Villar, Aquino lend a hand

As we know, both Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino are in a close fight to be the country’s future president. While we do have a lot of entrepreneurs in the country, many of them are at the micro level who need capacity support (e.g., technical, marketing and financial support). The challenge is for the next President to continue what has been started by this government and Go Negosyo to help microentreps move up to become small and eventually medium and large-sized operation.

This support must include training, active mentorship, and networking. It can be done through organizations by using their existing businesses to act as a big brother or through micro-lending organizations that will not only lend money but provide training and mentorship.

Rep. Cythia Villar has long been a social entrepreneur, while being a supportive wife and mother. She believes that poverty is best fought with empowering people to learn to help themselves. She walks the talk. With her success in career, business and family, perhaps one of the many ways that she gives back is through livelihood projects and programs that encourage an entrepreneurial approach for communities in Las Piñas.

Go Negosyo visited some of the sites of her livelihood projects. We were amazed at the technology and the opportunities that these projects offer to the barangays and community members. It is considered a social enterprise, as it is a sustainable undertaking that provides solution to a social problem in the community like unemployment and environment-related issues. The technologies and the system for these projects are also situated and distributed in the different barangays.

The City of Las Piñas is also known for the handicraft they produce out of Water Lily. This livelihood benefits over 100 families per barangay. It also helps in preventing the Zapote River from clogging and causing flood in the city because of too much water lilies floating around. They first harvest Water Lilies from the river, then sun-dry them up for four days to a week. The dried Lilies are then hand-woven into different crafts and products, like slippers, fans, baskets and many more. From the harvest of the Water Lilies to the weaving up to the sales of the finished products, men, women and children of Las Piñas earn an income for quality work. Most of the wives and mothers even bring home their work from the livelihood center so they can work in between their household tasks.

Another livelihood project of Rep. Villar, which is very remarkable, is the Coco Coir Factory – hitting a lot of birds with one stone. When there’s excessive waste from coconut husks coming from the many buko vendors and retailers in Las Piñas that need to be disposed of, the Coco Coir livelihood project came in the picture. The disposed coconut husks are bought from the Buko vendors in the market. The husks are then processed into fibers, which are twined into ropes of uniform length. Then, the ropes are hand-woven into a net-like blanket. The finished Coco Coir products are then sold to be used as a support layer for land and soils. The net-like structure of the Coco Coir, plus its texture, provides plants an extra grip to the land, thereby helping prevent erosion. This livelihood project also provides extra income to 30 to 40 families per barangay, aside from the coconut farmers.

Las Piñas also has over three generations of Parol makers. However, they were having difficulties in promoting their products because of too many Parol makers and the kanya-kanya system.  Rep. Villar was observant of this problem that was bringing down the lantern-making industry in Las Piñas. A livelihood project was created to provide a system for the Parol makers to unite in producing lanterns. From their kanya-kanya system, each household now operates as a unit for a more productive and faster system.

One might ask how Rep. Villar came up with these ideas for livelihood projects. Well, she took a walk around Las Piñas, visited communities and barangays, and was able to observe her environment. Rep. Villar saw how her constituents lived and what problems they faced. Along with the problems that she was able to identify, she thought of solutions.

All of us also have great respect for Former President Cory Aquino. As she completed her term, she never retired from helping the Filipinos. She too believes that for many Filipinos to beat poverty, they must be empowered.

Go Negosyo also visited the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation and we had the chance to talk to its Executive Director Rafael Lopa. This is a foundation that focuses on people empowerment and nation-building through various projects. Mr. Lopa rightly summarizes the focus of their programs into “continuing the legacy of Tita Cory, translating People Power that brought back democracy to People Empowerment to fight back poverty.”

The Aquino Foundation began in 1993 when they reassessed how else the people can be supported. They initially provided management training programs for cooperatives, since cooperatives are people-oriented and the country has thousands of them. They also initiated interventions via training and mentorship that will help in the effective operations of cooperatives.

In 2005, a fiscal crisis back then made President Cory think of what else the foundation can do. The answer she thought of was Microfinance. President Cory started talking to key players in the microfinance industry on how microfinance can be integrated in the mainstream system of the Filipinos. She brought together the leaders in the micro finance institutions, banks, academe and non-government organizations to address the needs for this cause, which are capacity-building, resource mobilization, management of information system and business development. That was when the “Pinoy Me” movement was born.

Another movement that stemmed from the foundation is the Microventures Inc., which is more of a social enterprise, under the initiative of Rafa Lopa and Bam Aquino, together with their friends. The goal of this enterprise is to bring in new business opportunities to the MFI borrowers. When Rafa and Bam found out that 15 to 20% of MFI borrowers are all sari-sari store owners, they knew that there was a need to help them improve the value chain to help them lower costs and improve their margins and viability. They have partnered with organizations and private companies such as CARD and Smart for their projects.

Another effort initiated and strongly supported by the Aquino foundation is the ASA Philippines Foundation. This is a micro finance institution also assisted by the Assisi Foundation and PLDT, which started only around three years ago. Presently, they are maintaining a 98% repayment rate with 200,000 clients.

According to Rafa, the Aquino Family, initiated by his Tita Cory, strongly believes that they need to constantly find ways on how to get this country going. Their goal is to empower people – to involve and engage them.

While being president of the Philippines is something that not anyone can achieve, what is important is the realization that this position comes with a lot of power that can help move this nation away from poverty. However, the destiny of Filipinos is not determined by government. It is determined by their desire and determination in life. It is important that political leaders provide the proper mentorship and energize the whole government to do so – from the Barangay Captains to Governors – to help foster an entrepreneurial country.