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Women’s resilience shines as local sari-sari store owners counter pandemic challenges and gender inequality

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Coca-Cola Philippines continuously provides women-related programs that will address the needs of women and economically empower them to become active agents of the country's growth.

In 2020, Rebecca Ceniza, a mother of two who worked as a cook in Kuwait in 2013, had to make the difficult decision to leave her work and return to the Philippines when the pandemic was at its height last year.

“Syempre natakot ako kasi hindi ko alam yung mangyayari—makakabalik pa ba ko? Tsaka makakahanap pa ba ako ng pambayad sa pang-college ng mga anak ko? (I was scared because I didn’t know what the future was going to be like—would I be able to go back there? Will I still be able to find ways to pay for my child’s college education?),” she shared.

The decision was difficult but what carried her through was the thought that she needed to work to support her family as her husband’s salary as a salesman wasn’t enough.

More women rose against the challenges of the pandemic as they received financial support and safety education and resources with the help of Coca-Cola ReSTART or Rebuilding Sari-Sari Stores Through Access to Resources and Trade program.

After returning to Cagayan de Oro, Rebecca decided to put up a sari-sari store and sell processed meats—skills she learned in TESDA training sessions and in one of Coca-Cola Philippines’ livelihood and entrepreneurship programs for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFW), the OFW Re-Integration through Skills and Entrepreneurship Program or OFW RISE.

She said that she learned how to properly run a business through the said program. Now, Rebecca continues to run her store and sell processed and marinated meats.

“Na-realize ko na hindi lang ako housewife — pwede rin akong mag-business kahit nag-aasikaso ako ng pamilya (I realized that I can be more than a housewife—I can run my own business even though I’m busy taking care of my family),” she said.

Breaking free from gender-based stereotypes

There is overwhelming evidence that achieving equality and empowerment of women has broad ripple effects that are good for society. As pillars of communities, women invest a sizable portion of their income addressing the families and their local communities’ basic welfare and needs, which contributes to economic growth.

Coca-Cola is one company that has been investing in women’s economic empowerment. In 2010, Coca-Cola launched its 5by20® global initiative to enable the economic empowerment of 5million women entrepreneurs across its value chain by 2020. The program has been improving livelihoods for women, their families and their communities.

The Coca-Cola Company has now exceeded its 5by20 goal by enabling the economic empowerment of more than 6 million women around the world. In the Philippines, the 5by20 program was initially implemented through the Sari-Sari Training and Access to Resources or STAR program until it expanded to other initiatives to respond to different needs of women, such as iSTAR, STAR Ka-Asenso, ReSTART, Women Artisans of Tondo, WOMEN REACH, and OFW RISE. To date, Coca-Cola Philippines, through its women-centred programs, has empowered about 250,000 women.

Gerlyn Ogong is just one of the empowered women by the 5by20 programs of Coca-Cola. Aside from her fruit delivery service, she explored and expanded her business to open another e-loading business and dragon fruit soap making to help maximize her monthly earnings.

“Women have limitless potential to make the world a better place, but the reality is much of that potential is hindered by prevailing cultural stereotypes. The stories of hundreds of thousands of Filipino women that have participated in our 5by20 programs prove that women can fully realize their potential when provided with proper resources and enabling mechanisms,” shared Jonah De Lumen-Pernia, Coca-Cola Philippines Public Affairs and Sustainability Director.

An example of women helping other women and their community is Daisy Mogote, a STARpreneur with a sari-sari store and carinderia business from Muntinlupa. Daisy currently employs two women and is actively looking for a third to help with her business. She said that it’s imperative for women to help other women to reach their dreams and full potential.

Meanwhile, Racele Renong, a ReSTART Program beneficiary and sari-sari store owner from Aklan, shows the indomitable spirit of a woman who doesn’t let her circumstances and even a pandemic stop her from wanting to earn a decent living.

Initially, she sold meals through her store, and when business was slow, she would get on her electric bike to sell meals in the community, but the pandemic hit her hard and eventually halted her business. But not for long, as she became a beneficiary of the Coca-Cola ReSTART program that loaned her P10,000 to re-open her business.

“Sabi ng asawa ko tumigil daw muna ako sa pagtitinda kasi ang dami ng nagkakasakit sa amin pero boring pag nasa bahay lang ako at kailangan namin kumita, basta ang mahalaga safe sa pagtitinda (My husband told me to stop selling because more people are getting sick at our place but if I stayed at home, I’d be bored and I’d rather make a living but it’s important that we always account for safety),” she said.

The P10,000 she got from the ReSTART program went to buying Coca-Cola products and other products that she could sell online. Her sari-sari store has now grown into also offering ice cream products.

“Kailangan talaga pursigido ka kung gusto mong umunlad. (You really need to be determined if you want to succeed),” Racele said.

Rebecca Ceniza, an OFW Re-Integration through Skills and Entrepreneurship Program or RISE graduate, received business coaching and mentoring that empowered and equipped her to manage her own sari-sari store business.

Empowering millions of women through 5by20 programs

According to Gerlyn Ogong—one of the 250,000 Filipino women empowered through programs like WOMEN REACH—Coca-Cola did not only provide them with the necessary resources, capital, and tools. She said that the beverage company enabled her and others like her, to feel confident about being a woman.

“Natulungan talaga kami ng program na ito na maging motivated at empowered, na hindi lang kami dapat nasa bahay at nag-aalaga ng bata. Na hindi porke’t naging domestic helper ka abroad, pagbalik mo mababa lang sahod mo. Nalaman namin na pwede kang magtayo at magpatakbo ng business kahit wala kang natapos dahil sa programa ng Coca-Cola. Kahit anong estado namin sa buhay, pwede pa rin pala kaming maging entrepreneur. (This program helped us become motivated and empowered that we shouldn’t be just stuck at home and taking care of the kids. We learned that just because you were a domestic helper abroad doesn’t mean you’re bound to settle for a low-income job when you get back. Coca-Cola helped us prove that we could set up our own business even if we don’t have the right educational background. Whatever our status is, we women can still be entrepreneurs),” she added.

After successfully achieving its original 5by20 goals, Coca-Cola is going beyond by empowering more Filipino women entrepreneurs.

“The success of our 5by20 programs inspires us to do more,” said Tony Del Rosario, President of Coca-Cola Philippines and Vice President of Franchise Operations for Coca-Cola East Region (Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia).

Coca-Cola Philippines may have empowered around 250,000 women entrepreneurs, but it doesn’t stop there. Coca-Cola will continue to champion women empowerment by creating avenues and opportunities for them to break barriers and gender stereotypes, and reach their full potential, captured in its ongoing #KababaeMongTao campaign.

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