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The Proof is in the Pili.

Most micro-entrepreneurs start their businesses with the mere hope of providing for their family's daily needs. But to succeed at it--and be recognized for it--is often beyond their wildest dreams. At least this much is true for Merle Paete of Sorsogon province, who was named National Winner in the 2017 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.

Funded by the Citi Foundation, the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA) program recognizes outstanding micro-entrepreneurs across the Philippines. The program, first launched in 2002--the same year Citi marked its 100th anniversary celebration in six Asian countries, including the Philippines--is a signature initiative of the Citi Foundation aimed at generating economic opportunities for low-income people including youth, around the globe. The awards program provides entrepreneurs with resources to strengthen their business, including access to networks, capital, tools and training, and enables individuals to create economic sustainability for themselves, their families and their communities.

The CMA program highlights the combined efforts of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Citi Philippines, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc. to strengthen microfinance and enterprise development and financial inclusion in the country.

Nanay Merle, as she is fondly called, is a go-getter by nature. She traveled to Manila at a very young age to try her luck, but things did not go as planned. In 2002, after giving birth to her son, Nanay Merle went back home to Sorsogon and put up a sari-sari store business with only P2,000 capital. Her business was doing fairly well, but Nanay Merle, being the headstrong Bicolana she is, knew she was capable of doing more. This time, she didn't have to travel far.

Looking around in her native hometown of Bacon, she saw potential in pili cultivation and woven mat making ("bariw"). In 2009, using her profit from the sari-sari store plus an initial loan of P5,000 from SEDP-Simbag sa Pag-Asenso, Inc., she went into the buy and sell business of pili nuts, and contracted members of her community to weave bariw.

In the process of cultivating pili, Nanay Merle discovered that oil could be extracted from the outer covering of the pili nut by boiling it in water. Pili oil or lana (pronounced la'-na') is gaining steady interest in the local and global market.

Lana has medicinal qualities that help prevent wrinkles, treat skin conditions, regulate cholesterol levels, and aid in digestion. Nanay Merle says the secret is in the processing of pili so that it maintains its quality. Not only did the addition of lana expand Nanay Merle's product portfolio, it also ensured that no part of the pili fruit is wasted.

Almost a decade later, Nanay Merle now owns a three-hectare property with pili and coconut trees, and manages approximately 10 parcels of leased agricultural

land. Her production numbers are impressive: on a monthly average, Nanay Merle can produce 195 kilos of pili nuts, about 20 bottles of pili oil, and 200 kilos of pili shells. Nanay Merle supplies pili nuts and pili oil to regular buyers, while an export-buyer purchases bariw on a regular basis. Her annual gross sales go as high as P1.4 million.

Nanay Merle credits her partnership with SEDP-Simbag for enabling her to make further improvements to her products, as well as professionalize her pili oil production.

"Ang pinakamalaking pagbabago sa buhay namin ngayon ay yung nakaahon na kami sa hirap (The biggest change in our life is that we are now out of poverty)," says Nanay Merle, who is now able to finance her son's education and make improvements in their home. More people have come to know of her business and orders are steadily coming in.

But even with a business worth over P1 million today, Nanay Merle remains as dedicated to her business as she is to her community, whom she treats like family. Pili oil processors and weavers in her employ, who are also her neighbors and friends, receive monthly performance bonuses and groceries during the holidays in recognition of their hard work and support for the business.

At this point, Nanay Merle is showing no signs of stopping. Her mind is abuzz with plans for the future, including finding a stable market for pili oil and improving the technology for production. The award is the icing on the cake.

"Nung nalaman ko na nanalo ako [sa Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards], sobra akong naiyak. Sulit talaga ang paghihirap sa mga nakaraang taon (When I learned that I won at the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, I cried really hard. All the years of hard work are worth it)," Nanay Merle shares.

As CMA National Winner, Nanay Merle received P200,000 in cash as well as a laptop, basic computer literacy training, life and health insurance coverage for one year, and access to a nine-day entrepreneurship training program at the Citi Microenterprise Development Center. She also had the opportunity to share her

success with the members of her community and fellow microentrepreneurs during a recently held town hall celebration.

Nanay Merle and seven other winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards were chosen by a National Selection Committee jointly chaired by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla, Jr. and Citi Philippines CEO Aftab Ahmed. The committee members are: Antonino Alindogan Jr., independent director, Philippine Airlines, Inc.; Jose Maria Concepcion III, Presidential Consultant on Entrepreneurship; Teresita Sy-Coson, vice chairperson, SM Investments Corporation; Atty. Felipe Gozon, chairman and CEO, GMA Network, Inc.; Secretary Ramon Lopez, Department of Trade and Industry; Mary Ann Montemayor, Mindanao Private Sector Representative, National MSME Development Council; Imelda Nicolas, trustee, SPARK! Philippines; Marixi Rufino-Prieto, chair, Philippine Daily Inquirer; Dr. Michael Tan, chancellor, University of the Philippines; Orlando Vea, president, Voyager Innovations, Inc.; and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, president, Ayala Corporation.


CMA National Winner Merle Paete poses with the CMA program partner representatives and members of the National Selection Committee during the awarding ceremony held at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas last December 6. (From left) Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Imelda Nicolas, BSP Deputy Governor Chuchi Fonacier, Merle Paete, Aftab Ahmed, Marixi-Rufino Prieto, Jose Maria Concepcion III, DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, and Citi Philippines Corporate Citizenship Officer Jacqueline Ampil. (MANILA BULLETIN)

Nanay Merle's winning product - lana (oil) extracted from pili pulp. (MANILA BULLETIN)

Nanay Merle's microenterprise is a source of income to neighbors and friends who help her with pili oil processing and mat weaving. (MANILA BULLETIN)
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Title Annotation:Business News
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 21, 2018
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