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Veteran banker pays it forward to PH ‘nanays’

Joey Bermudez’ Iskaparate showcases talent, tenacity of PH microentrepreneurs
/ 05:25 AM May 02, 2021

Joey Bermudez with his son Gabby in Canada. Gabby serves as Iskaparate’s Head of Technology.

After a stellar 40-year career in the banking industry, Joey Bermudez returned to the one thing he has always been most passionate about: social enterprises.

The birth of Iskaparate (www.iskaparate.com) came at a time when the Philippines, along with the rest of the world, was put under the strictest mobility restrictions in March last year because of the pandemic.

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“During the height of the lockdown, we saw an announcement from the Microfinance Council of the Philippines saying our micro entrepreneurs needed as much as help as they can get. Because they’re not able to sell, most of them sell only from home. That’s their factory. That’s also their store. People are not even allowed to walk in the streets. How can people see their products?” Bermudez said.

For him, the answer was simple: “Let’s put them online.”

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Building an “online tiangge”

Iskaparate is an avenue for entrepreneurial mothers to showcase their products even without a brick-and-mortar setup. The platform calls its members nanay, the Filipino term for mother. It is operated by Maybridge Financial Group, a company founded by Bermudez that specializes in SME lending.

The concept behind the platform was inspired by the idea of a “tiangge,” where stalls are right beside each other, selling a variety of products. Prepandemic, the tiangge was a popular choice for shoppers who want to haggle—and buyer and seller get to know their stories in the process because of the kwentuhan (conversation) that goes along with the negotiations.

Bermudez tried to replicate this online through Iskaparate, where nanays can promote their products and, at the same time, share their stories.

It’s the “selling style” in Iskaparate, Bermudez said. “It’s not the click and pay model. It’s talk, negotiate, agree, and then pay. It’s a challenge, that’s why it is difficult to bring them online, but it is possible,” he said.

In September last year, Bermudez and Maybridge launched Iskaparate, the éname inspired by “estante,” a showcase or shelf where sellers display their products. A lot of young Filipinos may not be familiar with this term, but “iskaparate” is a classic and timeless word.

KASAGANA-KA was the first organization to join Iskaparate.

The social development nongovernmental organization brought in 33 of their micro-entrepreneurs as the pioneer members of the online store.

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Of the 33 Nanays, 17 of them already had a combined total sales worth P2 million.

One nanay who provides air-conditioning cleaning services got a contract with one of the country’s largest shopping malls through Iskaparate.

Soon after, other organizations and programs joined Iskaparate, including the Office of the Vice President’s Angat Buhay, the Foundation for Enterprise Management Innovations, Inc., and GoNegosyo.

Iskaparate has since grown to about 129 members, and now includes a few tatays, ates, and kuyas—Filipino terms for father, older sister and older brother, respectively. For shoppers looking to revisit the flavors of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, there are also nanays who are Ilocano, Ilonggo, Gaddang and Maranao, among others.

Link distribution

Many people told Bermudez that microentrepreneurs aren’t cut out for online selling, but he thought otherwise.

“They mentioned concerns that to me are really valid. First of all, it’s expensive to go online on your own. Secondly, if you’re a one-man team, you probably won’t get noticed unless you have a large production capacity. Third, since a lot of them are between 45 and 60 years old, there is this natural fear of technology,” he explained.

Though some nanays were initially hesitant to go online, Bermudez pointed out how a lot of them were actually open to accepting digital payments, especially those who have already tried online selling.  They just needed help.

Bermudez said that he finds PayMongo “more applicable” to the nanays, as he emphasized the importance of link distribution for micro entrepreneurs.

“Link distribution is very important to the businesses of the nanays. When somebody looks at their products online, it is not as simple as select, click, checkout, pay. If for example a nanay sold bedsheets and someone orders 1,000 bedsheets, will the nanay be able to make them all? The customer first needs to negotiate with the nanay. Once they agree, that’s when the nanay will tell us that the customer will make a downpayment. Then we send the customer a PayMongo link,” he explained.

In addition to serving as a platform for the online store of nanays, Iskaparate endeavors to educate them on how to navigate social media platforms, especially those who are hesitant to use technology.

A battle for inclusion

Bermudez’ advocacy for social enterprises began when he was a young banker.

Throughout his career in large commercial banks, Bermudez tried convincing his colleagues that microenterprise borrowers are better borrowers than their corporate counterparts.

Right now, Bermudez sees Iskaparate as “90 percent advocacy and 10 percent business,” though he said they were slowly moving toward making the platform more business-oriented without being prohibitive for the nanays. Recently, Iskaparate registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

By June this year, Iskaparate looks forward to onboarding 1,000 nanays. And it is really just getting started. —CONTRIBUTED

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