When women mean business

Girl power gets a new spin as an NGO partners with the US Embassy to help deserving young women entrepreneurs

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KATHRYN W. Bondy and Zorayda Amelia C. Alonzo. PHOTOS BY ALANAH TORRALBA

The ’90s Spice Girl buzzword, “girl power,” might just go from being a mere slogan thrown around by young women to becoming a battle cry of sorts for a better Philippines in the 21st century.

A boot camp designed by women for the empowerment of women hopes to someday change the economic structure of the country.

Organized by the Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran (Spark!) and the US Embassy, the Young Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp (Yweb) 2013 will equip young women entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to succeed, survive and flourish locally and globally amid today’s cutthroat competition.

Spark! is an NGO composed of “empowered women committed to the development of women and women’s organizations as full partners in national development; committed to establishing a network of women leaders in all sectors and at all levels, who can participate in discourse and decision-making from community level up to national; networking and partnering with other women’s groups, business, national and local government, church and the academe; harnessing the human, technical and financial resources of partners and networks for the development of women; and acting as advocate, oversight/watchdog of women issues.”

“Countless studies have shown that countries that encourage economic participation and entrepreneurial activity from women tend to do better overall,” said Zorayda Amelia C. Alonzo, president of Spark! Philippines. “We should empower more women to do business.”

Innovative business plan

The Yweb 2013 is a contest open to young women entrepreneurs who own a business of any type. A total of 30 will be chosen from around the country to participate in the boot camp on Sept. 23-25 here in Manila: 10 from Luzon, 10 from the Visayas and 10 from Mindanao. Travel arrangements and expenses, hotel accommodations and training materials will be shouldered by Sparks! and the US Embassy.

A lone winner with the best and most innovative business plan will be selected at the boot camp, and will be awarded $5,000. Three runners-up, one from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, will each receive $1,000. Judging will be based on the business’ potential to succeed and the impact—the ripple effect—the business will have in their communities.

To win a slot, women entrepreneurs must submit a company profile describing their business, products and services, along with a copy of its DTI registration papers and financial statements for the past two years.

The said company must have been in existence for at least two years. The paper must be three to five pages long in Times New Roman, font 11. E-mail applications to yweb.manila2013@gmail.com. Deadline for submission is on July 30. Educational attainment is not a requirement.

“Researches have shown that if you give money to the man of the house, only a certain amount would go to the family. Normally a man would use it for himself,” Alonzo said. “But if you give the money to the woman, everything goes to the family—to food, education, care of the children. It’s not just about gender equality; it’s about what’s good for the Filipino family.

“For a woman to be empowered she has to be economically independent, which means she should have her own livelihood. The livelihood that she creates redounds to the benefit of her family. It’s really important for women to have a business, to own a business, to use her creativity. For the country this is very important.”

Kathryn W. Bondy, economic officer at the Embassy of the United States, said that entrepreneurship is a priority for the Obama administration—that includes promoting women, advancing women and economically empowering women.

“We received money from the State department. They asked us to come up with an innovative idea that will help advance entrepreneurship and our own US economic goals. We are happy to align with Sparks! because our goals are in alignment… We want these businesses to make money but also have the idea of giving back to their own communities by hiring locally, or by helping other women’s businesses in the area,” Bondy said.

Extra hurdle

Bondy said a study made by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Asia Foundation in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines finds that women encounter barriers when they start their own businesses, extra hurdles in growing their businesses.

Barriers include lack of access to financing; lack of understanding about technology; lack of understanding of accounting; lack of networks because networks are often based on familial relationships, and often men are the ones who have those relationships because they are the ones who are outside their homes; and security.

Alonzo also noted that while women are very productive, when it comes to entrepreneurship many lack the confidence to grow their businesses: “They give up the ascendency. The moment it starts growing, they feel they need to get their father or husband or some man to help them, and sometimes, in fact, to be their bosses. That is something we have to dispel.

“In prehistoric Philippines, women have been allowed to be the priestesses. They occupied the prime positions, which was subverted when Spain came over. The western influence subjugated the women.”

And today could not be a better day for Filipino entrepreneurs, added Alonzo, with the credibility of the Aquino administration luring many investors to focus on the Philippines.

The boot camp will feature a host of successful women entrepreneur speakers from the Philippines and from a number of American companies, including one from the popular web search engine Google. Apart from their speaking roles, Bondy said, they will also serve as mentors to these young women’s businesses.

“We will ensure the diversity of the speakers so that all aspects of business development will be addressed. What the boot camp promises is to show them the best way to financial management, to creativity of products and to become IT savvy.

“These speakers are future markets. We make sure they are able to speak to them. Nothing would resonate with women more than when they see a real successful woman entrepreneur telling them how to do it,” Alonzo said.

The progress of the businesses will be monitored every quarter after the boot camp. After a year, said Alonzo, they are hoping the transformation of these young women would be so that they would be able to compete locally and internationally.

“Many studies throughout the world conclude that when you empower the women, you’ll have the entire country improving because more women enter the workforce. It’s a bonus for your country when you empower the women economically,” Bondy said.

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