A virtual forum held last March 8, 2021, in celebration with the Women’s Month
We all know how females have made a very big difference as competent and credible managers that, even amidst any crises, they manage to get things done, orderly and graciously. And the female touch is very much evident in how they have managed to make our cooperatives run smoothly and efficiently, with flying colours at that!
Though the task may not be that easy especially in the midst of so many social distancing measures, these female coop leaders have indeed combined both charm and intelligence by working efficiently both at the forefront and behind the scenes that helped yield positive results. This also created the perfect frame of mind for the Philippine Cooperative Center (PCC) to host the online conference Kababaihan Ng Kooperatiba Sa Panahon ng Pandemya last March 8, 2021.
“We feel this is a most appropriate theme, underscoring the role of females in the movement. What we have is a powerhouse of women coop leaders who have proven not only their mettle, but their passion as well, and how they helped coops survive, recover and thrive even before the pandemic is over. Their leadership is not just a matter of gender, as we have seen how women played key roles during this pandemic, as it does away with stereotypes during this period.” So began PCC Chair Dr. Garibaldi O. Leonardo during his welcome address.
Ms. Cheska, Executive Assistant of PCC, noted: “if we are one and in this reshaped society, let us encourage the role of women in the reshaped society, especially on what strategies and tactics are being applied.”
Learning and growth experiences: Ms. Divine Quemi
Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives (NSCC) CEO Ms. Divine Quemi considers herself as having her roots in the movement where, in 1992 at the age of 24 she started as a Manager. She has seen how Nueva Segovia blossomed into what it is today, with several businesses, members and partnerships—a long way indeed from when they started with a capitalization of only P13,500 some three decades ago!
She mentioned the success of Nueva Segovia via the following elements: understanding what members need/ creating business opportunities for members/ connecting to the community through tie-ups, networking and social services/ providing learning, right compensation and valuing the work of officers and co-employees/ building an image with integrity, humility and modesty/ and always on the go in learning.
As for the challenges posted by the pandemic, Ms. Quemi admitted how business activities went on a decline—especially when their NSC Hotel in Vigan, Plaza and Coffee House had to be closed due to IATF regulations; a decrease in enrollment of 50 percent in their Macro College due to transfer of students to public schools; and a 50 percent decline in their financial performance from P60.2 million in 2019 to P30.2 million due to lesser generated deposits, lesser availment of loans, lower loan collections and more withdrawals. Employees-wise, working hours were reduced, with 40 percent of staff returning to work.
Yet the pandemic proved to be a learning and growth experience for Nueva Segovia. Ms. Quemi cited this period as something that beset with several challenges where for one, the pandemic taught its members to be more careful and health-conscious.
Two, virtual is the new normal, with cooperators adopting to new technological trends slowly but surely.
Plus, she reiterated that if life goes on, so does the need for coop services to continue as well.
Under the new normal, Ms. Quemi cited the invaluable role that Nueva Segovia played with regard to service to community, such as their donation of alcohol, face masks and vitamin C for LGUs and other institutions; the focus on agricultural activities such as supplying rice, via the ‘market on wheels’ initiative to LGUs and other institutions; the establishment of the Nueva Segovia Business Centre as marketing outlet for coop products and members’ products where farmers’ produce are being stored; the transformation of Nueva Segovia Hotel Vigan as quarantine facility for Vigan City and Nueva Segovia Plaza Hotel converted as offices.
There is also the banner Connect, Partner, Participate. Ms. Quemi proudly mentioned how Nueva Segovia forged partnerships with the DA/Department of Agriculture along with ACPC Alpas Sa Covid Program where 1,400 farmers benefitted from a P35 million loan release via production Loan Easy Access, Sure Hog Program and KAYA/ Kapital Access For Young Entrepreneurs program. Other noteworthy feats that Nueva Segovia was able to accomplish during the pandemic include: the Rice Resiliency Project, where rice distribution continues, with subsidies for farmer-beneficiaries of Ilocos Sur, where a total of 4,226 farmers and fisherfolk received subsidies of 132,210 kilos, with P4.7 millions collected as of February 28, 2021.
Then there is the Bayanihan Project with the DA and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), with Buy-Anihan loan extended to cooperatives. The credit line of Nueva Segovia was P200 Million under this program that was approved by the DBP at 2.5 percent interest per annum, which was disbursed to 24 participating cooperatives.
Not to mention the continuous livelihood trainings with COOP-NATCCO partylist, Department of Trade and Industry, TESDA and continuous trainings given to various sectors, to female as well as to male farmers via new technologies; and continuing partnerships with LGUs towards livelihood assistance to help entrepreneurs cope up with the pandemic, such as P10 million for Vigan City Economic Recovery Program for MSMEs; P7 million for Ilocos Sur Capital Assistance Recovery Program For Entrepreneurs and OFWs; and P3.2 million for Santa Ilocos Sur Economic Recovery Assistance for Entrepreneurs.
