Meeting Barack and Hillary

Last April 26 and 27, I was chosen to be a delegate of the Philippines for President Barack Obama’s first Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington, together with another entrepreneurship advocate – Bai Sandra Basar. She is a mother and an entrepreneur, who is actively involved in entrepreneurship development in the country especially in different Muslim communities. Bai Sandra and I were the two representatives of the Philippines for the summit.

As I have been writing about my experience during the summit in my other column, I have asked her to write about her experience in attending the prestigious event. This is her story…

When people ask me how I feel about being one of the two delegates who represented the Philippines in Obama’s first Presidential Entrepreneurship Summit last April in Washington, another question pops in my head – ‘Of all the people in the country, why me?’. Above that, I was also thrilled, excited, and very much honored.

Back home, I am an active member of the Muslim Chamber of Commerce of Cotabato, the board of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Business Council, and the Mindanao Regional Development Council in Region XII. I am also a simple entrepreneur with a chain of hardware stores in Cotabato.

When I saw the criteria, I know I was chosen because of my track record. The USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has always identified me as an active organizer and prime-mover of advocacies on entrepreneurship and development of Mulsim communities. Well, according to the US Embassy also, Joey and I were chosen based on our “innovation of ideas and ability to promote entrepreneurship; commitment to community service; gender, geographic and urban/rural diversity and ability to inspire others.”

In opportunities like these, hindi puwedeng hiya ang papairalin mo. Because of the summit, I was also able to meet Joey Concepcion. Who would have thought that a simple entrepreneur like me from Cotabato would be representing the country with an icon like Joey? If pina-iral ko ang hiya noong na-meet ko si Joey, I would have not built a network and I would have not gained an acquaintance who is as prominent. Joey was very approachable. He was even the one who went looking for me in the venue of the summit.

President Obama announced the summit during his speech in Cairo last year. The goal of the summit was to identify how they can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world. The summit also represented an opportunity to highlight and support business and social entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities around the world.

I was able to learn about the ideas and best practices of other countries. I saw the similarities. May mga pwedeng at hindi pwedeng i-apply sa atin. Aside from that, we also have the same challenges – like access to capital and bringing the entrepreneurial endeavor to the next level.

More than anything, I am also proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to be part of the summit. I can say that, somehow, I have seized the opportunity in my own way to learn things that I can bring home, not only to Cotabato but to the Philippines as well. Nagulat nga ako sa kaya kong gawin. I learned how to build bridges and develop networks in the summit, which I can tap and bring to local entrepreneurs, especially in Mindanao. I realized that these are the things that I can do for my country. Malaking bagay ito, especially that I was given the chance.

During the summit, I also had my own share of opportunities. I was one of the lucky delegates who had the opportunity to shake the hand of President Obama and greet him personally. Hindi ako prepared nung time na yun. As I was entering the amphitheater, one of the organizers approached me and requested me to sit in the first row right below the stage. Of course, I did so because I wanted a closer look at President Obama. Other delegates from other countries were also asked to occupy the front row. I didn’t even know why I had the privilege to sit in front, until I observed that all of us in the front row had an element of cultural representation. Each of us had a something to represent our country and our culture.

After President Obama’s speech, I didn’t expect for him to go down and approach the front row. From the stage, he headed towards the front row and started extending his hand to people. He approached me, extended his hand and asked how I was. Initially, I was star struck. I remember giving him the traditional Muslim greeting of “As-Salamu Alaykum”. He replied with “Wa Alaikum Assalam”. I also remember that my greetings were more on my appreciation on the efforts of the summit and for uniting different countries through entrepreneurship. Until today, I still can’t believe that I had that opportunity. It is a good thing that I have worn the ‘Inaul’, a handwoven cloth made by Muslim women from Maguindanao. It is important that when you attend big events, make sure to bring your culture with you.

I am very passionate in promoting Mindanao, especially my home – Cotabato. Contrary to common belief, Cotabato is already a peaceful area. We want to change the stigma on Mulsims. This is why we are building on entrepreneurial communities in Mindanao. This is also for us entrepreneurs. Kung walang papasok na investor, walang papasok sa Cotabato. If we will not promote our province, walang suppliers na papasok at wala kaming ibebenta. We are building businesses in Cotabato. We would like the country and the world to know that there is business in Cotabato.

President Obama’s first Entrepreneurship Summit is an affirmation of his speech in Cairo. Entrepreneurship is a neutral area. I do believe that Muslim communities and countries all over the world can be united through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are those with creative minds, who focus on development. This is the right and a fresh approach to bring countries and cultures together.

-Bai Sandra Basar

I admire Bai Sandra’s Go Negosyo attitude. She took advantage and maximized the opportunity that came her way. She even had the chance to shake hands with President Obama and share a greeting with him. Well, I also had my chance to shake hands with Secretary Hillary Clinton and meet 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. The summit was truly an experience.

Life is a journey, as we go through different experiences. We need to open ourselves to every opportunity that comes our way. We must not be afraid of experiencing and learning new things and sharing ideas. This, in the end, is the process that helps us fulfill our earthly mission.

There are still millions of people in our country who are below the poverty line. These are the people we should help. Let us maximize and take advantage of the opportunities that life throws at us. In return, aside from our personal benefits, we will be able to build bridges and partnerships that will support us in achieving our purpose of helping others.