GREAT WOMEN OF ASEAN…the Asean women get together for one brand.
The region’s women got together to form alliances, produce together and make the AEC a reality through handmade products, textiles, coffee and tea and more using ASEAN produce and using ASEAN women’s talents.
How do you manage 48 women in one room and get them to be united for the Asean Economic Community(AEC)?
We just did! Thanks to Asean Connectivity through Trade and Investment (ACTI), a USAID project in Asean we convened in Bangkok to share our Great Women Platform with the ladies from at least eight out of ten ASEAN member countries. Itof course helps that ACTI is headed by energetic ladies Patty Alleman and Thitapha Wattanapruttipaisan. And the support of USAID’s Dana Stinson, Deputy Director of General Development Office in Bangkok.
But to avoid any political discussions we right away set the tone with a common language: women empowerment through business. And the women easily sat with each other regardless of country. We had jewelry makers, tea and coffee manufacturers, pepper farm owners, textile weavers, NGO organizers, crocodile bag makers and silk factory owners. What a rich and enriching group of women leaders and business owners.
Why Great Women?
ECHOsi Foundation registered and designed a brand in 2011 to first embrace all the women beneficiaries of the GREAT (Gender Responsive Economic Actions for Transformation) program of Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and CIDA(now DFAT) or Canadian International Development Authority. These women had many products, artisan products and more but did not have a brand. And ECHOsi, headed by Jeannie Javelosa, did just that.
Not to mention that ECHOsi conducted design clinics and product improvement workshops to be able to bring these products to “exportable” and global standards. Out of 1000 women probably 40 made the grade. To be branded a Great Women branded product that’s ready for the market.
The next action was to give them market access starting with our own ECHOstore branches, Tesoros, Milky Way and even through Margarita Fores’ group of restaurants. These , of course, are all women-led companies who volunteered to use the Great Women (GW) products or to help sell them.
We measured the gains and truly many women entrepreneurs, weavers and artisans benefited from the “up valuing” exercise. ACTI got wind of the project and program and soon asked us to share the idea with our ASEAN sisters. And it happened in Bangkok just last March 23-25, 2015.
The pitch was easy. The country differences took a backseat and soon we found all the women voting to go “GREAT WOMEN- ASEAN Collection” here we go!
Malaysia’s representative Nadira Mohd Yusoff, head of Women Innovation Academy(WIA), soon volunteered spaces for the Asian SME Showcase which will happen in late May in Kuala Lumpur. Her colleague in SME Corp. Suraya Kulop Abdul Rahman, explained that we indeed will have a Great Woman showcase in this show.
So, discussions were done on how best to execute such a feat where women of several countries would come together and see the following:
Coffee from different ASEAN countries to be packaged by Indonesia’s Kopi Kelana;Jasmine tea with Lemongrass from Philippines, Jasmine Tea with Ginger from Vietnam, for example to be packaged by Raming Tea’s Nanzii Wangviwat; Black and white and green pepper to be packaged by Nanda Pok of Cambodia; Rice from five countries to be made into rice samplers by Vichuda Nantapanichsakul of Bonback ; and even body lotion and cream with lemongrass from Thailand, moringa from Cambodia or another ingredient from Philippines to be concocted by FACY of Thailand.
Are you getting the picture yet?
These women will come up with ASEAN products made from ingredients from different countries. We , of course, realize we produce the same fruits, vegetables and herbs across the ten member states. But how do we enter global markets in a big way? Through our ASEAN collaboration. This must be the first and best example of regional cooperation ..and it had to be women, of course. Networking and collaboration just comes naturally to women so this just flowed and happened naturally.
Are we thinking and overthinking logistics already?
In the end, what we agreed upon was ONE BRAND. ONE ASEAN. ONE GREAT WOMEN BRAND to showcase our best rice, tea, coffee and even cosmetics and soap! Imagine hotels carrying our ASEAN products instead of those Made in China, for example.
Now, does it stop at food and cosmetics?
No way. The women who engage loom weavers, the silk makers and the designers also got together to make novel products from different weaves and textures. Bags, scarves, novelty and handicraft pieces out of the region’s fabrics. I saw exchanges of silk and other material as the groups met and collaborated to produce a unique product yet to be born.
It was a wonderful sight to see everyone of the 48 ladies sport a GREAT WOMEN brand button, and raise their hands in unison as we asked who was willing to be part of it. Yes, they get it and they get it very well. The common brand and platform called GREAT WOMEN will now be an ASEAN project. It will be a unifying brand for many new products that will be sold in Asean and beyond.
The important requirement, however, is for these women-led companies to have one development goal in mind: to help our ASEAN sisters be economically-empowered. To help them up the value chain. And to help about 300 million women across ASEAN have other economic opportunities in farming, in textiles in almost every industry where women work.
And that’s great. One Brand. One Asean. One GREAT WOMEN brand.