Friday, 14 May 2010

Empowering women entrepreneurs

Bernardo M Villegas
Manila Bulletin

Among international organizations like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the United Nations, the Philippines ranks high in the measure of women's participation in the crucial sectors of society such as business, politics and the professions. It is often said that as a matriarchal society, the Philippines has few lessons to learn from many developed countries on how to give women the dignity they deserve in society. Filipino women's role in entrepreneurship is especially pronounced. A very large number of small businesses, especially in such sunrise sectors as food, fashion, education, tourism, and personal services are started by women who usually are wives looking for ways to augment the meager income of husbands who are practicing professionals (lawyer, doctors, engineers) or corporate employees.

The majority of these women entrepreneurs have had no formal business training. Although they generally come from middle class families, they do not have the financial capability of obtaining a formal business degree and are too busy growing their small businesses to attain any formal business education. Their potentials of generating employment among the lower-income households are quite high. They can be distinguished from the numerous other women coming from the poorer households who are the beneficiaries of micro-credit and micro-enterprise initiatives such as the Grameen Bank and ASA that have been adapted to Philippine conditions by a good number of NGOs. These micro-credit borrowers can effectively help their respective families overcome dehumanizing poverty by engaging in such traditional activities as market vending, food processing, sari-sari store operation, waste recycling, etc. These activities are very important for short-term poverty alleviation but are generally temporary occupations that will be abandoned once the entrepreneurs concerned are able to obtain other means of livelihood which can include being employed in other more sustainable businesses. Very few of these micro-enterprises are able to graduate to sustainable small and medium-size businesses that can be permanent sources of employment for the lower-income households.

To help women entrepreneurs attain long-term sustainability in the businesses they have established, Goldman Sachs started two years ago the 10,000 Women Initiative, a $100 million five-year program that is meant to improve business education in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, with a special emphasis on increasing the number of women who receive management training. As reported by Rebecca Knight in the Financial Times (March 8, 2010), more than 1,000 female entrepreneurs have already taken part in the program and many are already channeling what they learned into higher profits for their companies and new jobs in their communities.

As Ms. Knight reported: "The project was borne out of research conducted by the investment bank that indicated increasing the level of business education for women in developing countries could have a significant impact on driving economic growth as well as overall health rates. Educating women is also associated with greater political participation and the promotion of democracy...As part of Goldman's effort, more than 70 universities and non-profit groups in Europe and the US work with business schools in developing countries to train faculty and create local, culturally relevant certificate programs. The programs range from five weeks to six months and usually involve a combination of classroom learning and practical application. The courses cover everything from basic accounting and marketing to how to secure venture capital funding and creating a website."

Fortunately for the Philippines, it was chosen as the first country in the whole of Southeast Asia to participate in the 10,000 Women Initiative. In August 2009, the IESE Business School (one of the top MBA schools in the world) partnered with the University of Asia and the Pacific to offer a 150-hour certificate course on entrepreneurship and business management for women entrepreneurs in the Philippines. By February 12, 2010, two batches of women scholars had graduated from this program and another batch will start this month. Over the next four years, 400 scholarships will be awarded to qualified women entrepreneurs from all over the Philippines. Applicants must be Filipino citizens, with at least five years of experience managing their own businesses with potential of scaling up, with at least two years of tertiary education or equivalent training and a need for financial support to attend the training program.

One of the graduates from the first batch is Joy Ann Dimbuyu, who owns and manages an organic medicinal supplement manufacturing and trading business. She had been in business for five years before joining the program. The following is her testimonial: "Even if we came from different backgrounds, the training was the answer to what we were looking for. Personally, before I joined this program I wanted financial literacy and I learned it through the program. All of us who joined the program were empowered." Another graduate Felicitas Pantoja runs a coffee shop and restaurant in Davao City. The feedback the Program Director got from her is summarized in these words: "My ideas were outdated so it is refreshing to learn about the different technologies used in systematizing business operation such as reviewing employees' performances by using a grade system or behavioral question evaluation forms, etc. I learned how to systematize our inventory system, the laws on exporting products, online sales, Intellectual Property Right, and other matters dealing with the government." Perlita Abiog, who had been retailing computers for over 17 years, also had much to learn from the Program: "The program is very useful to entrepreneurs like us who ventured into business ill equipped with the skills needed to manage an enterprise. The knowledge that we have learned will definitely have a great impact on how we plan, manage and solve problems in our businesses."

Women entrepreneurs who meet the qualifications mentioned above should take advantage of this offer by Goldman Sachs. I am sure that women in business can be strongly motivated to help the country expand employment opportunities, especially for the underprivileged. They can personally contribute to this important social objective of business by improving their management skills through this program being offered in the Philippines by the University of Asia and the Pacific in close partnership with the IESE Business School. For the next batches, applications can be sent to or call (62) 637-0912 loc. 207 or (62) 334-3526. More detailed information may be found in the website: For comments, my email address is

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