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Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting two prominent women’s business organizations in the Philippines to formalize their collaboration in preparation for our hosting of the ASEAN Summit in 2026. The Women’s Business Council Philippines Inc. (WomenBiz) and Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) sealed their official collaboration, specifically to advance the representation of Filipino women entrepreneurs in the ASEAN. As chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Philippines, I represent the Philippines’ private sector as we give counsel and provide feedback to governments and the ASEAN to boost our efforts towards economic integration.
With us that day was ASEAN Society Chair and former Ambassador Delia Albert, whose wisdom and rich insight certainly put perspective into what we are about to embark on in the next few years.
She observed that the women’s agenda in the ASEAN is a late bloomer, and that awareness of the ASEAN in the Philippines is low: which is a shame considering the country is a founding member. Even more puzzling is the fact that while the Philippines led the conversation in the region on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it seems to have left so many behind when it comes to economic equality. As Ambassador Albert pointed out, the real gap is between women who have it all and women who have nothing at all.
This puts us at a disadvantage on two levels as we in the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Philippines seek to put women – Filipina entrepreneurs, specifically – higher on the national and regional agenda.
I agree that it is important that Filipino women know what the ASEAN is all about so that they can be more active, productive innovative and responsive to economic challenges, especially as we plunge into regional economic integration. The Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN come 2026 is an opportunity to put women in the ASEAN consciousness – and vice versa, for Filipina entrepreneurs to become aware of their place in the ASEAN – so that the women’s agenda no longer becomes an afterthought. In fact, 2026 can be our rallying point for Filipina entrepreneurs all over the country; a deadline, so to speak, to speed up efforts to reach out to as many women as we can.
When I say Filipina entrepreneurs, I am thinking about all the micro and small Filipina entrepreneurs all over the country: the weavers, farmers, vendors, food manufacturers, etc. I imagine they do not belong yet to organizations that are as big as WomenBiz or PhilWEN, but I see these big organizations becoming great mentors to others: helping, inspiring and guiding the small women entrepreneurs and creating activities where they can be included. I am sure the hundreds of thousands of Filipina entrepreneurs out there will be a force to reckon with once they are organized and empowered.
In our entrepreneurship rollouts such as KMME with the Department of Trade and Industry and KAMMP with the Department of Agriculture, and even at our free entrepreneurship mentoring event 3M on Wheels, we see a lot of successful women who are good mentors to the small entrepreneurs. Nanay Coring, or Socorro Ramos of National Bookstore, is one of those women. She was there with Go Negosyo when we first embarked on our journey of advocating for MSMEs; and now at 100 years old, she remains a steadfast supporter of our cause. She is the epitome of a nurturing mother, and I see her generous spirit of mentoring in the many successful Filipina entrepreneurs who volunteer to teach other entrepreneurs. She always comes to mind when I think of women entrepreneurs.
The runup to ASEAN 2026 is exciting for me because, as many have observed, ASEAN is now a buzzword because of its expected growth in the coming years, with some even saying it will outpace other regional blocs. The economic pillar can be a powerful platform from which the women’s agenda can be put front and center. After all, even with the disadvantages they now face, women entrepreneurs lead around 45 percent of micro-enterprises in the country, telling us of so much potential once we scale them up to become small, medium and, eventually, large enterprises.
The last time we hosted the ASEAN was in 2017. To this day, I still receive compliments on our handling of that event. Even our legacy program for our chairmanship in 2017, the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network, is progressing quite well. It now has 194 graduates (many of whom are women, by the way) from all the ten ASEAN member-states, all mentored using modules we created right here in the Philippines.
Already we have built the foundations for what could be our legacy program for 2026, an Agri-MSME Development program that will integrate MSMEs into the value chain of large agri corporations. A women-centric program could be another legacy program for our 2026 chairmanship. It will dovetail quite nicely with our present efforts to scale up women’s entrepreneurship on a national level. Moreover, it will help build regular and more frequent partnerships with organizations like the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network.
I hope that more women’s organizations will come and join us to represent the Philippines in the ASEAN and that they, too, will become mentors to MSMEs. Together, we can give a more effective voice to women entrepreneurs, but we have to work together and get women from all over the Philippines to participate.
A united front can help in advocating for policies and initiatives that promote MSME development among women in the Philippines and the ASEAN; it can give women-led enterprises access to more mentorship, training and market linkages; it can help create strategic partnerships that will benefit women entrepreneurs; it can prompt data-based policy recommendations and targeted support and, on a broader scale, create strong representation on a regional scale.
Women entrepreneurs will be an important driver in helping us achieve prosperity not just in the country, but in the region.