In 2007, I co-founded the Hapinoy program with the goal of helping women micro-entrepreneurs in the Philippine countryside by creating a solid business network through their sari-sari stores, providing them rigorous training and mentorship, and giving them access to financing, markets, and more business, opportunities.

My experience working with them has deeply shaped my principles on poverty alleviation, inclusive growth through business and empowerment through enterprise.

Our nanays were asked to invest time and energy developing their entrepreneurial and financial management skills to be well equipped to seize the opportunities available to them.

Being a witness to their dedication to uplift their lives and of their family members’ as well, I have deep respect and hope for the micro-entrepreneurs in our country.

Watching them make the most out of their new-found knowledge and business network to expand their stores and sales, I was sold to the belief that if we are able to provide the right opportunities and give them the right break, they would do everything with that opportunity to succeed.

I have seen how our fellow Filipinos with humble backgrounds transformed themselves to astute entrepreneurs with the right support mechanisms in place.

Take the example of Nanay Lani Rebong from Laguna. She started with a table and 3,000 to 5,000 pesos worth of diaper supplies and the will to grow her business to make a better life for her two children.

Since joining the program in 2009 and undergoing business training, she has had three expansions and renovations.

She was given the opportunity to run a mobile money business and now offers money remittance and airtime loading – services that attract regular customers and provide more capital for her store.

From a store-front sari-sari operation, she was able to convert the entire first floor of her home to cater to her growing enterprise. Her store has grown to supply other smaller ones in her area.

She was able to buy a house and lot, a motorcycle, and a tricycle. Most importantly, she was able to send her two children to school and provide a comfortable life for her family.

Nanay Lani and many others are evidence that, given proper training and exposure to opportunities, Filipinos have the grit to better their own lives. Given the chance, the poor themselves can overcome poverty.

Considering that micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) make up 99.6% of all businesses in the Philippines and 91.6% of MSMEs are micro-enterprises, we can only imagine what sort of impact we can generate by growing these businesses and sustaining their success.

Empowering the micro-enterprises around the country is a key to unlocking inclusive growth and shared prosperity.

With this in mind, I authored the Go Negosyo Act, which was signed into law last July 2014. It mandates that a Negosyo Center be established in every municipality, city, and province in the Philippines with the hope of replicating the success of our nanays.

Each Negosyo Center is aimed to be a comprehensive support system for entrepreneurs. Patterned after our experience in Hapinoy, Negosyo Centers will offer training and mentorship, access to financing, and market linkages to help all our small businesses get to a level of sustainability.

This year alone, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is tasked to open one hundred Negosyo Centers around the country, and by 2019, we hope to have over a thousand of these centers equipped to provide valuable support to our MSMEs.

This year, we have already launched Negosyo Centers inDaet, Camarines Norte, Albay, Aklan, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Zamboanga del Sur, and Surigao.

There is no better time than now to push for a massive scale-up of MSME support. We have a proven model for success, a policy to back it up, a substantial base of micro-enterprises, and eager Filipinos just waiting, clamoring to develop their skills and grab at any opportunity.

There is no better time than now to push for inclusive growth and to empower our countrymen to climb out poverty through enterprise development.

The Hapinoy nanays have proven that they can become successful, and my hopeful heart is certain that there are more Filipinos out there who yearn to prove to themselves and to the world that they, too, can succeed, given the right push and support.


First Published on Manila Bulletin

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