By Leony R. Garcia
In celebration of National Women’s Month and to help curb women migration in the country, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Coca-Cola Philippines launched last Saturday the Women Entrepreneurs Reintegrated and Economically Active at Home (Women REACH) Program at Tesda Women’s Center in Taguig City.
Women Reach is an enabling mechanisms that can potentially help women overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) explore possible economic opportunities when they come home —by providing them access to business skills and life training, and access to business enhancement or start-up capital assets.
According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the average earnings of OFWs are often four to five times higher than what they can possibly earn on the same type of work in the Philippines. When remittances arrive to their families, these are spent on debt payment (34 percent); daily household operations (32 percent); acquisition of consumer durables (13 percent); education (10 percent); business capital (5 percent); shelter (3percent); and savings (1 percent). While these remittances spending practices positively impact food, health and education of the families, lower importance is given to possible entrepreneurship venture that can multiply the remitted money and savings for the future. This type of spending behavior entraps women OFWs to the work almost all their productive years abroad.
“That’s why we thought of this program partnership, which targeted our returning women OFWs. The program shall equip them with the right support to build their entrepreneurial confidence, so they can establish or enhance their own microenterprises within their own localities and eliminate the need for them to go abroad again,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz said.
To date, there are about 2.3 million Filipinos working abroad, of which 50.5 percent are women, who are mostly employed in the domestic, entertainment and caregiving fields in Asia, with high concentration in the Middle East countries. The Philippines, as a major supplier of labor migrants to over 100 countries, is also among the leading women migrant sending country along with Indonesia.
The economic benefit from women OFWs comes with a very high social cost—the separation of family as a unit, which often led to estrangement, alienation or worst disintegration. According to the Institute of Labor Studies of the DOLE, the continuing feminization of migration has the most detrimental impact to the family and children. Families often go through a lot of major adjustments when women migrate, because along with her also goes the caregiving and nurturing responsibilities. Studies conducted by non-governmental organizations estimated that about 9 million Filipino children are left behind as one or both parents migrate for work permanently or temporarily to other countries.
Women REACH, a public-private partnership, is a combination of several program components, the Coca-Cola Philippines’s Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources (STAR) and the DOLE’s Welfare, Employment, Legal and Livelihood (WELL) programs that can readily accommodate returning women OFWs as they arrive.
The STAR Program is part of The Coca-Cola Co.’s 5by20 global initiative that aims to empower 5 million women within its value chain by the year 2020. Started in 2011, the STAR Program is implemented by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority nationwide and has already touched the lives of more than 47,000 women microentrepreneurs, this is out of the 200,000 target in the Philippines up to year 2020, according to Adel Tamano, Coca-Cola VP for Public Affairs and Communication.
STAR Program hones the entrepreneurial skills of women sari-sari and food-stall owners by training them, organizing them into a cohesive business network, and linking them to enterprise opportunities. The program has been rolled out with much success in Tacloban City in September 2015.
Coca-Cola has established the STAR Center for Excellence facility at the Tesda Women’s Center, which serves as a venue for the training and accreditation of facilitators to be deployed throughout the country.
Returning women OFWs with existing microretailing businesses shall automatically qualify for STAR Program scholarship to undergo the Basic Entrepreneurship and Gender Sensitivity Training in Taguig City and other STAR Program trainings conducted in the regions.
The DOLE’s Assist WELL Program, by virtue of DOLE Order 139-14, is a package of free assistance and services to ensure the successful reintegration of any OFWs returning to the country. For this, the DOLE has also mandated the establishment of Assist WELL Processing Centers in strategic locations. Currently, there are two international Assist WELL Processing Centers in Seoul, South Korea and Dubai, UAE, and a total of 20 regional centers across the country—allocated one center per region, except for Regions 8 and 6, with two centers each; and the National Capital Region, with three processing centers at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) offices.
The Women REACH Program is among the livelihood opportunities supported under Assist WELL. After the successful training of women OFWs under the 5by20 STAR Program, they will be extended various business-enhancement programs of Assist WELL that will enable them to grow their retail businesses.
“We are one with the Philippine government in helping ensure economic opportunities are available for women. I believe that this partnership with the DOLE will enable us to help bring lasting impact in the lives of marginalized women OFWs. We hope that the combination of each organizations’ expertise will enable the development and implementation of a sustainable, replicable and scalable microenterprise support mechanisms for women,” Coca-Cola Philippines President and General Manager Diego Granizo said.
Starting this year, Women REACH shall initially target 10,000 women OFWs profiled and assessed by the DOLE, subject to adjustments based on the influx of returning women OFWs. The program partnership is in collaboration with various DOLE attached agencies, such as the POEA, OWWA, NRCO, Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns, International Labor Affairs Bureau.