Women power

FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto - The Freeman

For 2013, I have resolved to focus on joy, creativity and abundance. My Pollyanna-esque quest has meant ignoring news like the Bacolod bishop labeling pro-Reproductive Health senatorial candidates as “Team Patay.” It hasn't stopped me from feeling sad and disappointed that men of God continue to engage in name-calling and behavior that treats the Catholic faithful as mindless beings incapable of discernment and the exercise of free will.

Thankfully, there are enough wonderful things to pay attention to and write about. Last week, I attended a media session on the GREAT Women Project, a project of the ECHOsi Foundation, the non-profit development arm of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle retail brand, and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW). The official name of the project is: “Value Adding Selected Products of Women Micro Enterprises in Selected GREAT Women Project Sites and Development of Women's Product Brand to Markets”. It has been run in the provinces of Quezon, Leyte, Bohol, Iloilo, Camarines Sur, and Ifugao.

Following the public-private partnership format, the ECHOsi Foundation and the PCW studied micro-enterprises owned by women in the provinces. The program has three levels: first, a general assessment session where products are checked and homework given to the women entrepreneurs. The second level included intensive product development and design sessions with discussion on market differences, elevating production standards and pricing checks, as well as the need for certifications. The third level identified the products that are ready to carry the Great Women Brand.  Finally, the fourth level brought in professional designers, exporters, and retail merchandizers who can create new products under their own labels, aligned with the Great Women Brand Program.

At the event, I met Vivencia Mamites, a 38-year-old weaver from the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe. She brought samples of her inabal weaving. She had previously lacked enough buyers for her products and did not make enough income from her craft. After she participated in the program, her work will be showcased by designer Len Cabili and marketed under the Great Women Brand.

I also met Renee Patron, the Creative Director and designer of Banago Bags and Home Accessories. One of the designers tapped for the project, she uses banig from Samar, hablon from Iloilo and other materials made by Filipino artisans in her products. These are sold in boutiques and departments stores abroad.

The goal of the program is to create an environment for women's economic empowerment, particularly in microenterprises. The proponents recognized that while skills-training is valuable (there is always a workshop on making longganisa or soap somewhere), there is a need to give women micro-entrepreneurs   support in product design, production capacities, financial literacy, and micro-finance opportunities to help them create products for the niche, high-end markets and allow them to make more money.  The Great Women Brand will be used as a marketing and branding platform that will cover upscale food products, lifestyle goods, and other artisanal products made by women micro-entrepreneurs all over the country.

The brand will be officially launched on March 19 at the Yuchengco Museum. Samples that were made available at the media session included tablea from Bohol. Philippine Blackberry (Lipote) vinegar from Camarines Sur, and sugar-coated peanuts from Iloilo. Packaged in sleek bags and bottles with the contemporary dark pink label of the Great Women Brand, the products showed the immense possibilities for growth that women entrepreneurs have if they get the right kind of breaks.

I am grateful to have been surrounded by Filipina women with a strong drive to excel in business.  I am looking forward to meeting more of them soon.


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