Kandama: The social enterprise that empowers women, youth

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IN his college years, Victor Mari Baguilat Jr. decided to discuss in his undergraduate thesis  the impact of gender inequality and how treating women as catalysts of change instead of mere passive recipients of aid can lead to immense societal benefits.

He found out in his data gathering that women are essential in development, good governance and stable civil life, specifically when forms of assistance to fair sex are centered on increasing their education, their control over their resources, and their political voice.  “Hence, several years after I graduated from college, when I was looking for a purpose in life, I thought of founding a social enterprise, which is Kandama, that empowers women because, as what Amartya Sen argues, “Nothing is more important for development today than the economic, political and social participation of women, and I think that women’s participation is even more significant in this pandemic,” Baguilat told the BusinessMirror in an e-mail interview.

The birth of Kandama

Baguilat initially recruited seven product designers and brands (a furniture designer, a shoe designer, a fashion designer etc.). He took the role of systems designer who created Kandama Collective, which is both a social enterprise and a platform that facilitates the co-creation of  designers and weavers in making functional and stylish products that appeal to the modern taste.

Eventually, Baguilat ventured into product designing as well and had his first international show in the Melbourne Fashion Festival.

“We still collaborate with various designers because if we want to scale our business and ensure the sustainability of our social impact, then we have to collaborate. Moreover, we are engaging celebrities to collaborate with us as well and we have very interesting ones that are in the pipeline that would definitely bring delight to our clients,” he pointed out.

To determine if Kandama is delivering the expectations to the stakeholders, Baguilat conducted an assessment workshop in March 2019 on the weavers’ achievement of their core values since they joined Kandama. The weavers reported that the positive changes that they have experienced outweigh the negative effects to them. “At the end of the workshop, we clarified their vision and mission and there was a renewed motivation to ensure that we move towards our development goals,” he said.

Pursuing innovations

Nevertheless, Baguilat thought he needs to learn more things in running the social enterprise. He enrolled in the Asian Institute of Management to better understand how to measure things like empowerment and motivation. Once he graduates this year and when it is already safe to travel, Kandama intends to do its next assesment workshop, hopefully before the year ends.

Baguilat also contributed in modernizing the industry in his own little way as part of the multiple stakeholders. He’s much aware that there is only so much that an individual organization or person can do to execute industry-wide innovations.

“If there is anything that I have contributed, I would love to think that it is my collaboration with other stakeholders to introduce innovative designs and my work in establishing a linkage between the indigenous weavers and the global market through Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, among many other channels,” he explained.

Tapping the youth

Baguilat knows that tapping the younger generation is the key to keep alive a dying tradition. He added they have to teach the youth  so that they can pass it on as well to the generation succeeding them “Hence, we conduct summer workshops for kids although this has to be further institutionalized to ensure the regularity of this workshops,” he said.

“Prior to the lockdown due to Covid, we were planning to have a workshop on design theory and color combination for the weavers and their kids in partnership with a former professor from the architecture department of a university in Manila but we had to defer this until it becomes safe to travel,” he added.

Before the pandemic hit the country in January this year, Kandama has already been engaged in exporting  its products. It staged shows in Hong Kong, Melbourne, New York, Paris, etc. largely to strengthen their export business.

It is currently negotiating a deal in Toronto to complement New York to serve both the gateways to North America. “We were supposed to stage a show there last May but the Covid situation disrupted it, so we are looking for alternative means of penetrating the market,” he said.

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