Women Entrepreneurs Weather COVID -19 Years after the Project Closed
This blog was authored by Tess Bayombong, Maria Adelma Montejo, Emily Janoch, Caitlin Shannon, and Tzusuan Peng.
Women entrepreneurs who talk about success in their businesses in the Philippines have fascinating contributions to what success means.
Cecile Corio describes an arc of resilience and equality: “I think of ways to recover (my business). Don’t lose trust in yourself. I started from nothing; I can prove that I can lead a better life. … My husband and I have a good give-and-take relationship.”
Bella says, "Even if I am rich, I would rather have a peaceful life. Income can be easily earned as long as we help each other. Our family cherishes simple joys like eating together. I don’t aspire to a luxurious life. What’s important is that we can help others in our own little ways."
Those definitions of success coincide with what we evaluated seven years after Typhoon Haiyan and five years after the project ended. Nearly all women (98%) are confident they can achieve their life goals, and 82% earn the same income or higher than when the project ended—even though it was in the middle of COVID-19.
The Women Enterprise Fund was part of CARE Philippines’ response to Typhoon Haiyan and ran from 2014-2016 to support 929 women entrepreneurs recover their businesses after the Typhoon. The project partnered with the Antique Development Foundation (ADF), Rural Development Initiatives (RDI), Leyte Center for Development, Inc. (LCDE), Business Fair Trade Consulting (BizFTC), Pontevedra Peoples Multipurpose Cooperative (PVDCI) and Uswag Development Foundation (UDF)1 to provide grants, reinforce skills, and make connections to the market that helped women expand their businesses. Investing specifically in women paid off for everyone. The project did not just respond to the immediate crisis but also helped women plan for a long-term future even during crisis—what we sometimes call “nexus” programming.
What changes lasted?
- Businesses are going strong. 86% of women have kept their businesses running. 49% of women have even expanded or diversified their businesses. 9% of women had to shut their original enterprise, but they have started a new one.
- Women have diversified their businesses to ensure success. 77% of women have diversified their business, up from 67% in 2015. Diversifying their businesses has been a big coping strategy for COVID-19.
- Incomes are steady or growing. Incomes went from $88 per month in 2016 to $104 per month in late 2020—at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns. 13% of women say they earn more now than they did after the project. 70% of women said their incomes stayed the same, which is a feat considering the impacts COVID-19 had on businesses.
- Women are creating jobs for others. 62% of women employ at least one female outside the household, and 77% provide work for at least one female member of their families.
- Women are helping others grow. 65% of women have helped at least one other woman start her own enterprise—keeping the business community growing and thriving.
- People kept learning. 97% of women said they have learned at least one new skill since the project ended—often building on relationships they built with project support or applying skills they learned with WEF to learn new skills (like watching YouTube videos to learn new baking skills).
- Partners are still going strong. All three partner organizations included in the post-project study are still working to support markets and expand skills. For example, RDI successfully lobbied the city government to provide a marketplace at the city hall and other strategic locations for women to display their products. The market facility became operational in 2018 and is used by women from WEF. Of the six original partners, 5 are still supporting women in the areas WEF operated.
- Women are confident they can face crises. 98% of women are confident they can achieve their own goals, and 96% are confident that the community can collaborate to face crises. Lemelyn says, “I learned how to decide for myself, especially when I started to earn on my own.” 90% of women are confident in their negotiation skills, compared to 50% at the end of the project.
How did it happen?
- Provide women cash to rebuild. The project gave grants from $80-$1,000 USD, depending on what women proposed in their plans to rebuild businesses. The average loan was $392 per participant. Women used that money to replace equipment they lost in the typhoon, buy raw materials, or invest in better equipment to run their businesses more efficiently and sustainably.
- Support women’s long-term planning. 85% of women said they are still building on the benefits and success of the grant and the skills WEF taught them. 63% of women said WEF was the only thing that made their success possible, and 30% of women said WEF was the biggest—but not only—contributor to their success.
- Think beyond the crisis. The project specifically worked to support women entrepreneurs in building their businesses for long-term resilience. Rather than focusing on just immediate response, the project helped women solve the short-term problem AND build a long-term future.
- Invest in strengthening a range of skills. The project offered women training in financial literacy, business skills, gender equality, and training on their rights—like the laws preventing violence against women. It also helped women build skills to anticipate and adapt to shocks. 81% of women said the WEF training helped them raise their productivity, 80% said it increased their profitability, and 84% said it improved the quality of their goods and services.
- Build connections to markets. 92% of women said they are still connecting to government actors because of the links they made through WEF, and 94% are still connecting with private sector vendors, buyers, and other actors in the supply chains. 75% of women have expanded their business networks since they joined the project. For example, 78% of women have insurance from private sector suppliers.
- Reinforce connections. The project helped women join groups of other women and entrepreneurs and network with government services providers and self-help groups. In building networks and building skills, women had room to grow and improve over time. Women supporting each other was a critical coping tool for COVID-19. Vangie says, “I need an assortment of plants, but I cannot afford to buy the good ones because those are pricey, so I bartered my plants with other plant enthusiasts with whom I have established relations.”
Want to learn more?
- 1Of these 6 partners, ADF, RDI, and UDF were part of the post-project study.