Women in Social Enterprises (WISE): Community empowerment and economic development through social entrepreneurship

In the final months of 2006, typhoon Reming violently ravaged Luzon, causing massive floods and power outages from Metro Manila to the Bicol region. Rowena Osal was among the 200 families living along the banks of the Marikina River. It came as no surprise when they were displaced from their homes. 

With the riverbank communities in shambles, they decided to move to Towerville in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. 

Having no other means of livelihood, Rowena persisted in keeping her job at a sewing factory in Marikina. She struggled to care for her children while working and travelling for hours every day. 

Little did she know that she would soon become instrumental to the establishment of a vital organization in Towerville. 

In 2011, Rowena and her fellow mothers, and with the guidance of the Center for Asian Mission for the Poor (CAMP) Asia, started “Igting” – a social enterprise that aims to uplift their community and provide families in Towerville with a living.

Igting: Empowering the poor through social entrepreneurship

Igting, also known as Maigting na Samahan ng mga Panlipunang Negosyante ng Towerville, is a social enterprise that primarily produces products such as bags, pouches, and school uniforms (Bautista, 2020). 

Igting was established to create a source of livelihood for the residents of Towerville, a relocation site for urban poor families who lived in vulnerable places such as under bridges or in construction sites. Many of the women in such families work in informal jobs with unsustainable wages (Bautista, 2020). 

To introduce a formal source of income to Towerville, the CAMP Asia discovered the potential of establishing a livelihood program focused on sewing. Most of the women, particularly mothers, in Towerville expressed interest in sewing as a possible enterprise (Bautista, 2020). 

With the help of CAMP Asia, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the University of the Philippines, College of Social Work and Community Development, the women in Towerville underwent training at Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), received a factory compound, equipment, and raw materials for sewing, and established Igting as a self-governing enterprise. 

Amongst their 40 members, they designated committees on production, membership, training, and community affairs to facilitate their operations and ensure everyone’s participation. Each week, they get about 2,500 pesos depending on the number of pieces they produce. 

The products they manufacture vary from school uniforms for nearby schools and daycare centers, to backpacks, sling bags, pouches, and phone cases. To sell these, they supply them to shops and join various bazaars. 

However, when the pandemic came, many of the shops buying their products had to close and bazaars were suspended as public gatherings became prohibited. Their bags and uniforms quickly piled up in their storage rooms. This loss was felt by the mothers of Igting, who relied on this enterprise for their income. 

The pandemic quickly became a silver lining for Igting as the need for face masks and personal protective equipment (PPEs) rapidly spiked throughout the country. After a month of being in community quarantine, CAMP Asia helped Igting resume work by redirecting their operations to creating PPEs and face masks. 

This new opportunity led them to gain as much as 5,000 pesos per week, doubling their income compared to before the pandemic. Aside from providing robust livelihood to Towerville’s families, Igting also helped numerous medical frontline workers and hospitals meet their demand for protective clothing. 

Igting has not only helped the women in Towerville find a source of income, but it has also allowed them to better provide for their families and take care of their children as they work in a driven and respectable organization close to home. 

Most of all, the women of Igting are grateful to this enterprise for giving them the opportunity to empower themselves and uplift their community through the ardent participation of its people.


The Role of Women in the Development of Social Entrepreneurship in the Philippines 

The British Council defines social enterprises as “businesses that exist to address social and environment needs, [and] focus on reinvesting earnings into the business and/or the community (British Council Philippines, 2015).” 

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) make up 99% of all businesses in the country, 11% of which are considered social enterprises (Philippine Statistics Authority, as cited in Dela Cruz, 2020). 

As of 2015, there are more than 160,000 active social enterprises in the country (British Council, 2015).

And women are taking the lead in this sector. A 2016 study by the Thomson Reuters Foundation placed the Philippines as the best country for women social entrepreneurs, followed by Russia and Norway (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2016). 

A separate report jointly produced by the European Union, United Nations ESCAP, and the British Council entitled Reaching the Farthest First: The State of Social Enterprise in the Philippines also found that 44% of the social enterprises were led by women, 56% of those employed by social enterprises were women, and 54.37% had women as target beneficiaries. This means that many social enterprises in the Philippines are being founded or co-founded by women, and more than half of them aim to uplift women in various communities and social groups (British Council, n.d.).

Having women as leaders in this sector isn’t just about breaking the glass ceiling. Women-led enterprises also open up numerous opportunities for fellow women while introducing products and services that compassionately serve the consumers, the stakeholders making those products, and the communities surrounding them.

In fact, women-led social enterprises’ brands and products have become staples in countless Filipino malls and households. 

Gandang Kalikasan, the company behind popular home care and cosmetics brand Human Nature, pioneered the boom of naturally made home, beauty, and personal care products while also focusing on uplifting marginalized communities, specifically those in agriculture (Human Nature, n.d.). 

Messy Bessy, another popular personal and home care brand, was established in 2007 by Krie Reyes-Lopez to produce plant-based, earth-friendly cleaning products that don’t harm marine ecosystems (Messy Bessy Cleaners, Incorporated, n.d.). Aside from their environmental cause, they also help at-risk and out-of-school youth by supporting their education through employment, training, and intervention (HOUSE Foundation, n.d.).

Habi Lifestyle, on the other hand, is a lifestyle product brand selling locally and sustainably produced footwear, bags, pouches, earrings, and home accessories. They promote sustainable, ethical, and local fashion by upcycling materials such as scrap fabric and airplane tires, and empowering women in communities from Isabela to Basilan through artisan weaving and production (Habi Lifestyle, n.d.). 

