Bernardo M. Villegas
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Harnessing Woman Power in Enterprise

          I have given countless economic briefings to business people around the Philippines and around the world.  Last April 12 at the Tent in Rockwell, the briefing I gave to some 87 women entrepreneurs gave me a special satisfaction that was quite unique.  Those who were in the audience were graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Business Training Program in the Philippines, in collaboration with the University of Asia and the Pacific and the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.  Similar training programs have been held in China and other emerging markets in Africa and Latin America.  All these entrepreneurs had a previous track record for starting and operating a stable and profitable business before they joined the program.  What they needed was a formal management training that would help them bring their respective businesses to the next level of long-term sustainable growth and expansion.  They do not belong to the micro-enterprise sector.  They are among the small and medium-scale businesses that in any country make the greatest contribution to employment generation.

          The decision to focus on women entrepreneurs was especially appropriate in the Philippines where entrepreneurship has been traditionally more developed in the female population.  For anthropological, cultural and professional reasons, it is usually the woman in the household who starts a business that can grow to a profitable SME. Especially among the middle class families, husbands tend to be professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects, etc.  They earn a living from salaries and professional fees.  It is usually the wife who racks her brain on how to augment the family income by going into some business, usually starting from the home.  In the Business Expo that preceded my briefing, the graduates of the Program exhibited their products or services which covered the whole spectrum of the "sunrise industries" specific to SMEs:  food, fashion, furnishings, retailing, education, consulting, tourism, high-value farming, publishing, health services, manpower training, transport, etc.

          This initiative of Goldman Sachs is another approach to poverty eradication.  Instead of focusing on the poorest of the poor, the target population are underserved but relatively well educated women belonging to low-middle or middle income households.   Having started an entrepreneurial venture, these women are handicapped by a lack of management know-how and skills in such areas as production management, marketing, finance, and people management.  They don't have the resources or the time to go to a full-blown executive education program.  What Goldman Sachs has done is to partner with leading business schools all over the world to tailor fit what could be considered as a mini-MBA program to the circumstances of these women entrepreneurs. They are exposed to the lectures of some of the best business professors and to business cases that are directly relevant to the nature and scale of their respective businesses.  To date, 87 women have graduated from the Philippine program since it was launched in May 2009.  Through classroom learning and follow up activities, including mentoring and networking, the program has helped the participants develop their acumen and improve their management skills.  The recent Business Expo, which was held for the first time, provided the graduates and their business associates with new networking opportunities.

          Observing that many of them were already in the food business, I encouraged them to deepen and expand their operations especially in the growing and processing of high-value products, like vegetables, fruits, and meat.  The ongoing inflation in food prices is already a sign of rapid increases in the demand for food in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America.  The greatest challenge to the world economy in the next decade or so will no longer be a shortage of energy.  It will be a shortage of food and water.  I also encouraged them to think of increasing the number of bed-and-breakfast facilities all over the Philippine Archipelago to meet the rising demand from domestic tourists who have been enticed by improvements in countryside infrastructure to go far and wide in discovering the numerous tourist destinations.  I told them to capitalize on the extraordinary talents of Filipinos in design and craftsmanship to make the Philippines a center for creative industries in Asia.  Some of them, who are already in the IT industry, can branch out into BPO activities that do not need economies of scale.  There can be small operations in call centers in such foreign languages as Spanish, French, Japanese, and German.  They can also branch out into non-voice BPOs such as accounting, animation, medical transcription, legal documentation and other business services.  Finally, they can synergize with the big-ticket investments such as infrastructures, airports, power plants, mining, telecom, etc. These large corporations are always looking for smaller enterprises to whom they can subcontract their non-core operations like managing canteens, cleaning services, manpower services, training programs, etc.  From their reactions during the open forum, I felt sure that the management training they had received has prepared them to take their businesses to the next level of growth and expansion.  For me, it was a most rewarding experience to interact with these women entrepreneurs.  They are the ones who will make sure that the economic growth that we will experience in the coming years will really benefit the poor through the generation of more employment opportunities. For comments, my email address is