When a shellshocked world starts tallying the losses from COVID-19, the casualty book will include hundreds of thousands of businesses that choked from the cruel shutdown.
Could it have been worse?
Yes, it would have been worse if countless microentrepreneurs readily surrendered. Then the desperate poor would have trouble staying out of trouble. Without a worthwhile enterprise to live and die for, the poor would turn from assets to liabilities in society’s balance sheet.
Fortunately, the entrepreneurial poor are wired differently. Instead of joining angry voices on social media, they have summoned every ounce of resourcefulness and fought back. They may have been an obscure face in the high-profile battle against COVID-19 but they have certainly taken the brunt of the economic sacrifice demanded by this war.
The problem is that the entrepreneurial poor do not have the financial horsepower of cash-rich behemoths. When the money runs out, they will join the casualty toll. The poor are sinking as fast as those taken ill. When their boats capsize, a significant piece of the supply chain that has sustained the world through the various iterations of economic lockdown will be lost.
Sirens have rightfully blared for the plight of our exhausted health-care workers. In contrast, the alarms seem muffled for the quiet and unheralded heroes, the large army of microentrepreneurs who have bravely fought to survive all these months.
A group of entrepreneurial mothers whose fragile businesses are getting suffocated are crying for help. In response, we are taking the first few steps to bring their businesses online.
We have created a platform called Iskaparate (www.iskaparate.com) where they can showcase their products, tell their stories and provide their contact details. This platform will morph into a full-fledged e-commerce storefront supported by digital marketing.
There are now 33 entrepreneurial mothers (the platform calls them Nanay, the Filipino term for mother) in the site but we hope to add thousands within the next 12 months.
A number of kind souls have asked how they can help. Here are some concrete answers.
1. Visit www.iskaparate.com. Read the stories of the Nanays. Contact them, buy their products and services and promote them to your friends. It doesn’t matter if these Nanays do not yet measure up to the exacting standards of today’s global supply chains. In time, they will. But only if we give them a fighting chance. Now is a time when our purchasing decisions need to be driven by motives larger than value for money. Now is the time for patriotic buying.
2. Mentor one or more Nanays and help them build capacity. The Nanays are eager to hear insights from experienced businessmen. Many of them need help in figuring out how they can strengthen their current fulfillment mechanisms. A call or two from you to your friends in the supply chain is sometimes all that’s needed to connect the Nanays to the right people who will help them become digital entrepreneurs.
3. Sponsor one or more Nanays. Three local businessmen funded the creation of the platform and the onboarding of the first 33 Nanays. A Toronto-based fintech named Trureal Inc. sent funds to bring another 33 Nanays on board. Several Filipinos in North America are offering to fund Nanays of their choice.
Thousands of Nanays are asking to be included in the platform. We will onboard all who hurdle our criteria but the pace at which we can do so will depend a lot on the support of the sponsor community.
By rejecting mendicancy as an option, the entrepreneurial poor are proving themselves worthy of the same adulation that our health-care workers have gotten. They present to us a new face of capitalism, a refreshing brand of honest and socially responsible entrepreneurship. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk can teach them a thing or two about savvy and “future think” but these Nanays can teach us a thing or two about survival and courage. They do not have a solid balance sheet but that’s only because accountants have not found a way to value entrepreneurial tenacity.
If for nothing else, COVID-19 has convinced the entrepreneurial poor that they too ought to be citizens of the digital world. If online presence gets the entrepreneurial poor discovered by patriotic consumers, the former can get the momentary bump they need to get over the hump. From there, solid entrepreneurial discipline, coupled with continued digitization and sustained capacity building, should enable the entrepreneurial poor to doggedly build their long-term competitiveness. If this formula works, we would have found a solution that is far more life-saving than any vaccine. INQ
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is Past President of the MAP and the Founding Chair of the Maybridge Finance and Leasing, Inc.)
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