CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Chance for migrant workers to make a future at home

HONG KONG (SE): The youngest senator in the Philippine congress, Benigno (Bam) Aquino, was in Hong Kong on November 22 to talk up a bill he authored, dubbed Go Negosyo (Go Business), that was passed into law in July last year.

Aquino described the bill as being designed to ignite fresh sparks in the overall development of the Philippine economy, especially outside of the big cities.

Speaking at the City University of Hong Kong during a day-long seminar sponsored by the Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD MRI), the biggest not-for-profit micro- to medium-finance credit union in The Philippines, Aquino said that although the country has experienced growth in the past few years, it has not been inclusive.

A breakdown of enterprises in the country of 104 million people shows that there are only 820,255 registered businesses and of these, 99 per cent are at the micro level. They also provide 66 per cent of employment opportunities in the country.

The huge income gap between the superrich and really poor is highlighted by the fact that less the 0.5 per cent are big businesses, explaining why a handful of people hold the bulk of the country’s wealth and migrant remittances only tend pay daily living costs, rather than contributing to economic development.

Aquino told the Sunday Examiner this shows that small- or medium-sized enterprises can help to build up a fine and resilient economy and he believes it brings hope, as small enterprises can thrive even with competition and grow bigger.

Aquino sees his bill, which simplifies the process of starting a small business and undertakes to set up infrastructure support and advice in the rural areas of The Philippines, as contributing to the overall development of the stunted economies outside big cities.

Aquino was also in Hong Kong to show migrant workers, around 300 of whom filled a lecture theatre at the university, a viable way for them to use their income while out of the country to ensure a future for themselves and their families. He stressed that there is a way to come home for good.

He said that success in business begins with understanding how money talks. CARD, which has an extensive network across The Philippines sponsoring micro-finance and organising financial literacy courses among migrant workers in Hong Kong for the past eight years, was one of the principal lobbyists for the bill.

The new act promotes job generation and inclusive growth through the development of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises and mandates the Department of Trade and Industry to establish Negosyo Centres all over the country to provide linkages to bigger markets and financing, business development programmes, and a unified and simplified business registration process.

Aquino said that as of November this year, there were 118 centres operating, even in mountain provinces, and the target is to establish 1,000 by 2017.

The purpose of the centres is to give fair treatment to all people, even though they may be what is termed common people with not much capital.

He hopes that the new programme will make it easier for migrant workers to set up businesses with their families at home.

An employee of CARD prior to being elected to the senate, Aquino said that the first step is to have capital or a loan, so saving is vital. A mentor or a support group, like CARD, that can give advice or guidance is also highly significant.

He reminded the gathering that innovation is important and a product with good sales is usually a unique one that is new on the market.

But he stressed the importance of proper backup, saying that he believes a group like CARD is a good choice, as it is a not-for-profit organisation, which gives low interest loans, even to the poorest of the poor, and provides end-to-end services.

Marietta Saralde, a 58-year-old migrant worker with a one-employer record in Hong Kong over 31 years, shared that a good employer means reliable financial support. She said she was blessed by a loan from her employer to build a house in her hometown 20 years ago, which she has now paid off in installments.

Saralde said she has attended a lot of plan-for-retirement seminars and asked for assistance from non-government organisations in her village in Luzon, but they all asked for bribes, so she believes they cannot be trusted.

Jaime Aristotle Alip, the founder and managing director of CARD MRI, said 15 million people have been assisted by the group in The Philippines.

CARD currently boasts an asset base of 25 billion pesos ($4.4 billion) and runs a secondary school, as well as a tertiary course in micro-finance up to master’s level. The next plan is a hospital project.

He also pointed out that 1,515 people have graduated from CARD’s financial literacy courses in Hong Kong. However, he noted that only accounts for one per cent of the total number of Filipino migrant workers in the city.

Alip said that he believes that around 10 per cent would be an ideal number to make a significant cultural impact.

The Philippine consul general, Bernardita Catalla, spoke of her school days, saying she made a habit of saving and listing expenses. She believes saving is the first step to achieving a dream.

Ching Baltazar, the head of Balikatan Hong Kong, said two members of her association who had returned home for good to start a business went broke, as revenue dropped and they did not have sufficient capitalisation to sustain it.

But she believes the problem was not just lack of money, but lack of know-how in running a business.

She also stressed the importance of saving and resisting careless buying habits.

Bead craft products, handmade wedding accessories, handbags and food products made during Balikatan Hong Kong’s livelihood training courses run on Sundays in Hong Kong were also on display.

An entrepreneurship seminar for graduates of the basic financial literacy course only will be conducted by CARD OFW Hong Kong at the Diocese Centre on December 13.

 

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