Women microentrepreneurs in Bicol get postpandemic lifeline | Inquirer Business

Women microentrepreneurs in Bicol get postpandemic lifeline

/ 02:02 AM November 05, 2023

SHE’S THE BOSS Rowena Ermino of Sorsogon runs a “pasalubong”store and food house that employs more than 20 people. —PHOTOS FROM STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

SHE’S THE BOSS Rowena Ermino of Sorsogon runs a “pasalubong” store and food house that employs more than 20 people. —PHOTOS FROM STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

Two women entrepreneurs from Bicol lost their once-thriving business because of the pandemic. But their grit and resilience—along with a little funding push—allowed them to pivot to lucrative new enterprises.

Jenifer Conel-Chancoco and Rowena Erminio each turned their “aha! moment” into their next big business idea, but they needed more elbow room. Luck was on their side because there were financial institutions ready to support them.


Chancoco, who hails from Pili, Camarines Sur, says that selling seems to be embedded in her DNA. Her entrepreneurial journey began in high school, when she sold trinkets to her classmates. When she married Domingo Chancoco III, they ventured into selling vegetables.


Being a produce vendor was a tricky business, she says, because it involved perishable goods. The pandemic-induced lockdowns made it doubly hard. With her mounting losses, she decided to shut down her business. “The travel restrictions during the lockdowns made it difficult to source vegetables. We [previously] got our vegetables from Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya. The price of diesel also went up, so we had to give up our truck because it was no longer sustainable,” she explains in Filipino.

From ‘gulay’ to ‘ukay’

The 32-year-old reckons that it was the lowest point in her life. And yet, she had to earn a living for her 4-year-old son, Prince Jewel. One day, Chancoco thought of selling ukay or secondhand clothes. “My story is from gulay (vegetables) to ukay. I bought a bulk of shorts from a supplier of secondhand clothes. But by the time I received the clothes, Pili was already in lockdown,” she says.

She was discouraged to continue her business as she felt the timing was off. But as she had to sell her inventory, she turned to online selling. “I started posting on Facebook. I was surprised that there were a lot of customers there. A month later, everything was sold out,” she explains.

After setting up her Facebook page called Queen’s Boutique by Jeni-F, she decided to buy more clothes to sell. “I only sold to my friends during the first months. Suddenly, I had 200 followers. I reached 800 followers in June 2021. That’s when I thought of doing the live selling,” Chancoco says.

She recounts that she only had 20 viewers during her first ever live selling, but she was able to sell P2,000 worth of products in two hours. Through this experience, she learned that consistency and fun are important elements to attract more viewers.

Fast forward to January 2023, Chancoco’s business as a supplier of secondhand bulk clothing has flourished. “I was once again a proud owner of a truck. But I needed extra funds to sell all those clothes,” she says.


SCB-TSPI microlending

She found the lifeline she was looking for in Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Foundation COVID-19 Recovery Program.

The oldest international bank in the Philippines partnered with leading microfinance institution Tulay sa Pag-Unlad Inc. (TSPI) to provide affordable funding to restore, diversify and expand microbusinesses led by the youth and women microentrepreneurs.

Since its launch last year, it has benefited more than 400 youth and women-led businesses. Some of the recipients have re-availed themselves of the financing and are now on their second, bigger loan cycle to further boost their operations.

This microlending program is in line with Futuremakers by Standard Chartered, the British bank’s global program that tackles inequality by supporting disadvantaged youth, especially women, through initiatives along three pillars: education, employability and entrepreneurship.

“Standard Chartered promotes economic inclusion and one of the most effective ways to do this is to support micro, small and medium enterprises. It is humbling to see the positive outcomes of the project and meet some of the young women entrepreneurs who turned adversity into opportunity during the pandemic,” says Mai Sangalang, head of corporate affairs, brand and marketing at SCB Philippines.

PRELOVED WARE Jenifer Chancoco (second from left), an“ukay-ukay” trader and online seller in Pili, Albay, poses with Standard Chartered Bank officers and staff. SCB Foundation partnered with microfinance firm TSPI for “Futuremakers” COVID-19 recovery lending program.

PRELOVED WARE Jenifer Chancoco (second from left), an “ukay-ukay” trader and online seller in Pili, Albay, poses with Standard Chartered Bank officers and staff. SCB Foundation partnered with microfinance firm TSPI for “Futuremakers” COVID-19 recovery lending program.

Instead of turning to informal lenders who charge usurious rates, Chancoco is proud to be a “futuremaker.” “I was surprised with the ease of availing funds as well as the reasonable terms of payment [of the program]. The entire process only took two days,” she says.

SCB employees also conducted a learning session on product marketing and entrepreneurship to teach the beneficiaries how to build brand awareness, reach new markets and increase their sales.

Chancoco used the additional funds to expand her small shop, which has already doubled in size and is undergoing renovation. Her ukay business earns P20,000 to P50,000 every week. “I use my earnings to pay for the insurance policy of my family and also for some beautification projects for our house,” she says.

From saleslady to business owner

Erminio used to be a saleslady at Centro Mall in Sorsogon before she became a business owner. When she married Aaron Erminio, she helped manage the small pasalubong (souvenir) center owned by her husband’s family. It was doing well and able to finance her husband’s dialysis sessions—until the pandemic forced them to close shop.

Around that time, Erminio needed to raise money for her husband’s dialysis. She turned to SCB and TSPI’s recovery program for funds to start a small business.

“I bought pili nuts with the money I got. My husband and I learned to process the pili nuts so we can sell it on Facebook,” the 33-year-old explains. It was also during the pandemic when the couple perfected the recipe for their now bestselling Pancit Malabon.

As tourists started coming back when restrictions were eased in 2021, the couple opened a small food house in Irosin to sell their products. From a small outlet, their business, called Wenay’s Pancit Malabon and Pasalubong Center, has added four more branches and now employs more than 20 people.

During the peak season, the business earns a monthly average of P800,000 to P1 million. Erminio feels giddy whenever she hears people say something like, “Weng used to be a saleslady, but look at her now; she has hit the big time!”

Providing livelihood to other people motivates Erminio to work even harder to grow her business. “I want to grow more so that I can help more people. It’s a good feeling that I am now in a position to help others,” she says.

Alice Cordero, executive director of TSPI, says the partnership with SCB will create more opportunities for individuals, families and communities, thus uplifting their lives through microenterprise development.

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“We are grateful for the chance to partner with SCB so that we can help more young entrepreneurs in our Bicol branches through the Futuremakers Project. This continuing endeavor will truly inspire and empower more of our members to deepen their faith, dream bigger and work hard and better for their families and for their communities,” she says. INQ

TAGS: Business, microentrepreneurs, postpandemic, Standard Chartered Bank

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