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Madeleine Albright’s passing last March 23 brought back memories of our meeting in July 2017.
I sat beside her at a private dinner hosted by then US Ambassador Sung Kim. The dinner was an enlightening discussion on US-Philippine relations, but it was her spirit and her sharp intellect that really made a mark on me.
Albright was already retired by then, but was still very much remembered for her contribution as the first woman to be named US Secretary of State during the Clinton administration.
That short encounter with her in 2017 was enough to light a fire in me to push on with my role in government. Albright’s rise to the top of international diplomacy didn’t come easy. She was a refugee during World War II and built her career in government at a time when few women were being given the opportunity to rise above traditional roles.
She is an inspiration. I think about the millions of Filipinas now heading almost all of our MSMEs in the Philippines, and I think about how hard it must have been for them, even before the pandemic. It is difficult enough to be starting a business, but as revealed in a paper by the Asian Development Bank in 2021, the pandemic was harder on women entrepreneurs in the Philippines.
The study found that women-led MSMEs earned less during the pandemic. Apparently, women found it more difficult to raise enough working capital through formal financial services than male-led MSMEs. The study explained that it was partly because they lacked immovable assets, like land and buildings, as loan collaterals.
For MSMEs, access to capital can be a make-or-break factor. For MSMEs that have just started their businesses, taking your earnings and investing it back into the business to grow it takes a lot of persistence, patience, and sacrifice. Cut off that stream of earnings – like what happened during the lockdowns – and it will be difficult to live to fight another day. It is these inherent disadvantages that we try and address at Go Negosyo; access to capital is one of the pillars of what we do, which we call the three M’s: money, market and mentorship.
Mentorship is key, and even as a seasoned businessman and head of a non-profit, I, too, find it fulfilling to be mentored by great leaders.
I have been fortunate enough that in my role as presidential adviser for entrepreneurship and as chair of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council in 2017, I was able to speak with some of the world’s most respected leaders, both in government and in business. It was an opportunity to interact and learn up close from the men and women who are shaping the world’s economic future. In a way, it helped put into perspective leadership, and strengthened further my resolve to serve in government.
When the Philippines hosted the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in 2017, I met the leaders of two of the world’s most powerful nations – India’s Narendra Modi and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev. They gave the opening addresses during the summit, which was an important venue to discuss key economic issues concerning the region.
I remember how Prime Minister Medvedev had praised the ASEAN in his speech, saying that it was right for it open up its borders at a time of increasing protectionism. Russia was then trying to recover from crippling trade embargoes and sanctions, and actively looked to Asia to create new trade allies.
Looking back, the ideas exchanged during that meeting were somehow prescient of the events of the last few weeks. The pandemic, followed by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, have tested the ties that bind a globalized world economy.
I remember chatting with Jack Ma, the legendary founder of Alibaba, who grew the billion-dollar e-commerce startup from only $2,000 in borrowed capital. He was speaking at the De La Salle University and I was there to interview him.
Prior to having him in the program, we had a private talk during which I shared with him our three M’s of entrepreneurship. He agreed well on its importance and the assistance it can provide to our MSMEs. He believes in this framework of market, money, and mentorship because it is exactly what they are doing at Alibaba.
That meeting was also prescient, as we talked of online payment solutions. Five years since that meeting in 2017, Go Negosyo would host sessions that coached MSMEs on how to use digital technology not just to adapt during the pandemic, but also to reach even farther markets and use data to understand better their customers.
I admire Jack Ma’s philosophy that the power of technology lies not on the technology itself. Technology changed because of the imagination, talent, and vision of people in achieving technological advancement.
In a way, I see myself in Jack Ma, such that all my life, my passion is to help solve poverty. We both think that as entrepreneurs, we have a duty to enable people to get access to money and market. And of course, mentorship through the inspirational talks and direct mentorship of successful mentor-entrepreneurs like him.
I saw in Jack Ma the vigor and passion for entrepreneurship. I see it in the thousands of small entrepreneurs who attend our nationwide mentoring programs and tune in to Go NegoShow on Facebook.
I saw in these leaders I have met over the years, the generosity in sharing knowledge, the same spirit of sharing I see in the mentors who give of their time to coach and advise small entrepreneurs. We need more people like them.