Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PinoyME: The People Power Against Poverty

On June 30, 1992, President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino looked out the window of her plain white Toyota Crown. People were marching toward the Quirino Grandstand. They waved as her car went by. Others flashed the Laban sign. Strewn on electric posts were banners imprinted with “We will miss you, Tita Cory”—keepsakes from a testing yet momentous decade that saw her prevail over a dictator and restore democracy. Enroute to the inauguration of her successor, as she smiled back at the people she had served for six years as president, what could she be thinking? What hopes did Tita Cory hold for her “mga minamahal kong kababayan”?

This January, as we mark the birthday of our dearly-loved former president and democracy icon, we also celebrate one of her most substantial advocacies—the People Power of Filipino microfinance. Although it has not gained as much international attention as the peaceful demonstrations that brought down Martial Law, microfinance has the potential to equally change the direction of the country while directly providing disadvantaged Filipinos with the wherewithal to better their lives. Moreover, Tita Cory observed that it does not merely empower people with sustainable livelihood opportunities; it also “restores human dignity and sows the seeds of entrepreneurship among our disadvantaged brethren.”

The Birth of PinoyME

As with most things with the former president, it all began without fanfare, with her dropping by, unannounced and in an old green Toyota Hi-Ace van, a meeting of 30 disadvantaged women in Tatalon, Quezon City. It was a lecture on microfinance, and the women were busy, asking questions about how it would help in supporting their families. One shyly asked where she could borrow P2,000 to start a banana-cue kiosk. Another talked about the difficulties of maintaining her sari-sari store. Tita Cory merely listened quietly, but apparently she was already planning her next revolution.
The former president summoned weeks later microfinance leaders Aris Alip of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development and Ruth Callanta of the CCT Credit Cooperative, NGO leader Dan Songco, and Rapa Lopa, Tita Cory’s favorite nephew, for brainstorming discussions on poverty eradication through microfinance. Throughout the sessions, one key challenge kept cropping up—microfinance institutions were in dire need of funds for lending to fledgling micro entrepreneurs.

She then called on business leaders like Washington Sycip, Manny Pangilinan, former finance secretary Ramon del Rosario, Plantersbank chair and founder Jesus Tambunting, former ambassador Howard Dee, former Negros governor Daniel Lacson, and Vicky Garchitorena of Ayala Foundation. After a presentation that showed how microfinance works, Tita Cory urged the businessmen to start a private sector consortium that would grow microfinance in the country. Realizing the promise of microenterprise development as a poverty eradication tool, the businessmen supported the creation of PinoyME. The new vehicle for Tita Cory’s next revolution was launched in February 25, 2006, 20 years after the triumph of her first People Power Revolution.

PinoyME, Microfinance Catalyst.

It is a source of regret that, five years after the launch, Tita Cory is no longer with us to watch the seeds she sowed blossom into a tree with branches reaching out to different microfinance areas. Nowadays, PinoyME does not merely provide funds for credit; it has stimulated more academic research on microfinance, gathered IT experts to help automate microfinance institutions, and helped micro entrepreneurs find outlets for their products.

Dan Songco, who was tasked by Tita Cory to lead PinoyME, describes the consortium and foundation as “catalyst, innovator, and facilitator.”

He explains: “We look at microfinance as an industry, try to analyze gaps and design interventions with microfinance institutions so that we are confident of their relevance. We also try to bring in non-microfinance individuals and groups that have expertise in addressing identified gaps. These organizations and individuals bring in new perspectives and new resources into the sector. With them and with the microfinance institutions, we try for new solutions that are market oriented, to minimize subsidy and ensure sustainability.”

Aris Alip, whose microfinance institution also benefited from the support of PinoyME, agrees: “PinoyME is more than a consortium, it is a movement. Its core competency is that it can bring together people from different sectors—from microfinance institutions, NGOs in the cooperatives plus businessmen and the government—to work together to fuel the growth of microfinance. It brings a vibrant and better policy making environment with private and government participation.”

Alip reveals: “PinoyME goes beyond microfinancing. It now promotes business development services, which allows microfinance clients to have better packaging of their products, and then we were introduced to outlets like the expos in China. And then, microfinance practitioners as we expand, we need more people. With their very powerful network, they were able to design technical courses with TESDA accreditation for microfinance professionals. So now we have a steady source of manpower. I have to say that PinoyME is playing a supportive and yet dominant role in microfinance.”

The People Power Against Poverty

While PinoyME has developed many microfinance areas, and hence brought about sustainable livelihoods for many people, there remains a need to expand microfinance so that it reaches more poverty-stricken Filipinos, especially those in the rural areas. It is a task that has become tougher with the passing of Tita Cory and her unifying voice. However, she has left behind PinoyME, an instrument that can galvanize broader action for the advancement of microfinance.

In her last few speeches before she was diagnosed with cancer, Tita Cory expressed her belief in the ability of microfinance to effectively stamp out poverty in the Philippines.

“Over the past year, I have been inspired by the noble work of microfinance institutions which have reached out to the entrepreneurial poor, giving them the means to uplift their lives through honest and hard work. To many of us, livelihood loans of P1,000 to P10,000 may not mean much, but to those outside the fringes of the mainstream economy, these are vital in tiding them over from day to day. The small but steady income from their micro-enterprises makes it possible for them to eat decent meals, to send their children to school and to nurture dreams of a better life.”
“All my visits to communities touched by microfinance have been humbling experiences. It is truly wonderful to see Filipinos, a great majority of them women, radiate so much hope and joy amid very modest circumstances, while many in mansions grumble so often about a hard life. Weekly collection meetings not only provide the group pressure and support that make possible an amazing 99% loan repayment rate. In the case of some MFIs, these are ideal venues for inculcating values like trust in one another, love of country and faith in God.”

Moreover, she reiterated her unwavering faith in our ability to effect change. During the launch of PinoyME, she said: “If Filipinos can win back their freedom on their own, they can conquer poverty on their own.”

Today as we celebrate Tita Cory’s birthday, let us remember what her life meant to us—that the simple sacrifice of listening and caring for others can inspire revolutions, that a united citizenry can heal even our nation’s gravest wounds. Poverty eradication through microfinance is clearly a movement fraught with challenges and hardships. However, as the first People Power demonstrated, where there is unity and a worthy cause, there is nothing that the Filipino people cannot achieve. Let our taking part in the People Power of Microfinance begin now.

You are encouraged to browse through our website http://www.pinoyme.com/ for more information on PinoyME and how you can participate in our microenterprise development projects.

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