The list of Nueva Segovia’s immense contributions to pandemic efforts may go on, but whatever these may be, these graciously sum up the spirit of Nueva Segovia as akin to the adage, ‘amidst those trials that a major crisis may trigger lie triumphs that were translated to invaluable efforts and actions that have made a great difference.’ As Ms. Quemi proudly stressed: “We never stop to connect, collaborate and participate.”
The new Juana in a cooperative setting
Cooperator Annabella Tuy of TAGCODEC used as her template for the modern female cooperator Juana, as a figure who knows how to act in crisis situations such as the pandemic.
In as much as she admitted that no one expected this pandemic to reach shocking proportions—to the extent that the tourism industry was severely affected, plus unemployment in the different economic sectors, Ms. Tuy observed how cooperatives remained stronger and women more determined and bolder—guided by the big challenge on how they can deliver services and programs. She noted how even without transport, the modern Juana walks and inspite of the obstacles, she rises above the challenges to deliver services with a smile.
On another angle, Ms. Tuy added how social distancing requirements also enhanced gender protection against sexual harassment.
In discussing Women Empowerment Versus the Actual Situation, Ms. Tuy emphasized that the Juana has her Sense of Self-Worth: she knows her worth, flourishes when challenged and is a warrior against any danger. Cooperative women in the new normal, she added, rise to beat COVID and live to embrace the better normal—which is achieved via the wonders of IT/digitalization.
But what if the Juana is a bread winner?
Ms. Tuy stressed the need for her to Innovate and Apply Creative Thinking. She also proudly noted how there has been no cooperative news on sexual harassment, which proves the fact that women have been greatly esteemed in the movement by their male counterparts. “We are warriors against danger,” she pointed out.
In the Right to have and determine choices, she observed a balance of family first before self, cooperatives first before self, puttting these in their proper perspective of time of being at home and at work. Selflessness is also that key for the Juana in protecting their cooperatives as their life and their source.
As for the right to have access to opportunities and resources, Ms. Tuy proudly cited some of the several projects of TAGCODEC in partnership with other agencies and sectors, both government and private. These include livelihood projects for those affected by last year’s typhoons, a simple livelihood package, such as aid for sari-sari stores and pushcart businesses, and the distribution of basic necessities to both members and communities. She also included TAGCODEC’s partnership with the DA, TESDA and depEd, also in partnership with the CamSur Chamber of Commerce, for the procurement of COVID-19 test kits
“Empowering women in the movement acknowledges their economic role tat enhances their participation—by using their mind that is entrepreneurial, forward and positive-thinking. Indeed, the Juana is an equal partner of Juan, making change work for women,” she summed up graciously.
Technologies to combat pandemic: Engr. Sylvia Paraguya
During her presentation, NATCCO CEO Engr. Sylvia O. Paraguya began with how women involvement in the coop sector traces its roots back to the late ‘80s; three decades later, she was proud to cite how the Philippines, based on a study by the Global Gender Gap Report, is Number 1 in Asia and Number 16 in the world.
With females comprising 62 percent of membership in NATCCO alone, what she wants to ponder on is how to address the issues of women.
Going to her presentation, the NATCCO CEO continued with some doses of humor, showing the icons that a lot of us use online, be it for work, for e-transactions, for basic necessities, or for leisure. After a very warm response from our cooperators who knew very well those icons, Engr. Paraguya stressed how technologies have enabled many of us to survive COVID-19, thanks to virtual platforms (some of which are limited, though) and the sending of not written, but video messages via these icons that make life easy.
Even during the height of disasters in 2019 and 2020, the NATCCO CEO noted how cooperatives should continue to operate anytime even when one is not in the office, as well as to continue looking after members during such adversities. She added the JIT (Just In Time) preparation for COVID-19 and during the typhoons of being prepared, where NATCCO conducted missions even during those critical times. Not to be outdone is the proper delegation of work to make sure things run smoothly.
During the lockdown, just as NATCCO has been constantly online, she made sure certain protocols were being followed, such as during the repair of ATMs, where staffs wear PPEs while the audit committee adjusted their audit programs to check controls. Engr. Paraguya also observed that due to not much borrowing due to the slowdown in business activities, 24 of NATCCO’s member-coops were surprisingly ‘awash with cash.’
In addition to the use of technology, Engr. Paraguya also made sure that certain measures are to be followed, such as updates on the action plan during the lockdowns, the maintenance of a skeleton force and paying attention to the health of its employees and members; also along this line is the support of the work from home policy which NATCCO has greatly encouraged.
The NATCCO CEO also presented a video where one of its member-beneficiaries, Floresca Jacobe from the Most Holy Rosary Cooperative, harnessed the use of e-commerce platforms via social media that helped her small business thrive, via e-TAAS.
