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Whenever I participate in policy-level discussions on MSME development, I am grateful for how I get to connect with small entrepreneurs on a regular basis. Go Negosyo’s mall-based, free entrepreneurship program, 3M on Wheels, lets me meet small entrepreneurs. They come to be coached by our Go Negosyo pool of mentors, and at the same time explore business opportunities through our sponsored booths, or be assisted on regulatory requirements by representatives of government agencies. Here, they speak candidly about what their concerns are, and it becomes valuable insight into what our policies might mean for them.
At one such event in Mandaluyong City, I met three entrepreneurs who proved that age is not a factor when it comes to being an entrepreneur. One can be young or old, a man or a woman, an out-of-school youth or a retired employee; once you have that entrepreneurial drive, it doesn’t matter what or who you are.
Yhaell Ricanor is seven years old and is already a Kettle Korn reseller. I was so curious about this little boy because, at his age, all I wanted was to become Batman. And here he is, in third grade, making money from selling snacks. Yhaell said he decided to become a Kettle Korn reseller because he liked the product. He would sell it at his sister’s and his aunt’s offices, and online, of course.
His mother, Marie Joy, explained that Yhaell grew up surrounded by home-based businesses. His father’s family used to own a bakeshop, while his mother used to run a sari-sari store. During the pandemic, his mother started an online selling business and assigned roles for each family member.
I told Yhaell that he should continue using social media to promote his business. I also advised him to keep visiting malls and trade shows to see what’s going on. I myself was inspired when I saw how popcorn became a big thing in the US. Another brand had already beat me to the Philippine market but that didn’t stop me from putting up Kettle Korn and building it as fast and as well as I could.
Yhaell’s mother’s mentorship should serve him well and who knows, maybe he will one day realize his dream of putting up his own restaurant. I advised him to start small, maybe with a cart, and to study, study, study.
My other mentee was no less inspiring. Marcilina Siega Belza used to be a seamstress and had to slow down because of her age. But at 79, she picked up the trade again and, thanks to the prodding of her children, started designing and making hair accessories under the brand “Nanay Liza Collection.” Upon the suggestion of her apo, she started selling her products on TikTok and became a viral sensation when one of her videos got more than a million likes. Right now, she has 75,000 followers.
“Sabi ko, ayaw ko dahil hindi ako marunong,” she told me. She goes on to show me how she does it, and it’s amazing. On TikTok, she shows her products to the camera, highlights their variety and affordability and inserts calls to action such as, “Order na po kayo sa aking mga paninda!”
And for those who still doubt the power of social media, know that Nanay Liza earns enough to buy new material to create more accessories. This is a trait of good entrepreneurs: to always plow back earnings into the business to make it grow.
I encouraged Nanay Liza to continue what she’s doing and branch out into other platforms. I also advised her to prepare for the Christmas season and keep an eye out for trending designs. My own daughter is herself an influencer and I see how important it is for her to always stay on trend.
I also advised Nanay Liza to approach companies to offer her products as corporate giveaways. With Nanay Liza’s social media fame and social development cachet as a small entrepreneur – and a senior woman at that – I am sure companies would find she has something to offer.
And lastly, I mentored Rolando Hipolito from Bulacan. He is a rice farmer and raises pigs. The latter business suffered because of swine flu, but he says he’s still strong and can still keep on working.
Tatay Rolando told me that he reached his ripe old age of 76 without having to depend on doleouts from the government, and he thinks able-bodied Filipinos should understand the same. “Ang gobyerno ang pinahihirapan natin,” he said. “Tayo, ‘kako, ay pwedeng magtrabaho; malalakas tayo.”
His concern was importation, specifically how local prices are affected when the government decides to import agricultural products. Questions like this from our small entrepreneurs heighten my awareness about what we do during the high-level meetings with government and with our counterparts in the region. Farmers like Tatay Rolando are keenly aware of how decisions at the top affect them, and they seek to understand how we arrive at these decisions.
I explained that the government uses importation to control prices. It’s a difficult balancing act and an even more difficult job managing the optics of it, but consumers – like farmers – need to be shielded from wild price swings resulting from shortages in local commodities. We see this all the time when the price of frequently used agricultural products like garlic or onions shoot up. When people stop spending because of high prices, our economy’s growth slows and everybody suffers.
It is for people like Tatay Rolando that we come up with programs like KALAP to make our farms productive and give small farmers access to the tools and technologies to help secure their harvests. It is for entrepreneurs like Nanay Liza that we make digital tools accessible and propagate their use through our regular public events. And it is for children like Yhaell that we set up MSME-friendly policies that will encourage more young people to explore entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should be accessible to anyone willing to do the hard work.