Prisoners Can Be Entrepreneurs

About a month ago, Rod Cornejo, who handles GMA7’s public relations and who is also a part time professor in Miriam College for Entrepreneurship, mentioned that he visited the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. He discovered that they have a school that teaches Entrepreneurship to more than 200 inmates. Rod asked if I would be interested to give a talk and inspire the inmates. We did better than to give a talk. We brought the man who turned around Channel 7 and made it into one of the most profitable companies, edging other networks as the number one channel.Atty. Felipe Gozon, a Trustee of the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship, has supported us in Go Negosyo after realizing that he should have been an entrepreneur much earlier. We also brought two of Go Negosyo’s very inspiring entrepreneurs, Merle Alferez and Jennilyn Antonio. Merle struggled with poverty since childhood. She even had to endure the constant beating from his father. This is what pushed her to fight for her dreams in defeating poverty. She never gave up her dream in finishing her studies, even if it means selling at the market and driving a tricycle at a young age to earn money. Today, she owns the very successful MSA Academic Advancement Institute, a review center that has earned a reputation for the standard and quality that they produce. Jennilyn, on the other hand, also has her share of struggles in life. She came to a point when she couldn’t feed her children three times a day. With an initial 500-peso worth of peanuts, she was able to establish her own negosyo. Now, she has her own Ehje’s Peanut Butter, which is sold in all SM Supermarkets nationwide. Her peanut butter is also used in leading bakeshops in the country like Julie’s Bakeshop and French Baker.

Going to Bilibid is truly an experience to remember. Before we went there last week, the last time I was there was back in the college days where we had a basketball game against the inmates. That was a long time ago. Being there once again was a different experience. We had our forum at the Medium Security Prison, where inmates have a 20-year and below sentence. The Bureau of Corrections Director Oscar Calderon was a former general. His vision of prison was not a place for punishment, but a place for rehabilitation. Atty. Gozon and I recognized this in our talks. This is the right approach. I used the words such as retreat, soul searching, and rehabilitation.

All of the inmates welcomed us quite well. They were very respectful and friendly. Definitely, the school would need support with professor-entrepreneurs who can really help them move forward. While many of them have talent, the idea is how to convert this into a business. I immediately offered to help get them a permanent space in the OTOP Negosyo Depo, which is being set up near the Mall of Asia. I am sure Usec. Merle Cruz of DTI will welcome this idea. At least, the products they produce from the Bilibid can be retailed at a site for them. We also offered to conduct a Go Negosyo Seminar (Negosem) for the inmates and give them a free book. After which, we shall provide assistance on product development and design, with the help of our mentors, to make their products more marketable.

At present, there are 35 thousand prisoners in the Muntinlupa Bilibid. It is, by far, the largest in the country. Eventually, this can be converted into prime real estate. Proceeds from the sales of inmates’ products can go to setting up a higher standard jail that will really work and focus on rehabilitation, as Director Calderon mentioned.

The messages of Merle and Jennilyn gave inmates the inspiration, as they were able to relate to their stories. They have seen poverty and gone through a trial when they questioned the existence of God in their lives, similar to what the inmates go through. But, in the end, they woke up more determined and took the right mindset and approach in fighting poverty with God’s help. The inmates were surely inspired. I hope we planted the seed of hope. Now, it is time for them to work hard for the follow thru.

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Today, SGV will announce the winners of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY). In a way, I have been supporting the efforts of SGV and Ernst and Young in this search for the past four years.

My capacity as an advisor on entrepreneurship and as a founder of our Go Negosyo advocacy has grown to some levels I have never even imagined. To date Go Negosyo has close to 500 entrepreneurs who are part of this advocacy. Most of the 19 entrepreneurs who are finalists of EOY awards are already part of Go Negosyo. Either they are part of our books, have been awarded, or have joined the cause of inspiring others. I am sure that the rest will be interested to join this cause as well.

I am not a judge to this awarding. I was just requested to join in giving one of the awards. In fact, it is my daughter’s birthday today. I will have to miss some parts of her celebration and catch up to be able to attend the EOY Awards.

All of them are already winners. Some may be at the earlier stages of their business. Some may have a bigger business. But, what is important is that they have succeeded. They have fought poverty, especially those with rags to riches stories. I was surprised to find out that even my secretary’s brother who owns Buddy’s Restaurant is a finalist.

Congratulations to all the 19 finalists: Mylene Abiva (President and CEO, Felta Multimedia Inc.); Dustin Andaya (Chairman and Marketing Director, Philippine Cut Flower Corporation); Eduarda Ayo (Owner and Manager, E. V. Ayo Enterprises); Gemma Bulos (Founding Director, A Single Drop for Safe Water); Kenneth Cobonpue (CEO, Interior Crafts of the Islands, Inc.); Henry Cureg (President and Chairman of the Board, United Graphic Expression Corporation); Michael Escaler (President, All Asian Countertrade Inc.); Bonifacio Fernandez (President and CEO, BF Industries, Inc.); Antonio Gloria (President and CEO, Unitel Productions, Inc.); William Tiu Lim (President and CEO, Mega Fishing Corporation); Corazon Dayro-Ong (Vice-Chairman, CDO Foodsphere, Inc.); Marianne Quebral (Executive Director, Venture for Fund Raising); Ricardo Reyes, Jr. (President and CEO, Ricky Reyes Hair Salon for Men and Women); Carlos Salinas (Chairman and CEO, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc.); Amb. Jesus Tambunting (Chairman and President, Planters Development Bank); Antonio Tiu (CEO, Agrinurture, Inc.); Justin Uy (President, Profood International Corporation); Salvador Veluz (CEO, Buddy’s Pizza and Restaurant); and Mary Grace Arboleda-Young (President, Cordillera Coffee Company Inc.).

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Congratulations to the 2009 SIPAG Awardees, recognized by the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC). Now on its fourth run, this annual award promotes the achievements of NLDC partner microfinance institutions in extending support to microentrepreneurs. This year, Go Negosyo worked together with NLDC in mounting negosyo forums for the nominees and awardees, aside from their celebrated awarding ceremonies. This program of NLDC, as supported by Landbank and other partners, is an important part of spreading the inspirational stories of the entrepreneurs out there who have fought poverty and succeeded in their negosyos.

Again, congratulations to the 2009 SIPAG Awardees: Alegria Benitez; Soledad Aychoco; Delano de la Cruz; Dulce Silvosa; Cooperative Rural Bank of Bulacan; Rural Green Bank of Caraga, Inc.; Baug CARP Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative; Northern Samar Development Workers’ Community Cooperative; Alalay sa Kaunlaran Inc.; and Kasanyagangan Center for Community Development Foundation Inc..