AWEN: Solution to social impact and gender equity?

from by Pacita U. Juan

Yes, we already have the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) composed of focal point women organizations for all ASEAN member states. The Philippines is represented by the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (WomenBizPH), of which I am now Chair while Chiqui Escareal-Go is President.

The network was founded in 2014 and the First Chair was Madame Minh Nguyen Thi Tuyet of the Vietnam Women’s Entrepreneur Council (VWEC). She will be turning over the responsibilities to us come May 25 in Makati City, in simple ceremonies organized for the momentous occasion.

What’s in store for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region? What if big business cannot gather nor include all the smaller ones as they make collaborations or joint ventures with regional counterparts? This is the role for AWEN. We speak for the independent entrepreneurs whose businesses will be affected, both positively and otherwise, by the ASEAN integration. Each entrepreneur surely has social impact, as most of these women-led enterprises involve the very community their raw materials come from, the labor force who they employ to add value, and finally the marketing of such products.

On policy, it is AWEN that will be put to task for the concerns of the smaller voice and how they can be heard in the very noisy negotiation tables dominated by the big boys or the multinational corporations (MNCs) and publicly-listed companies.

On marketing, it is good to partner with same-size counterparts and leverage speed of smaller agile companies to move together.

On finance, there are microfinance institutions (MFIs) and meso-financing institutions looking at “Impact Investing” especially Investing in women. It is a new imperative by many multilaterals (International Finance Corporation, Asian Development Bank, etc.) and NGOs like Oxfam and the like. Now, companies are measured not just by financial profitability but also by environmental alignment and social impact.

It is a daunting task for the Philippines but we know that our best practices and our experience with our very own MSMEs will form the backbone of knowledge to share with our sisters across the region.

Even in ICT, we will be at the forefront of showing them how BPOs and the like provided our economy with a lot of economic opportunities.

In corporate leadership and management, we top global surveys in women in senior executive positions. We also have started our “women on boards” initiative to bring diversity to the boardroom. Why? Diverse boards simply make for more profitable companies as proven in many parts of the world citing studies made by the likes of Credit Suisse.

For the United Nations (UN), UN Women has started the #heforshe program to make more people mindful of Gender Equity. But I think we also need a #sheforshe because sometimes it’s the women, yes our own co-gender, who prevents this Gender Equity from happening.

I have often heard opinions of strong women who do not believe in pursuing Gender Equity by simply saying “I had to fight for it myself” and I feel sad when it is these very women who put the roadblocks where already many initiatives are being done.

I know of top female icons who could not care less about women issues. I know them but have not given up. I know they just need enlightenment.

There are about 300 million women in ASEAN, almost the size of the US population. They are a force we can use to better the economy and to give rich or poor families the chance to rise up. The biggest reward will be to empower them financially so they do not have to be part of the trafficking across borders. To empower parents who still think that “selling” a child is the way to give her a brighter future. To empower young girls that they can be their own bosses who can change the fate of those who were not as privileged.

And finally, to empower those who suffer at home. There are cases of domestic violence in all strata of society. Women who never optimize their true potential. Women who look good but are crumbling inside. Women who seem to be well off, yet are powerless to discover their God-given talents. And I have met these women.

AWEN may seem like it’s just for MSMEs but in reality what it can and will address are the social issues involving women in ASEAN. What social impact can bring is far bigger than just economics. Because when a woman is happy, her family is happy.

And that’s priceless.

Help us spread the word about AWEN, ASEAN and why it should concern each one of us. To reflect on what we have done in our lifetime to ensure that each person has been given that same opportunity to grow to his/her true potential. That is GENDER EQUITY. Fairness in dealing with gender-sensitive laws.

It’s time to wear the gender lens on our businesses.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines.

Pacita “Chit” U. Juan is the Secretary of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the President of the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc., the President of Women’s Business Council of the Philippines, the Vice-President of BPW or Business and Professional Women — Makati and the Chair of AWEN. She is an advocate of women empowerment through business. You can find her on Linked In: Pacita Juan and Twitter @chitjuan or e-mail

Posted in Pressroom.

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