Social enterprises have become one of the pillars that provide a means of living to vulnerable and marginalized communities, as well as sources of quality, affordable, and sustainably made products for numerous Filipino consumers.

Moreover, we see communities of women helping uplift each other through these social enterprises. Even amidst crises like the pandemic, they prove to us that they can support their workers and partners while providing for the country’s most dire needs. 


Empowering Women through Women-led MSMEs Social Enterprises 

With a consistent rise in the number of women-led social enterprises, there are considerably more opportunities to further integrate women into the formal sector and create a better livelihood for women all over the country. 

MSMEs in general further empower women by creating jobs for millions of Filipinos.  The 2019 Philippine MSME Statistics in Brief reported that 62.4% of new employment in our country comes from MSMEs, with micro enterprises comprising 29.8%, followed by small enterprises at 25.2% and medium enterprises at 7.8% (Department of Trade and Industry, n.d.). With most MSMEs employing women, these enterprises also open numerous doors for women all over the country.

Studies have also found that women-led enterprises tend to employ women, as we’ve seen in the numerous social enterprises like Igting and Habi Lifestyle. Supporting women-led social enterprises will likely lead to increased employment opportunities for women and, eventually, a higher labor force participation rate (Seno-Alday & Bourne, 2017). This calls for greater financial, technological, and managerial resources to ensure the growth and continuity of these businesses. Aside from having more women-led enterprises, we need to ensure Filipino women entrepreneurs receive robust support that will help their businesses flourish.


Highlighting Women Social Entrepreneurs this National Women’s Month

In celebration of the 2021 National Women’s Month this March, the UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries will hold the Women in Social Enterprises (WISE) Webinar. The WISE Webinar features Filipino women in the field of social entrepreneurship, highlighting their stories, experiences and contributions to society. It also provides space for a meaningful conversation on the challenges women social entrepreneurs face and the kind of support that they need to address such, as well as to maximize opportunities for growth.

The WISE Webinar will have representatives from the Institute for Social Enterprises in Asia (ISEA), Davao Oriental Coco Husk Social Enterprise, Inc. (DOCHSEI), and the women of Igting to talk about their experiences in promoting social entrepreneurship in the country.  

women in social enterprises (wise)

The Webinar is part of the UP ISSI’s Communities of Practice for Entrepreneurship (COPE) Webinar Series. It will be held on March 30 (Tuesday), from 2:00 to 4:00 PM through Zoom and Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/upissi). The event is completely free of charge and interested participants are encouraged to register at https://bit.ly/upissiWISE.

For inquiries and other concerns, please feel free to email us at issi.research@up.edu.ph.



Ballesteros, M., & Llanto, G. (2017). Strengthening Social Enterprises for Inclusive Growth: Philippines (Discussion Paper Series No. 2017-04). Philippine Institute for Development Studies. https://dirp3.pids.gov.ph/websitecms/CDN/PUBLICATIONS/pidsdps1704.pdf 

Bautista, J. (2020, December 15). Band of sewers suits production to pandemic. Philippine Daily Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1371781/band-of-sewers-suits-production-to-pandemic

British Council Philippines (2015, August). A Review of Social Enterprise Activity in the Philippines. https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/social_enterprise_activity_philippines.pdf

British Council (n.d.). Reaching the Farthest First: The State of Social Enterprise in the Philippines. https://www.britishcouncil.ph/sites/default/files/social_report_bc_fa_102517_web-compressed.pdf

Caballar, R. (2017, May 01). Is the Philippines really the best country for female social entrepreneurs? https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/philippines-female-social-entrepreneurs/ 

Dela Cruz, K. (2020, April 8). A glimpse of the covid-19 impact on philippine social enterprises. Innovation for Social Impact Partnership. https://www.isip-ph.com/blog/2020/4/8/sia-ses-covid19-survey-results 

Department of Trade and Industry (n.d.). 2019 Philippine MSME Statistics in Brief. https://dtiwebfiles.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/BSMED/MSME+2019+Statistics/2019+Philippine+MSME+Statistics+in+Brief.pdf 

Habi Lifestyle (n.d.). Our Story. https://habilifestyle.com/pages/about-us

Henley, J. (2020, August 18). Female-led countries handled coronavirus better, study suggests. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/female-led-countries-handled-coronavirus-better-study-jacinda-ardern-angela-merkel 

HOUSE Foundation (n.d.). What We Do. https://www.housefoundation.com.ph/what-we-do

Human Nature (n.d.). Our Story. https://humanheartnature.com/buy/our-story

Hyder, S. (2020, March 11). State of women and entrepreneurship 2020: Here’s what you need to know. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2020/03/10/state-of-women-and-entrepreneurship-2020-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?sh=607b033869fa

MasterCard (2020). The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, 2020 Report. https://www.mastercard.com/news/media/1ulpy5at/ma_miwe-report-2020.pdf

Messy Bessy Cleaners, Incorporated (n.d.). Our Story. https://www.shop.messybessy.com/our-story

Seno-Alday, S. & Bourne, K. (2017, July). Women and entrepreneurship, The Philippines. Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. https://investinginwomen.asia/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/FS_WSMEs-Philippines.pdf

Thomson Reuters Foundation (n.d.). The best place to be a social entrepreneur 2016. http://poll2016.trust.org/ 



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