The plus point about the digital world, stressed Engr. Paraguya is that boundaries are gone, as one can have more meetings virtually while doing away with traffic. She however, noted with caution the need to remember passwords, especially when transferring apps from one phone to another, and to fully understand how digitalization works, long-term wise. As for women working from home, she called the need for shared responsibilities among family members, plus the need for strategic thinking to balance mundane concerns of housekeeping.
In graciously summing up her presentation Ms. Paraguya affirmed that ‘there is no choice but for us to go digital. Go through experience, reskill, upskill, catch up with the plans—the Data Privacy Act, Information Security Management System—and work together in your federation.’
Opportunities for improvement: Tetay Plantilla
During her presentation, Ms. Christie Rowena “Tetay” Plantilla, CEO of Federation of People’s Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC), stressed the advancement of the Filipina, who, in Asia, as well as globally are among the most fortunate—citing how they were given the right to suffrage during the Commonwealth era, the emergence of Filipinas in public service, via two Presidents (Cory Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) and the ‘Iron Lady,’ the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago; as leaders in top corporations: topnotchers in the PMA/Philippine Military Academy, class of 2020; and the first woman pilot, for Philippine Airlines, Aurora Carandang.
When the pandemic hit the country, the FPSDC CEO observed how women carried the double burden of being wife, mother and breadwinner—citing the seven issues that they were confronted with. In the Economic aspect, there was the greater burden of domestic care and work, higher rate of job losses, reduced financial independence and future losses. In terms of health and well-being, there was the increased risk of pregnancy-related deaths, as well as spikes in sexual, physical and domestic violence and exploitation. As for the Health Care system, there was the increased risk for frontline health work force as well as reduced access to vital health services and exclusion from potential COVID-19 treatments. Yet in any crisis, Ms. Plantilla pointed out how female leaders thrive because of their being decisive and strategic, while being nurturing and compassionate.
At FPSDC, Ms. Plantilla cited several measures that were initiated/implemented as their means to ease tensions aggravated by the pandemic. These included work-from-home policies, rice assistance of P40K per employee, the strict following of health and safety measures where office reporting staff wear masks and take vitamins, IATF pass for delivery and shuttle services and payroll continuity during ECQ.
Other measures that were implemented include member relations, where updates on their situations and on their needs were being carried out; the recalibration of the 2020 budget; more teleconferences; continuous partnerships being maintained with Agriterra Philippines for online meetings, webinars and online trainings with the partners such as NEDAC and ICA also being extended to FPSDC members.
Ms. Plantilla also took pride in citing FPSDC’s ‘cooperative social responsibility’ deeds such as providing relief goods for front liners, as well as the very strong support of agencies like the DTI via transportation of produce, and for helping FPSDC members sell their goods to mainstream markets.
In completing her presentation, Ms. Plantilla stressed that the ‘challenges for women’ can be transformed into ‘opportunities for improvement’ citing the very positive assets that make women shine as leaders: by taking risks; by being more persuasive than men; possessing inclusive team-building leadership; valuing the balance between work and life; empathetic; nurturing; being strong communicators; handle crisis situations well; good at multitasking; lead by example; and defy the odds. Graciously summing up, she cited a passage from Sheryl Sandburg: “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamics, reshape the conversation to make sure women’s voices are heard, heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”
Indeed, as Ms. Cheska mentioned with great pride, it was a very inspiring experience to hear insights from some of the cooperative movement’s leaders in heels, who have proven their competence as well as mettle in leadership. And, if that were not complete, 1CISP’s Director for Sales and Marketing, Ms. Sylvia Quinesio, offered a glimpse of how coop entities can also come up with women-solution products, that will best service their members—particularly if one is to consider that 65 percent of coop members are women.
Although Ms. Quinesio did not cite what the particular products are, she mentioned the Women Solution Program branded as 1KOOP4HER, which will offer holistic learning, entrepreneurship, risk management that encompasses life, health, accident, non-life insurance for women who value and prioritize their families. Holistic in the sense that it promotes financial literacy for women; entrepreneurial, where it will instill among the Juanas how they can best get capital to embark on their businesses; and Risk Management, which includes benefits such as maternity leave, anti-sexual harassment prevention, and digital platforms like a ‘concierge’ for health concerns, info on how to register their businesses, among others.
So much has been talked about on how our women cooperators have done wonders to help their entities sustain whatever difficulties they may have experienced due to this pandemic. And while the survival of these coops that they represent may seem akin to ‘miraculous’ in certain aspects, let us never forget the role that women power has proven—with a combination of firmness, grit and decisiveness coupled with empathy, compassion and being very open-minded to embrace changes.
And there is no limit to what our female leaders can accomplish. Let us indeed salute them also for their sacrifice, dedication and passion to rise above turbulent skies!