A look into the FBS members’ lives in the Philippines under a gender lens

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In the Famer Business School (FBS) approach promoted by FoodSTART+, having social diversity among members can strengthen FBS activities by sharing different ideas and experiences. On the other hand, social diversity involves power dynamics, and careful analysis is required to understand whether and how members participated.

The Philippines is a well-known country with excellent women’s empowerment. It is recognized as one of the more gender equal countries in Asia, ranking 8th in the latest Global Gender Gap Index (World Economic Forum, 2018[1]). Also, in the Philippines, women play central roles in small entrepreneurship (Guelich and Xavier, 2017[2]). Therefore, the cultural setting facilitates women’s participation in FBS.

The FBS was initiated in Bohol in the Philippines in 2016 through the FoodSTART+ project. Six FBS groups, all mixed gender groups, were established in Bohol in collaboration with the Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project (INREMP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In the course of over 12 months, 125 farmers (74% female) had undergone the FBS modules. They learned how to process sweetpotato and cacao products, package and market them to the public. On 28 July 2018, the FBS groups were finally able to launch their micro enterprises in Tagbilaran City, Bohol. Ten months after their business launch, FoodSTART+ commissioned Dr. Nozomi Kawarazuka, the project’s gender advisor, to evaluate the FBS from gender and social perspectives to investigate how women and men are involved in and benefit from the micro-enterprises established through FBS.

The study involved two tools, namely, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with three of six FBS groups. Participatory video making was also used where the FBS members produced short films to document their real experiences and challenges in FBS from their own perspectives instead of the researchers’. The videos were designed to capture both women’s and men’s voices more or less equally. The participatory video making approach was also part of the capacity building for FBS members to strengthen their communication skills and increase self-confidence.

Dr. Karawazuka highlights three key findings from her interactions with the FBS members. First, women and men play different roles in FBS. Most regular participants in FBS classes were women, and they are presently the ones most involved in both management and operationalization of the new enterprises. In contrast, a small number of men are given specific tasks such as growing sweetpotato and delivering the harvest to the processing site. As a result, men and women had different experiences in and learnings from FBS. For women, the greatest lessons from FBS were about sweetpotato processing and packaging, business planning, branding and promotion, and negotiating with potential sellers. Men learned through FBS that sweetpotato is a valuable cash crop for processing, a novel idea that had not considered before.

Second, as in many parts of the Philippines, women in Bohol tend to be very active, powerful and independent. They play multiple roles as mothers, wives and breadwinners. Many women are already engaging in small, self-reliant income-generating activities individually to some extent. As such, women expect their FBS enterprises to be more than informal self-employed businesses. They want to upgrade their positions to skilled professional workers, and find full-time employment in professional working environments (e.g., air-conditioned rooms, electric cooking facilities and child-care services). Further support is needed to achieve these goals through the FBS enterprises.

Third, many women and men participants are above 40 years old. While the FBS creates entrepreneurial opportunities for relatively senior people who did not have a chance to acquire business skills before, young people are underrepresented in all three FBSs. It is recommended that FBS members approach young people through relevant channels such as youth in active church groups so that FBS groups can include youth ideas to improve products and expand markets.

Overall, FBS groups in Bohol have certain strengths, particularly, women’s powerful leadership and presence, excellent facilitation skills, transparent management, and trustworthy partnerships. Therefore, women can be a role model for new FBS groups in other regions. Through appropriate financial support, the involvement of younger generations, and the facilitation of learning discussions and gender-sensitive monitoring, FBS groups have great potential for not only establishing successful local enterprises but also for empowering men as well as women.

[1] World Economic Forum (2018). The global gender gap report. Geneva: World Economic Forum. 355p

[2] Guelich, U., & Xavier, S. R. (2017). Women’s entrepreneurship within the ASEAN Economic Community: Challenges and Opportunities. In Manolova, T. S., Brush, C.G., Edelmah, L. F., Robb, A. and Welter, F (edt). Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Growth of Women’s Entrepreneurship: A Comparative Analysis, p15-43.