the green and sustainable business models.
The advocacy continues, and my speaking invitations continue to come.
With ECHOstore as our model, the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines as our advocacy group for policymaking, and the ECHOsi Foundation as our springboard for collaborations with international agencies, I can say today’s women groups are in a good place. Their talents will continuously be harnessed and their products will shine wherever we may put up an ECHOstore, or wherever these products may find markets.
At press time, we are all set to go to the World Expo in Yeosu, Korea, where Filipino products will be shown to the world.
(The author is founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms in Serendra and Podium malls. She also heads the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc.)
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