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CMA National Winner says focusing on employee welfare and customer service spells success for a business

The Philippine Star
CMA National Winner says focusing on employee welfare and customer service spells success for a business
Luzviminda Sunit’s dried fish business has grown so much over the years–she now owns stalls in markets in Bogo City and Medellin in Cebu, delivers dried fish to Leyte regularly, and owns six pump boats and two trucks.
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MANILA, Philippines — For microentrepreneurs Luzviminda Sunit of Medellin, Cebu and Joymar Olarte of Urdaneta, Pangasinan, only two things proved crucial as their businesses struggled with the effects of the pandemic: employee welfare and customer service. In the long run, these translated into the profit they needed to continue operating.

Both Sunit and Olarte joined the ranks of outstanding microentrepreneurs in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA), which has recognized hundreds of entrepreneurs since 2002. Sunit was chosen as CMA National Winner, while 29-year-old Olarte earned the distinction as CMA Youth Microentrepreneur of the Year.

The CMA program is a signature initiative of the Citi Foundation and highlights the efforts of partners like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Citi Philippines and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines Inc. (MCPI) to strengthen microfinance and enterprise development and financial inclusion in the country.

Luzviminda Sunit: Your workers are your partners

When Sunit married at an early age, it seemed inevitable that she would live the rest of her life in poverty. Instead of simply accepting her fate, she decided to change the course of her future.

In 1975, with P4,000 capital, she raised pigs and sold kamoteng kahoy to neighbors. She tried her hand at selling fish, but then unsold fish at the end of the day would end up wasted. In order to extend the shelf life of the fish, she came up with the idea of going into the dried fish business.

Sunit was anxious about borrowing money to expand her business. But in 2004, she became a client of First Agro-Industrial Rural (FAIR) Bank, where she borrowed an initial loan of P50,000. As her business grew, she was able to send her children to college and renovate their family home.

“I was also able to purchase four small pump boats, two bigger pump boats, two trucks and a piece of land,” adds Sunit, who now offers dried fish at wholesale and retail via two commercial stalls. She also offers delivery services to customers, given the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Sunit worried about the welfare of her fisherman partners and workers. Aside from hiring those who lost their jobs due to the lockdown, she also set aside funds for her employees.

Going beyond simple cash assistance, she funded their small businesses: an eatery and a food cart. Sunit also bought sidecars for those who wanted to ferry passengers for extra income.

For Sunit, a microentrepreneur like herself can play a big role in pushing other microentrepreneurs to succeed. She says, “If you know someone who wants to go into business, let’s help them with capital to jumpstart their business.”

Joymar Olarte: Make your products accessible to your customers

High demand for food delivery tripled Joymar Olarte’s sales and prompted him to set up tricycle food carts that went around the community.
Photo Release

Olarte is a former tricycle driver who dreamed of a better life. One of his regular passengers used to own a fried chicken business but was forced to stop operations due to a bird flu outbreak. The fried chicken recipe given to him by the passenger became his ticket to success. 

Barely out of his 20s, Olarte opened J&J Tasty Fried Chicken in 2018. At first, he simply borrowed cooking equipment and utensils from kind neighbors. He used his savings of P2,300 as initial capital to buy 20 kilos of fresh chicken. 

Although hesitant at first, he joined Tulay sa Pag-unlad Inc. (TSPI) in the same year, availing of his first loan: P5,000. Eventually, he grew confident that the loans would enable him to infuse more capital into the business. 

Olarte currently has five outlets in Pangasinan. From having to borrow a bicycle to make deliveries, he now has his own delivery van and a vehicle for personal use. He has also acquired a residential lot for his family. Regular employees of his business have insurance coverage as part of their benefits.

At the height of the pandemic, Olarte capitalized on the increased demand for food deliveries. He set up tricycle food carts to go around communities, making his products more accessible to customers. Olarte also started offering fresh marinated chicken for delivery to Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija and opened it to resellers as well.

Despite his young age and the recent challenges he has faced as a result of the pandemic, Olarte remains hopeful not just for himself but for aspiring entrepreneurs as well. “Go on and fight. Don’t lose hope. Start small and build from there,” he shares.

Reward and recognition for outstanding microentrepreneurs

In the CMA’s 18th year, Sunit and Olarte were recognized together with several other winners. The CMA Regional Awards went to Renalyn Brondial for Luzon, Medelina Cansancio for Visayas and Luz Bangos and Rosalyn Espenorio for Mindanao.

CMA also recognized COVID-19 Response Champions Florence Ao-wat, Josephine De Lara, Ivy Millare and Dominador Vergara.

The winners were chosen by the National Selection Committee led by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno and Citi Philippines Chief Executive Officer Aftab Ahmed. Other members include Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, Ayala Corporation President and CEO Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Go Negosyo Founder and RFM Corporation President and CEO Jose Ma. Concepcion III, Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran (SPARK!) President Imelda Nicolas, JG Summit Holdings president Lance Gokongwei, ANC News Anchor and Writer Salve Duplito, GMA7 Network CEO and Chairman Felipe Gozon, Inquirer Group of Companies CEO Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, UP Diliman Chancellor Dr. Fidel Nemenzo, and SM Investments Corporation Vice Chairperson Teresita Sy-Coson. 

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