After a stellar 40-year career in the banking industry, Joey Bermudez returned to the one thing he has always been passionate about: social enterprise.
The birth of Iskaparate (www.iskaparate.com) came at a time when the Philippines, along with the rest of the world, was subjected to the strictest mobility restrictions in March last year due to the pandemic.
“During the height of the shutdown, we saw an ad from the Microfinance Council of the Philippines saying that our microentrepreneurs needed all the help they could get. Because they cannot sell, most sell only from home. That is your factory. That is also your store. People are not even allowed to walk the streets. How can people see your products? “Bermúdez said.
For him, the answer was simple: “Let’s get them online.”
Building an “online tiangge”
Iskaparate is an avenue for enterprising mothers to showcase their products even without a physical setup. The platform calls its members nanay, the Filipino term for mother. It is operated by Maybridge Financial Group, a Bermudez-founded company that specializes in SME lending.
The concept behind the platform was inspired by the idea of a “tiangge”, where the stalls are next to each other, selling a variety of products. Pre-pandemic, tiangge was a popular choice for buyers who want to haggle, and buyers and sellers know their stories in the process because of the kwentuhan (conversation) that accompanies negotiations.
Bermúdez tried to replicate this online through Iskaparate, where nanays can promote their products and at the same time share their stories.
It is the “style of sale” in Iskaparate, Bermúdez said. “It is not the click-and-pay model. It is talking, negotiating, agreeing and then paying. It is a challenge, so it is difficult to put them online, but it is possible, ”he said.
In September of last year, Bermúdez and Maybridge launched Iskaparate, the name inspired by “shelf,” a display case or shelf where vendors display their products. Many young Filipinos may not be familiar with this term, but “iskaparate” is a classic and timeless word.
KASAGANA-KA was the first organization to join Iskaparate.
The non-governmental organization for social development incorporated 33 of its microentrepreneurs as pioneer members of the online store.
Of the 33 Nanays, 17 of them already had combined total sales of P2 million.
A nanay who offers air conditioning cleaning services got a contract with one of the largest shopping malls in the country through Iskaparate.
Soon after, other organizations and programs joined Iskaparate, including the Office of Vice President Angat Buhay, the Foundation for Innovations in Business Management, Inc., and GoNegosyo.
Iskaparate has since grown to about 129 members, and now includes some tatays, ates, and kuyas, Filipino terms for father, older sister, and older brother, respectively. For buyers looking to revisit the flavors of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, there are also nanays which are Ilocano, Ilonggo, Gaddang and Maranao among others.
Many people told Bermúdez that microentrepreneurs are not cut out for selling online, but he believed otherwise.
“They mentioned concerns that are really valid for me. First of all, it is expensive to go online on your own. Second, if it’s a one-man team, you probably won’t be noticed unless you have a large production capacity. Third, given that many of them are between 45 and 60 years old, there is this natural fear of technology, “he explained.
Although some nanays were initially hesitant to go online, Bermúdez noted that many of them were genuinely open to accepting digital payments, especially those who had already tried selling online. They just needed help.
Bermúdez said he finds PayMongo “more applicable” to nanays, as it emphasized the importance of link distribution for microentrepreneurs.
“The distribution of links is very important for the business of the nanays. When someone looks at your products online, it is not as simple as select, click, pay, pay. If, for example, a nanay sells sheets and someone orders 1,000 sheets, can the nanay make them all? The client must first negotiate with the nanay. Once they agree, that is when the nanay will tell us that the client will make an initial payment. Then we send the customer a PayMongo link, ”he explained.
In addition to serving as a platform for nanays online store, Iskaparate strives to educate them on how to navigate social media platforms, especially those who are hesitant to use technology.
A battle for inclusion
Bermúdez’s advocacy for social enterprises began when he was a young banker.
Throughout his career at large commercial banks, Bermúdez tried to convince his colleagues that microenterprise borrowers are better borrowers than their corporate counterparts.
Right now, Bermúdez sees Iskaparate as “90 percent defense and 10 percent business,” though he said they were slowly moving toward a more business-oriented platform without being prohibitive for nanays. Iskaparate recently registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
By June of this year, Iskaparate expects to add 1,000 nanays. And it’s really just beginning. —CONTRIBUTED
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