Gender-Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women, or GREAT Women. Yes, international development has the market on acronyms! But GREAT Women as a brand? The idea sprung from collaboration between the Philippine Commission of Women’s GREAT Women project—funded by Canadian international development aid—along with the ECHOsi Foundation. Inspired by the need to elevate the quality of goods produced by women entrepreneurs from different regions of the Philippines, the marketing and branding platform was designed to help gain access to more markets. It complements the efforts of the many project stakeholders (i.e. microfinance groups, government agencies) to develop a sustainable value chain for women entrepreneurs.

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When phase one of the GREAT Women project ended, they provided nearly 500 women entrepreneurs with marketing and branding advice directly through the project, and an additional 900 beneficiaries received support through cascade workshops, which impacted 28,500 communities. As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community (AEC) moves regional economic integration forward, the GREAT Women platform is a model for replication at the country level or as a potential regional supply-value chain support for women’s economic advancement, i.e. a GREAT Women ASEAN platform. ASEAN secretariat working groups and member countries are committed to advancing women’s economic empowerment, and they have highlighted the GREAT Women Philippine model on numerous occasions.

Together we can create new products founded on inclusive and sustainable principles Tweet This Quote

We walked into the ECHOStore in Manila in February 2015 to meet with Jeannie Javelosa, the ECHOSi Foundation staff, and two other women who lead successful businesses. We started a two-day exploration that ended in an amazing dinner of Filipino delicacies with a USAID Philippines colleague and ECHOStore business partners. While GREAT Women had been building a brand and platform and developing access to markets and approaches to sharing knowledge across their network, they hadn’t had a full conversation about investment capital.

Over plates of organic food prepared in the ECHOStore café, we sat down to actually dig into how financing might strengthen the GREAT Women effort. While the entrepreneurs involved in our discussions were somewhat interested in outside capital to grow their own businesses, they were more interested in the potential to expand industries through collaborative efforts. When they started talking about goals to revitalize the Philippine textile industry, link to neighboring country textile industries, accelerate the market for green products mainly produced by women that reflect cultural heritage, they got how finance and capital is an integral tool for expanding and elevating the GREAT Women platform.

There is a significant opportunity to demonstrate a collaborative fund structure that reflects how many entrepreneurs want to work, shifting from seeking the capital as entrepreneurs with a focused gender lens, to managing capital as investors. Tweet This Quote

As a multi-stakeholder platform and brand, GREAT Women ASEAN has the potential to allow women-led companies and enterprises with robust workplace gender equity, to come together to build a regional sustainable value and supply chain while accessing international and regional markets. But what is the institutional structure to support the platform’s development, growth, and financing for long-term sustainability? We sketched a few versions of creating a holding company to foster strengthened collaboration across the great women entrepreneurs of ASEAN, a range of key partners, and new companies to be identified. A holding company mimics some of the proven effectiveness of women’s lending circles at the microfinance level for small and growing businesses. The holding company could include a financing mechanism to capture investment capital and then deploy it to participating enterprises based on a set of investment guidelines and governance principles.

This changes how women see themselves and how gender is valued in the overall market structures. Tweet This Quote

Discussing a holding company as a funding mechanism shifted the identity from entrepreneurs seeking capital to entrepreneurs shaping the terms of the capital (i.e. type of capital, investment principles) and positioning themselves as players in the regional economy. There is a significant opportunity to demonstrate a collaborative fund structure that reflects how many entrepreneurs want to work, shifting from seeking the capital as entrepreneurs with a focused gender lens, to managing capital as investors. This changes how women see themselves and how gender is valued in the overall market structures.

Jeannie Javelosa, GREAT Women Brand, Chief Visionary Officer

Jeannie Javelosa, GREAT Women Brand, Chief Visionary Officer

Innovation, this stirs me up. I am going for it full blast as we attempt to co-create the GREAT Women platform. GREAT Women is infused with the vitality of women wanting to succeed in business, enter new markets together, while helping other women move up the value chain. Together we can create new products founded on inclusive and sustainable principles; collaborate and not compete. The platform attracts people who share the vision of supporting women, investing in their viable enterprises in various industries, so that this powerful force in our societies become economically powered.
— Jeannie Javelosa, GREAT Women Brand, Chief Visionary Officer

Since our discussions in Manila in February, the development of a GREAT Women ASEAN platform continues to be designed and advanced. In March 2015, USAID partnered with the ASEAN Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) working group and the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (AWEN) to hold three days of lively discussions with 46 women entrepreneurs from eight ASEAN countries. They agreed to collaborate on a soft launch of the GREAT Women ASEAN collection of products at the upcoming ASEAN SME Showcase and Conference 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from May 26 to 28. Imagine this: A central showcase pavilion filled with GREAT textiles, food, and other product lines from across ASEAN businesses; businesses that are women owned, promote workplace equity, and believe in the economic and social power of business with a gender lens. Pictures and purchase order traffic details to come in a future blog!

How do you design the long-term scalability of holding companies as organizational structures that capture and value the collaborative patterns of women’s interactions in community? Tweet This Quote

Also as the holding company model is validated with some angel investors, there is strong interest in the value of risk sharing and added revenue opportunities from collaboration. At our event in Bangkok in March and at other gatherings in the region over the last couple of months, we have seen an opportunity not only to demonstrate the potential of a holding company for the success of the GREAT Women ASEAN platform, but to explore the long-term scalability of holding companies as organizational structures that capture and value the collaborative patterns of women’s interactions in a community. Does this sound like an appetizing opportunity for the field? Any particular flavor you think is key to include in the organizational structure design?


Editor’s note: Click here to see the rest of Joy and Patty’s series exploring entrepreneurship and investing in Asia through a gender-lens.

About the author

Patty Alleman & Joy Anderson

Patty Alleman & Joy Anderson

Patty Alleman is the Senior Regional Gender Advisor for USAID's Regional Development Mission for Asia, and Joy Anderson is the founding president of Criterion Institute, a research and education nonprofit that broadens who and what matters in reinventing the economy. Their writings are on their travels in Asia as they seek to map the landscape, meet the players, and build a foundation for gender equality by investing in women and girls.