It was only recently that Michellanie J San Diego, who was eking out a living running a small clothes manufacturing business out of her home, was dreaming of a better future for her family.

In 2010, with two employees and a manual sewing machine, Ms San Diego – who lives in the village of Santa Rosa, just south Cabanatuan City on the island of Luzon in The Philippines, made the decision to take out a loan of 10,000 pesos ($AUD6260) from Christian microfinance and development organisation ASKI – a partner organisation of Opportunity International Australia, to help grow her business.

 

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A GROWING ENTERPRISE: Michellanie J San Diego in her sewing business which she's been able to expand considerably thanks to a microfinance loan. ALL PICTURES: David Adams

Seven years later and the 38-year-old now has 10 workers who use high speed sewing machines and even expanded her business interests to include a piggery. Ms San Diego, her husband Angelito and their two children, meanwhile, have also been able to access finance to build a modern family home next to their former house in which the sewing business is based.

She says she's also been able to give her children, aged 11 and 14, a better future – providing them with food, education and the resources they need to finish their studies. Safe to say, the loan has helped to change not only her life but that of her family and her employees.

 “I feel so blessed,” Ms San Diego says via a translator speaking to Sight earlier this year.

The fact Ms San Diego is female is not unusual in the world of microfinance. Some 95 per cent of those who receive loans through Opportunity International – which works with a range of microfinance partner organisations in The Philippines – are women.

“Typically, loans are to women as the microbusinesses are usually located at the front of the house or within, which enables the women to multitask with a myriad of existing responsibilities from cooking to child rearing, looking after the elderly etc,” says Mark Daniels, country director for Opportunity International.

“Many of the men are agricultural day labourers or tricycle drivers. Women also have a greater desire to meet in group settings and provide a community support structure. The Philippines is a matriarchal society and the women are empowered with finances and typically will allocate the profits from their business to educate their children.”

 

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Loan recipients - in this case all women - gather at a regular meeting to discuss their loans with an ASKI representative.

Women also play key roles in the microfinance organisations that Opportunity works with in The Philippines.

Jane Manucdoc is the director of microfinance at ASKI (formally known as Alalay sa Kaunlaran Inc), which supports some 120,000 people with loans and other services on the island of Luzon.

“Our objective is to improve the economic condition, the living conditions, of the people through the loans that we provide…” says Ms Manucdoc, who started as an assistant auditor with the organisation more than 18 years ago.

“We would like to see them grow and also help the neighbourhood – that’s the main objective. And along the way…we inject different transformation programs and training.”

Asked what it is that keeps her passionate about the work she does, Ms Manudoc says it’s about seeing people “achieve their dreams…”

“Everytime I go to the field, I’m actually refreshed, I feel more empowered….So from time-to-time I go out into the field…because that’s one thing that I love – the lending that we do."

- Jane Manucdoc, director of microfinance at ASKI

“Everytime I go to the field, I’m actually refreshed, I feel more empowered….So from time-to-time I go out into the field…because that’s one thing that I love – the lending that we do.

“Especially when we hear them saying stories like ‘Oh, maam, I was able to build this house, I was able to send my children to school, I was able to buy a new vehicle so I can bring my goods to the market’. So it’s actually the transformation that [gives] me passion in my work.”

Ms Manucdoc is particularly inspired by meeting people such as a disabled woman she met whom she gave a loan to help grow a small business selling vegetables while working as a manager of one of the local branches. Ten years later, she’s now married and the business is thriving.

“I’m really touched by that…Hearing that there is transformation and that she even had a husband is really touching my heart. That’s one story but there are so many stories like that.”

Opportunity's Mr Daniels also agrees getting out in the field and seeing how women’s lives are changed – and the flow-on effects through the family and the community - keeps him energised.

“At the end of the day, there’s no better feeling than being with an empowered woman that has established a business, provided for a family, educated her children…You can see the pride, the joy and the thanks [they give] to God…Their hard work is an inspiration.”

 

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LIFTING UP A COMMUNITY: Maria Barba with some of her employees at her sweet making business.

Maria Magdalena Barba’s attitude sums up that of many of the loan recipients. The widowed mother of six and grandmother of nine, who lives in Curva Bantug, a rural barangay of Munoz, started making and selling sweet Filipino desserts such as ube, leche flan, rice and cassava cakes in 2007 but always dreamed of expanding her business.

In 2015, she took a loan through ASKI – 50,000 pesos (about $AUD1,300) – to buy an oven and other kitchen wares, enabling her grow her business. Not only has the loan helped her put her own family on a more sustainable footing with a more secure financial future, she now has six employees – who live on site - and is looking to not only open other branches selling her delectable treats (she already has a stall in the local market as well as selling out of her home) but also to export her wares to other regions of the Philippines.

“I am hoping someday it will be scattered around the Philippines,” she says.

A devout Christian, the 64-year-old thanks God for her success and adds that building the business has not just been about helping her own family – it has enabled her to help her children establish their own businesses - but investing into the local community.

“My business is not only for my family but for the other people also…” Ms Barba says. “We are not living for ourselves only but for others also.”

To support the work of Opportunity International Australia through partner agencies like ASKI, head to www.opportunity.org.au.

David Adams travelled to The Philippines courtesy of Opportunity International Australia.

This is the final in a series. For previous in this series:

DEVELOPMENT SPECIAL: HOW MICROFINANCE IS HELPING TO CHANGE LIVES IN THE PHILIPPINES.