Being her own boss: How technology is empowering female entrepreneurs

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Words by

Digital Reporter

“I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today, I wear the pants,” Lady Gaga declared in her speech for Elle’s Women in Hollywood in October. In a year of monumental strides forward for equality in entertainment, global politics, and sports, her words captured the battle cry of women in 2018.

In the local entrepreneurial scene, more and more people are becoming accustomed to women “wearing the pants”. But perception is one thing — reality, another thing altogether. A 2016 Facebook study conducted by Development Economics and YouGov, on behalf of Facebook, found that 87% of Filipinas wanted to start their own business. Unfortunately, barriers like a lack of educational resources and access to proper financing hinder them from realizing their dreams.

That’s where initiatives like #SheMeansBusiness, a global Facebook program aimed at educating and empowering female digital entrepreneurs, come in.

The future is female

Since launching in the Philippines in 2017, #SheMeansBusiness has facilitated the training of 92,000 women through online resources and in workshops across 10 cities. In partnership with Connected Women, Bayan Academy, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), this program not only offers technical training, but provides the scaffolding for building a supportive network of Filipina entrepreneurs.

Any woman interested in the program can avail of free online modules and physical workshops, ranging from technical dives into creating a business page, to targeting core audiences, to engaging with customers on social media. Women can access online lessons prepared by Connected Women through a special microsite powered by Blueprint, Facebook’s teaching tool. Meanwhile, Bayan Academy representatives mentor participants of whole-day physical workshops.

“When women do better, we all benefit.” said Clair Deevy, Facebook’s director of community affairs in the APAC and Latin America regions. “Filipino small business owners are resourceful and we want them to understand how going digital can expand their ventures.”

According to the Development Economics and YouGov study, empowering even just 60 percent of women who want to start their own business would build 1.35 million new businesses by 2021, translating to an estimated 3.93 million new jobs for Filipinos.

Earning value, being valued

With the help of local cacao farmers and indigenous women, former public school teacher Catherine Taleon keeps her Ilonggo heritage alive by producing traditional tsokolate through her business, Balay Tablea. Fellow Ilongga Daisy Catague-Cababasay lives out her passion for cooking with Takuri Cafe, whipping up dishes like laksa and satay which she picked up from her time abroad. Both women knew they wanted to venture into entrepreneurship, but neither knew where to start. That is, until joining up with #SheMeansBusiness.

Like Daisy, Catherine felt lost trying to build her business online. “I had the Facebook page… but it was inactive. I [didn’t] manage it, I [didn’t] even open it,” she said. “But after the training with Bayan Academy, that was when I saw how good it was. The first time I posted, so many people liked it and a lot also inquired… The best part is that my friends saw that it works, so they were also motivated.”

Through online referrals, Balay Tablea found major clients outside Iloilo, including hotels in Bacolod, Metro Manila, and Palawan. Similarly, Daisy’s Takuri Cafe doubled its number of customers.

But beyond monetary gains, Catherine and Daisy found that becoming entrepreneurs had a second, more fundamental benefit: building their self-worth. “They woke up this character in me that I didn’t know was there,” Catherine said. “It made me see my value, and it made me see my capacity that I didn’t see before.”

Opportunity, not sacrifice

Cultural norms and expectations for women in the family have left mothers and budding entrepreneurs like Catherine and Daisy especially vulnerable to feelings of stagnation and irrelevance.

“The women tend to be impacted the most when they have kids or when they drop out of the workforce,” said Gina Romero, CEO and Founder of Connected Women. “So technology actually really is a game-changer for women especially, because it gives us more flexibility and freedom to work from anywhere.”

With initiatives like #SheMeansBusiness, Romero hopes that more women can take charge of their lives as a part of the Philippine workforce.

“For many years, work has been a sacrifice for women… Work should not be a sacrifice; it is an opportunity,” Romero said. “Whether you’re working for survival purposes, or whether this is something that you’re doing because you want to follow your dreams and do something more with life, the opportunity should be there.”