COVID-19 was a lightning bolt that struck many businesses, burning months or years of hard work, plans, and money of entrepreneurs in just a short period of time. In the Philippines, about 2,000 establishments were reported to have closed in the last few months. If you include micro enterprises, this number will surely spike up. It is very unfortunate, not just for the entrepreneurs but for everyone who is relying on these businesses for their livelihoods.
I’m not an entrepreneur yet, so I don’t have first-hand experience in managing a business. However, I try my best to understand what entrepreneurs experience – challenges, learnings and successes – and help them implement growth plans through my work with Villgro. Recently, we have made a conscious decision to support women entrepreneurs. Since then, I have been focusing my efforts on understanding the challenges WEs face during the pandemic.
Villgro Philippines recently launched the WE Rise Accelerator, a program for women entrepreneurs. We have been working on this program since last year; however, because of the pandemic, we knew that we must acknowledge the risks and challenges this has brought to women entrepreneurs.
A few months ago, we released a survey to understand the challenges of women entrepreneurs in the Philippines during this pandemic, and customise WE Rise based on their needs. From the respondents, we gained valuable insights on the challenges WEs were facing, and also on the support they need to survive and thrive in the COVID economy.
The Survey – Women Entrepreneurs share their concerns
A total of 36 women entrepreneurs answered the ‘Women Enterprise in the Philippines’ survey. According to the survey results, the majority of the women entrepreneurs say that they have significantly reduced their operations to a minimum, if not zero, during the quarantine. This has been the biggest challenge for them, and it is apparent because of the closing of physical market channels, which is the second most identified challenge, together with mobility. Followed by lessened customer demands, and no cash flow. Some respondents also mentioned difficulty in fundraising. Market uncertainty seemed to be the least of their concerns in the survey.
- Significantly reduced operations: With no customers to serve, difficult access to transportation, closing of production facilities, entrepreneurs were forced to minimize, if not stop, operations to stop their losses.
- Closing of physical market channels: Closing of shops and stores, due to the community quarantine, put a toll on service-oriented enterprises and entrepreneurs who were relying on physical stores to reach their customers.
- Mobility: Even with the use of technology for reaching customers online, mobility was a big issue as there was a nationwide halt in transportation. Transporting goods, raw materials, and going to places to do business stopped which affected sales, production, customer service, etc.
- Customer demands: Customers have started to prioritize their purchases, and are mostly spending money on food, hygiene products, and bill payments. The products that were not found to be essentials saw a huge dip in sales.
- No cash flow: With no sales, cashflow stopped and the enterprises bleed as expenses continue to accumulate. Because of this, they have had to significantly cut down costs such as salary.
- Fundraising: Enterprises that were looking to raise capital found it difficult to do so as potential investors have become risk-averse due to economic uncertainty.
- Market Uncertainty: Entrepreneurs’ business risks have increased due to uncertain quarantine dates, affecting not just business operations but also customers’ purchasing capacity and behaviors.
Apart from sharing the challenges, they were also asked to rate different types of support for entrepreneurs based on their needs, type and amount of capital they would require in the next few months.
What women entrepreneurs need
With these results, we can say that funding is of the highest relevance for women entrepreneurs to survive and bounce back from the crisis. This is where funders, finance institutions, investors, etc. can come in to support women-led enterprises by providing grants, friendly loan products, or philanthropic capital. Mentorship will also help, but the different responsibilities of women entrepreneurs, both at work and at home, should be considered to make it flexible for them. Technical assistance will also be key so women entrepreneurs will be able to adjust their operations taking into consideration the new normal. Lastly, access to market will help those who need to identify new types of customers and develop channels to reach them.
Now, four months since the community quarantine started, entrepreneurs that have managed to stay afloat are trying to recover in the new normal. Opportunities to access financing, develop new market channels, and pivot business models will be key to adapting to the COVID and post-COVID economy. It will be challenging, but it is also a time to innovate and maximize opportunities for WEs.
To that cause, Villgro has launched this initiative to help women entrepreneurs address these challenges that have become amplified by the pandemic. WE Rise is a 10-month accelerator to strengthen business models of women-led enterprises to adapt to the COVID economy, and enable women entrepreneurs to upskill themselves, scale their business, and access growth capital.
Time and time again, women have shown how strong and resilient they are in times of crisis. This time, it won’t be different. I’m excited to see the program unfold and unlock opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the Philippines. So despite this pandemic, I would love to see them be more confident in their abilities, take on the challenges, and thrive because WE can.
Program Manager at Villgro Philippines
Johanna Brillantes is a program manager at Villgro Philippines. She manages the incubation support for their portfolio companies. She also manages the WE Rise Accelerator and the Angat Lahat sa Agribusiness (ALAB) Innovation Accelerator.