The ASEAN Women CEOs Summit will be held in Vietnam on Nov. 9 with the theme “Making Changes for a Stronger and More Responsive Women Entrepreneurs Community” with Jesus Lavina, Counsellor and Deputy Head of EU delegation, as keynote speaker. I am privileged to be a panelist at the session on “Gender-Smart Investing” together with Michael DiGregorio (The Asia Foundation), Nguyen Thi Nga, (Chair BRG Group), SREAT Mom Sophear (CEO SOPHIYA Travel) and Bui Thu Thuy (Director Vietnam Ministry of Planning) moderated by Elisa Saenz (UN Women).

What is gender-smart or lens Investing? Gender-smart investing integrates gender-based factors into investment strategy/analysis to improve returns and move towards gender equality. It could mean investing in any of the following:

Women-led businesses (like Tessie Coson of SM Group, Doris Magsaysay Ho of Magsaysay Shipping, Nina Aquas of Insular Life, Boots Garcia of Mageo Consulting etc.)

Businesses that sell products/ services that impact women, or businesses that focus on labor savings devices or learning tools to improve skills and capabilities of women (Connected Women of Gina Romero and Ruth Owen)

• Women in the supply chain (Chit Juan of Echo Store, Evie Navarro of Hapi Habi, Cherrie Atillano of Agrea)

• Companies with workplace gender policies — members of Philippines Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) like Accenture, Ayala Land, SSI Group etc. are all EDGE certified — the global business certification for gender equality in the workplace. Philippine National Bank (PNB) is the first Philippine bank to receive the EDGE certification. PNB was recently recognized by Asia Money as “Leader for Women.”

What are some investment trends of the future? It’s about health, connectivity, digital technology, environment and climate change. To keep the immune system strong, there is a focus on chemical-free and plant-based food. With the lockdown, more are investing in connectivity to keep up with virtual meetings/webinars, and even home entertainment. With millennials and the work-from-home situation, digital technology has accelerated significantly with online ordering, banking etc. There is also increased concern for the environment and a move towards renewable energy.

The pandemic has certainly taken its toll on the economy, especially women entrepreneurs. What are their concerns? The priority is health. Next is liquidity cash conservation, payables, low demand and business continuity. There is also the need to innovate, look for new markets, reduce cost, maximize online/digital technology, and for improved access to credit. Finance represents the greatest barrier to market access, with 44% citing this as an issue in the 2018 Survey of Entrepreneurs and MSMEs in the Philippines.

Is “women financing” available in the Philippines? Microfinance in the Philippines has nine million clients of which 90-95% are women, with a P60-billion portfolio and 50,000 employees nationwide. Commercial banks are also all gender-neutral. DBP has Inclusive Lending for Aspiring Women (ILAW) organized with the Women Business Council, with outstanding loans of P2.1 billion to 370 women as of May. DBP bagged the prestigious ADFIAP and Karlsruhe award in partnership with Imperial Homes Corp. of Emma Imperial who is in the forefront of solar-powered homes, championing green technology. This is a classic example of gender-smart investing.

How can women improve their business ability? Here are some practical tips:

• Build purposeful networks / increase visibility. Reach out to women groups helping other women: Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) headed by Boots Garcia. Women Business Council (Mylene Abiva), Filipina CEO Circle (Sharon Dayoan) etc.

• Continuously improve yourself. Upskill. Reskill. Learn something new: product development, finance, record keeping, regulatory requirements, business plans etc. Attend Go Negosyo Mentor Me led by Joey Concepcion with mentors Ginggay Hontiveros, Majella Villaroman, Sandy Montano, Baby Atanacio, etc. I’m a coach now to two Go Negosyo mentees on how to improve their business plans online.

Reach out to the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Trade and Industry to help improve content/packaging and develop an exceptional product.

• Be digital. The world is now your market.

• Act and execute! Let’s not waste this crisis.

Women account for more than 51.1% of ASEAN’s population and has an average labor participation rate of over 56%, according to the ASEAN Statistical Yearbook 2019. ASEAN stands to lose 17% of gross domestic product due to its untapped women potential and the persistent gender gap in the labor force/entrepreneurship, according to a study titled Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community published by the ASEAN Secretariat. Based on a survey by the International Labor Organization, 60% of companies with gender initiatives registered increased profits and productivity. Boardrooms with 30-39% women in the board and gender-balanced boards are 18.5% and 20%, respectively, more likely to have improved business outcome.

“Backing women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” says Suzanne Biegel, founder of Catalyst at Large.


Ms. Flor Tarriela is the chairman of Philippine National Bank. She is a former Undersecretary of Finance and the First Filipina vice-president of Citibank N.A.  She is a director of FINEX and FINEX Academy and TSPI, a Microfinance NGO.  She is a member of WomenBizPH and Filipina CEO Circle.