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Last April 26 and 27, I was chosen to be a delegate of the Philippines for President Barack Obama’s first Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington, together with another entrepreneurship advocate, Bai Sandra Basar. She is a mother and entrepreneur who is actively involved in entrepreneurship development in the country, especially in different Muslim communities. Bai Sandra and I were the two Philippine representatives for the summit.
As I have written about my summit experience in my other column, I asked her to write about her experience. This is her story.
“When people ask me how I feel about being one of the two delegates who represented the Philippines in Obama’s first Presidential Entrepreneurship Summit last April in Washington, another question pops into my head: Of all the people in the country, why me? Aside from that, I was thrilled, excited, and very much honored.
“Back home, I am an active member of the Muslim Chamber of Commerce of Cotabato, the board of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Business Council, and the Mindanao Regional Development Council in Region XII. I am also a simple entrepreneur with a chain of hardware stores in Cotabato.
“When I saw the criteria, I knew I was chosen because of my track record. The USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has always identified me as an active organizer and prime mover of advocacies on entrepreneurship and the development of Muslim communities. Well, according to the US Embassy also, Joey and I were chosen based on our ‘innovation of ideas and ability to promote entrepreneurship; commitment to community service; gender, geographic and urban/rural diversity and ability to inspire others.’
“In opportunities like these, hindi puwedeng hiya ang papairalin mo (you can’t let shyness rule). Because of the summit, I was also able to meet Joey Concepcion. Who would have thought that a simple entrepreneur like me from Cotabato would be representing the country with an icon like Joey? If I had given in to shyness when I met Joey, I would have not built a network and would have not gained an acquaintance who is as prominent. Joey was very approachable. He was even the one who went looking for me in the venue of the summit.
“President Obama announced the summit during his speech in Cairo last year. The goal of the summit was to identify how they could deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world. The summit also represented an opportunity to highlight and support business and social entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities around the world.
“I was able to learn about the ideas and best practices of other countries. I saw the similarities. There are some we can apply and some we can’t. Aside from that, we also have the same challenges, like access to capital and bringing the entrepreneurial endeavor to the next level.
“More than anything, I am also proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to be part of the summit. I can say that, somehow, I have seized the opportunity in my own way to learn things that I can bring home, not only to Cotabato but to the Philippines as well. I was actually surprised at how much I could do. I learned how to build bridges and develop networks in the summit, which I can tap and bring to local entrepreneurs, especially in Mindanao. I realized that these are the things that I can do for my country. This is a big thing, especially the fact that I was given the chance.
“During the summit, I also had my own share of opportunities. I was one of the lucky delegates who had the opportunity to shake the hand of President Obama and greet him personally. I wasn’t prepared for that. As I was entering the amphitheater, one of the organizers approached me and requested me to sit in the first row right below the stage. Of course, I did so because I wanted a closer look at President Obama. Other delegates from other countries were also asked to occupy the front row. I didn’t even know why I had the privilege of sitting in front, until I observed that all of us there had an element of cultural representation. Each of us had something to represent about our country and our culture.
“After President Obama’s speech, I didn’t expect him to go down and approach the front row. From the stage, he headed towards the front row and started extending his hand. He approached me, held out his hand and asked how I was. Initially, I was star-struck. I remember giving him the traditional Muslim greeting of ‘As-salamu Alaykum.’ He replied with ‘Wa Alaikum assalam.’ I also remember that I expressed my appreciation for the efforts of the summit and for uniting different countries through entrepreneurship. Until today, I still can’t believe that I had that opportunity. It is a good thing that I wore the inaul, a hand-woven cloth made by Muslim women from Maguindanao. When you attend big events, it is important to make sure to bring your culture with you.
“I am very passionate about promoting Mindanao, especially my home, Cotabato. Contrary to common belief, Cotabato is already a peaceful area. We want to change the stigma surrounding Muslims. That is why we are building entrepreneurial communities in Mindanao. This is also for us entrepreneurs. If no investors come in, no one will invest in Cotabato. If we will not promote our province, no suppliers will come in and we’ll have nothing to sell. We are building businesses in Cotabato. We would like the country and the world to know that there is business in Cotabato.
“President Obama’s first Entrepreneurship Summit is an affirmation of his speech in Cairo. Entrepreneurship is a neutral area. I do believe that Muslim communities and countries all over the world can be united through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are those with creative minds who focus on development. This is the right and fresh approach to bring countries and cultures together.”
I admire Bai Sandra’s Go Negosyo attitude. She took advantage and maximized the opportunity that came her way. She even had a chance to shake hands with President Obama and share a greeting with him. Well, I also had my chance to shake hands with Secretary Hillary Clinton and meet 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. The summit was truly an experience.
Life is a journey as we go through different experiences. We need to open ourselves to every opportunity that comes our way. We must not be afraid of experiencing and learning new things and sharing ideas. This, in the end, is the process that helps us fulfill our earthly mission.
There are still millions of people in our country who are below the poverty line. These are the people we should help. Let us maximize and take advantage of the opportunities that life throws at us. In return, aside from our personal benefit, we will be able to build bridges and partnerships that will support us in achieving our purpose of helping others.
E-mail me at email@example.com. Join me on Facebook and visit www.gonegosyo.net. Watch the Go Negosyo: Kaya Mo! show on QTV every Saturday and Sunday, 8-8:30 a.m., with replays on NBN every Thursday from 11 to 12 p.m.