By Johannes L. Chua
In one of the briefings at Malacañang, the President quipped that husbands who will receive the P5,000 to P8,000 cash aid from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) should “remit” the money to their wives. The men, according to the President, will just spend the cash on liquor, gambling, or other vices.
His observation may or may not be the general scenario, but it somehow rings true for millions of households in the Philippines. Research on household income and expenditure has shown that the majority (almost two-thirds) of lower middle to low-income households are led by women who also act as “treasurer”—money goes to their hands, which they budget wisely for a long list of expenditure for the entire family. Even with the small amount, they even manage to have savings for the rainy days.
Some of these women may not be the primary earners of the household, but what they do on the side (e.g. operating a sari-sari store, selling cellphone load, doing laundry, etc.) can ease the financial burden felt by low-income families.
The disastrous effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will not spare any individual or any industry, will be felt deeper by communities already struggling even before the months-long quarantine was imposed. In these communities, majority are micro-enterprises led by women, employing fellow women who want to augment the income of their families.
“Yes, we were really affected by the pandemic,” says Luz Platon in Filipino, a sari-sari store owner in Quezon City and a mother of four. During the lockdown, his husband was not able to earn from his job as a construction worker. Though she was allowed to open her store, sales were not like before and it affected her support to her family and her siblings. She also had to implement the new normal way of doing business, such as putting plastic partitions and making alcohol available. These efforts, though minor adjustments for others, affected her drastically as it eats away from her meager savings.
SUPPORT LOCAL Individual entrepreneurs like sari-sari store owners are at risk during the pandemic. With immediate relief, they are able to support their family, continue their business, and also serve their neighborhood
The dire situation of Luz, who now stands as a de facto padre de pamilya (head of the family) as she is the only one making a living, is similar to the stories of countless women all over the country who are faced with the “helplessness” caused by the pangs of poverty and the pain of a pandemic. Even with the insurmountable challenge of continuing their small enterprises, these women can’t give up for the sake of their families. At this time, they just need a helping hand to “weather the (pandemic) storm.”
This helping hand has arrived for people like Luz in a program aptly called “Covid-19 RELIEF,” acronym for Response to Enhance Livelihoods of Individual Entrepreneurs and Families. This was launched by Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit whose mission is to enable the poor, especially women, to create a world without poverty and hunger. It was supported by global financial services giant J.P. Morgan. In essence, the program aims to “provide relief and long-term recovery support to 3,500 women entrepreneurs running microenterprises across the nation.”
What elevates this from other well-meaning programs is that it is just not a dole-out package or one that just provides temporary relief. A bigger aspect of it is the long-term strengthening of women-led enterprises, which not allows them to survive the pandemic, but makes them more resilient for other crises that may come.
“J.P. Morgan understood early that relief and recovery of individual entrepreneurs, especially women, would be a critical step to ensuring the economic resilience of the Philippines in this crisis. We are proud to partner with them on this important initiative,” said Steve Hollingworth, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation.
This was supported with an expression of commitment from J.P. Morgan. “We are helping address the impact of Covid-19 in communities around the world. Here in the Philippines and through our partnership with Grameen Foundation, we are tackling inclusive recovery with a focus on supporting the most vulnerable individuals as they go through these difficult times,” said Carlos Ma. G. Mendoza, senior country officer of J.P. Morgan Philippines.
USING TECH Grameen will use SMS to send tips on financial coping mechanisms and healthy behaviors related to Covid-19 to loan officers and individual micro-entrepreneurs directly
The foundation observed that under the quarantine, women micro-entrepreneurs found it challenging to sustain their incomes. An added burden for them was that microfinance institutions (MFIs) that traditionally support micro-entrepreneurs with financial and non-financial services (access to essential health, business and government information, and linkages to additional services), are also facing constraints amid the pandemic.
To implement the program—one of several in the overall Covid-19 Relief—Grameen will target vulnerable individual female micro-entrepreneurs and their families located in Metro Manila and Cebu City. It will collaborate with and provide technical assistance to selected partner MFIs to reach these entrepreneurs.
The first phase, which will last from three to four months, is the delivery of non-cash vouchers for pharmacies and supermarkets or in-kind packages of goods distributed through MFI centers. The foundation will also employ an SMS (short message service) campaign to send advice on financial coping mechanisms and healthy behaviors related to Covid-19 to loan officers and micro-entrepreneurs.
Even with the insurmountable challenge of continuing their small enterprises, these women can’t give up for the sake of their families. At this time, they just need a helping hand to weather the (pandemic) storm.
As this is a long-term program, the second phase will last eight to nine months where Grameen will deliver its “Resilient Life, Resilient Business” curriculum to MFIs in order to enhance their capacity to address member needs and promote financial resilience during this crisis and beyond. A monitoring and feedback mechanism will be incorporated to enable the MFIs to track areas where beneficiaries need additional support.
The foundation admits there are still a lot of challenges to be faced as the pandemic has repercussions for years to come. But it believes that by giving these hard-working women entrepreneurs a helping hand, it is already a first good step on this long and arduous journey to recovery.