Women emailing, on viber, on messenger, on FB. Flying in, flying out – a hectic movement of planning and coordination in the attempt to come together in one fusion capsule collection: GREAT Women in ASEAN. So we are going for it. By we, I mean ECHOsi Foundation/ECHOstore that runs the GREAT Women Program nationwide now on its Phase 2, and We, the Philippines. The GREAT Women Platform (GREAT is the acronym for gender responsive economic action for the transformation of women) is supported by Canada and the Philippine government as the country’s gender platform and is now slowly rolling out in the country. The programs will continue to do so until 2020.
But alongside this is the AEC, that acronym that means ASEAN Economic Community, a move by end year that will bring the ten member economies together as one market base of 600 million consumers. As we build the GREAT Women Platform from the Philippines into the one AEC, I am seeing a tremendous amount of interest as women entrepreneurs in the region come to align with this platform that will address development gaps, work out a regional supply chain and a production base that can unite to produce world class products and services, and together under one brand, reach global markets.
While integration is all about ASEAN free trade, it is also about the opportunity to bring about a more inclusive regional economy by strengthening women entrepreneurship and businesses to benefit from this expanded economic base. The challenges now include how to integrate materials, ingredients, design, packaging across the supply chains and make them sustainable.
We are experiencing it first hand now as Indonesia is sending me textile photos needed for the brochure, Thailand is sending silks for us to sew here, while we are sending over packaging design to Cambodia for their body lotion. We are in conversation with Malaysia for the trade showcase venue as Vietnam is showing us their charcoal soaps. All together, we are working towards a showcase with Home textile products, Apparel (lingerie, loungewear and RTW), Accessories, Jewelry and Food+Health and Wellness products. Now all these…is what AEC in action is about!
All these activities started in Bangkok just a month or so back when, almost 50 women entrepreneurs came together with collaboration and support from the ASEAN and the Business Alliance. This grouping is public-private partnership involving some 20 leading U.S. corporations of the US-ASEAN Business Council and the ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Integration (ACTI), a five year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of State to increase U.S. economic engagement and cooperation with ASEAN countries.
The women entrepreneurs agreed to come together under one umbrella Brand: GREAT Women–to showcase what ASEAN women entrepreneurs can offer. But it’s also about their stepping into a platform for trade, and exchanges, and in the near future, we begin development programs for skills training (but this is getting ahead of the story). This initiative will allow all of us to create globally excellent and competitive products that present the best of ASEAN. In economically empowering women, I truly believe are unleashing a powerful force for the development and transformation in our societies.
What I likewise see is that the Platform can offer women entrepreneurs access to capital growth for their businesses too. Here, social impact and angel investors may find a viable platform from which to identify blue chip women enterprises or sunrise industry products that need push into the market, from green sustainable products and services to luxe designed products–all produced by women entrepreneurs who have already been pre-screened, brought together by professional trust and the overwhelming desire to help create jobs for women in the supply chain.
We are replicating in the region what we did in the country. Locally, the brand will carry products of micro-entrepreneurs with the help of designers, lifestyle and food experts plus retailers. And paralleling this, it’s nice to know that the Filipinas will now seek to empower their sisters in the region. So on May 25-28, 2015 we will launch the first capsule collection at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center in Malaysia during the ASEAN SME Conference. It is a first commitment of many stakeholders to push the initiative forward in ASEAN.