COVID-19 no match for fighting MSMEs

Luzviminda Sunit
National CMA winner Luzviminda Sunit of Medellin, Cebu, a dried fish seller, said “giving up was never an option” for her. Sunit, who relies on First Agro-Industrial Rural Bank for her financial requirements, not only helped people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, but was also helping those interested to start their own businesses.

Determination, perseverance and faith—in divine providence and in their own abilities to overcome obstacles—enabled 10 small entrepreneurs to preserve and grow their enterprises even during a protracted global health crisis.

In virtual ceremonies, recipients of the 18th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA) were honored for the resilience, courage and fortitude that enabled their enterprises to survive, even flourish, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that devastated even businesses with millions of pesos in assets.

National CMA winner Luzviminda Sunit of Medellin, Cebu, a dried fish seller, said “giving up was never an option” for her. Sunit, who relies on First Agro-Industrial Rural Bank for her financial requirements, not only helped people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, but was also helping those interested to start their own businesses.

Like most entrepreneurs, she had to make concessions to restrictions caused by the pandemic. While maintaining physical stores, she started a delivery service.

Other award recipients were:
Renalyn Brondial of Bataan, proprietor of Willy’s Cashew Nuts and Butter and a client of CARD SME Bank, regional awardee for Luzon; Medelina Cansancio of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, dried and smoked fish producer, exporter and client of Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, Inc., regional awardee for Visayas; Luz Bangos of Iligan City, owner of CCLM Hardware and client of Serviamus Foundation, Inc., regional awardee for Mindanao; Rosalyn Espenorio of Cotabato, who is engaged in food processing, restaurant and bakery, fish and vegetable selling and a client of CARD Inc., regional awardee for Mindanao; and Joymar Olarte of Pangasinan, who runs the J&J Tasty Fried Chicken and a client of Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Youth Microentrepreneur of the Year.

Pandemic

Four small entrepreneurs were honored specifically for how their businesses addressed the needs created by the year-long pandemic and how they protected their workers’ jobs and created new ones. The COVID-19 Response Champions are:

Florence Ao-wat of Kalinga City, KINWA Etnika Handicrafts and a client of Alalay sa Kaunlaran Microfinance Social Development, Inc.; Josephine de Lara, Lucille’s Cakes and Pastries and a client of RAFI Microfinance, Inc.; Ivy Millare from Mindanao, Beb’s-AJ Haus of Pies and a client of Kabalikat para sa Maunlad na Buhay, Inc.; and Dominador Vergara, Jr., who operates Maternal and Child Care Community Clinic and a client of UPLiFT Philippines Microfinance, Inc.

The CMA ceremonies also honored Marixi Rufino Prieto, former chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, for her “consistent and significant contribution” to the awards program. One of the original members of the CMA National Selection Committee, she nominated her daughter Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, Inquirer Group CEO, as her replacement.

Prieto said it was a distinct pleasure to have been in the selection committee, which made her appreciate what P5,000 (the typical starting capital for CMA winners and nominees) could achieve.

In his keynote speech, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Benjamin Diokno said the award ceremonies recognized “our microentrepreneurs who, despite all odds, have shown great resourcefulness, courage and resilience to flourish amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They bring a message of hope and perseverance in these challenging times.”

The governor added, “While the pandemic has posed difficulties, it introduced a new dimension to the awards program. We are glad to know that, through this program, past winners were able to receive much needed recovery assistance. We also recognize the dedicated service to clients and selfless work of our microfinance institutions in advancing inclusive development amid the pandemic. We owe much of the achievement of our advocacy to you.”The annual Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards is a joint undertaking of the Citi Foundation, BSP and Microfinance Council of the Philippines. Diokno reiterated the government’s commitment to support micro-, small- and medium-enterprises (MSMEs) by outlining some of the latest official actions and programs that could enhance their viability and further growth.

Microfinance

In his opening remarks, Citi Philippines CEO Aftab Ahmed said “the CMA has achieved and surpassed the goals set 18 years ago. The program has helped mainstream microentrepreneurship, increased awareness and acceptance of microfinance, and educated people so they could make sound and informed financial decisions.”

The 18th awards ceremonies, he said, “recognize the resiliency, determination and efforts of successful microentrepreneurs. They are role models and can serve as an inspiration to others. They are outstanding entrepreneurs who, with support from the microfinance institutions, have grown their microenterprises, improved their standard of living and have also helped their communities.”

He noted that, despite the COVID-19 crisis, “these economic trailblazers have prevailed in the face of adversity. They have supported, innovated and led pandemic-related rehabilitation initiatives in their local communities.”

Ahmed said, “Growing a business in normal times is an achievement. Sustaining or growing one’s business during a crisis is nothing less than remarkable.” He commended the winners for “their passion, their zeal and the commitment that they have demonstrated in successfully growing their respective businesses.”

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