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Not many people know this, but I once worked as an encyclopedia salesman. Encyclopedias were the Google of my time. Back then, if you wanted to learn more about a subject, you reached for an encyclopedia, searched for the topic from the alphabetized volumes and read about it. After that, I became a dealer of firefighting equipment, sold used clothes (even my own) and started a cotton candy cart in the old Fiesta Carnival in Cubao. All this while I was still in high school.
My parents, you see, were very frugal. Luxury to them was a night out at the movies, and they were content with watching TV shows and enjoying dinner with the family. They taught these values to us, their children.
One consequence of this was that I had to look for work while I was still in school. I even asked to work for a classmate. He knew who my family was, so naturally, he asked me how come I didn’t just work for RFM, the family company. I told him I wanted to make it on my own. The classmate decided against hiring me, and that is how I ended up selling firefighting equipment.
I learned the business and looked for companies that needed to replace their fire extinguishers. I must admit I did use some advantages. I approached Concepcion Industries, hoping to get their account. My Aunt Mely gave me a break and handed me the account. That’s one thing I learned early on; wala dapat hiya-hiya. If you are to succeed in business, you must set aside pride and put on your thickest armor.
It was this on-ground training that prepared me for my role today as head of one of the country’s largest food manufacturing corporations. I was never one to excel at school; today I openly admit that I still have to earn my college degree. That has not stopped me, however, from being good at my job.
I have been reflecting on this lately because of our impending collaboration with the Department of Education (DepEd). I and the senior advisers of Go Negosyo paid a visit to Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte last Oct. 17. Our objective was to see if entrepreneurship training can be incorporated into the school curriculum, specifically in Senior High School.
Right now, with the K-12 curriculum, children spend 13 years in school. Ideally, by the time they complete senior high school, they are well-prepared to join the workforce. Should they wish to pursue a college degree, that’s another four years on average. I understand this is the case in other countries as well.
But the reality is that the full curriculum can be too much for many Filipino families, both time-wise and money-wise. What we have in mind is to teach kids entrepreneurship skills so they can be better equipped for life, whether or not they complete their primary education. If we opened up this avenue to young people, there would be a way for them to find an alternative path to success. We could help them find their path, focus on it and maybe one day the students can turn it into a business.
This can be through direct mentoring by veteran entrepreneurs or through our Go Negosyo entrepreneurship mentoring events where they can listen to and meet actual entrepreneurs. A few years back, we held a Youth Entrepreneurship Summit and before the year ends, we will resume it under the Teenpreneur event. Just recently, I met a young lady who said she was at one of our youth summits and she told me that she was so inspired that she has been a serial entrepreneur since.
There are many successful entrepreneurs who succeeded even without the benefit of higher education. I have worked with many of them in business; at our mentoring events, we regularly encounter success stories of how entrepreneurs overcame the lack of formal education and learned things while doing.
This is not to say, of course, that we can do away with formal schooling – of course not. I encourage children to do well in school because it teaches valuable skills like discipline and focus. The world will always need doctors, engineers, scientists and all the professions that require the rigors of formal training. But for those who may not have the advantages needed to complete their education, we want them to succeed in life, too.
It would be the right time for young Filipinos to become entrepreneurs because social media and digital technology have brought down so many barriers to entrepreneurship. Back in the day, you needed capital not just to manufacture your goods, but also to put them on the shelves. Today, a small entrepreneur can sell online either via Facebook or through shopping apps, and ship through the many affordable pooled logistics solutions available. An entrepreneur doesn’t even need a bank account or be an accredited credit card merchant to accept remote payments ever since the pandemic accelerated the adoption of e-wallets. Celebrity endorsers are no longer the only assured path to product popularity; even ordinary products can go viral through Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.
These are exciting times to become an entrepreneur. Better than it was 18 years ago when I founded Go Negosyo and was asked by then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to help more Filipinos become entrepreneurs. I will never forget that day; we filled the Victory Church in Fort Bonifacio with thousands of teachers and advocates, and inspiring leaders like Nanay Coring Ramos, Tony Meloto, Arthur Yap, Ester Vibal, the late Henry Sy and his son Harley, LRray Villafuerte, Myla Villanueva, among many other admirable figures.
The saying still holds true: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”