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Enabling Progress for Micro Businesses through the Citi Microenterprise Development Center

Manila – Alvin Abaja, Rona Bautista and Zenaida Santilanan all knew that setting up a business was their best bet to escape poverty. With courage, hardwork, and help from their partner microfinance institutions, all three have made the leap to become successful entrepreneurs.

From left: Bayan Academy president Raul Manikan, Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc. board member Rona Bautista, Citi Philippines CEO Batara Sianturi, Buchi King owner Alvin Abaja with business partner Christian Caparas, and Citi corporate affairs director Aneth Lim

From left: Bayan Academy president Raul Manikan, Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc. board member Rona Bautista, Citi Philippines CEO Batara Sianturi, Buchi King owner Alvin Abaja with business partner Christian Caparas, and Citi corporate affairs director Aneth Lim


 
While they may have started only with “Sipag” and “tiyaga” to grow their business beyond the micro-level, they all agree that they needed quality training, guidance and mentorship. And all three are grateful to have found these in the Citi Microenterprise Development Center (CMDC), a program established in partnership by Citi Philippines and Bayan Academy.
 
“In a country where over 90 percent of registered businesses are micro enterprises, it is unfortunate that only a few make that leap to small and medium sized due to the lack of technical skills and know-how,” related Batara Sianturi, CEO of Citi Philippines. “In CMDC, we offer an entrepreneurship training program as well as provide a venue for these microbusiness owners to receive quality and relevant mentoring, to address their specific business challenge.”
 
Established in 2011 after a successful pilot in 2010, the CMDC is funded by Citi Foundation and has worked with over 1,000 high potential microfinance clients to increase their income, employ additional people, and improve on their loan performance as microfinance clients.
 

It all started with a vision

Buchi King owner Alvin Abaja (left) and business partner Christian Caparas

Buchi King owner Alvin Abaja (left) and business partner Christian Caparas

One fateful Sunday, while Alvin was praying, he saw a clear vision of himself cooking buchi (sticky rice balls) in different colors. Seeing a potential in the buchi business, he convinced his relatives Rosario and Christian Caparas to join him in this venture. Alvin who is a computer engineer, Rosario who is a cook, and Christian who is an accountant, all admit to their initial lack of knowledge in making buchi. Undaunted, they began watching videos about buchi-making and found it simple to do.
After a series of careful experiments, they put up Buchi King, the first flavored buchi brand in the country. They began selling it to their friends, colleagues and neighbors until they decided to set up a food cart and were able to earn P13,000 a day. Alvin handled the business development, Christian handled the finances, and Rosario managed the store and kitchen operations. From a daily production of about five boxes, they are now selling hundreds of pieces of buchi everyday. The business became a success and in 2013 Rosario won the 2013 Citi Microentrepreneurship Award for Innovation for her contributions to the development of the unique products being sold by Buchi King. Rosario was one of seven microfinance clients who bested over 100 nominations to be recognized as the country’s most successful and inspiring Filipino microentrepreneurs.
 
The success of Buchi King was a collaborative effort, and Alvin admits that the CMDC seminars helped a lot in improving their business skills. “Our sales have increased when we applied what our mentors shared with us.”
 
Buchi King started with only four employees in 2012 and now they have 21 workers across three branches in Laguna. Aside from the usual monggo and ube flavors, Buchi King sells flavoured buchi such as cheese, chocolate, macapuno and sweet cream.

 

Aiming business growth

Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc. board member Rona Bautista

Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc. board member Rona Bautista

As early as her elementary school days, Rona Bautista was already exposed in her father’s trading company selling protective gears like gloves, safety shoes and hard hats. When her time came to finally help in their business, Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc., she realized that she did not have the right business skills.
“We didn’t know what our company needed for a boost in business growth. CMDC’s Grassroots Entrepreneurship and Management Program helped us become aware of our strengths and our weaknesses. It allowed us to consult with experts and professors on how to grow our business.”
 
Now, Luce Global Environmental Health & Safety Specialist Inc. has grown into a corporation that provides safety gears to companies like Unilever, San Miguel Corporation and Philippine National Oil Corporation.

 

From housewife to businesswoman

Kabalikat Para Sa Maunlad Na Buhay Inc.’s Zenaida Santilanan

Kabalikat Para Sa Maunlad Na Buhay Inc.’s Zenaida Santilanan

Zenaida Santilanan has always been a housewife while her husband, Eduardo, works in a foam factory in Valenzuela. The goal of bringing her six children from the province to the city was what prompted her to start her own business. Seeing that foam when used to make pillows can bring in good profits, they asked for small amounts of foam from her husband’s factory.
 
With an initial capital of P500, they started their pillow business in 2002. While her husband got the foam from the factory, she was busy working on the pillowcases. At first, their customers were neighbors and street vendors, but word of mouth allowed them to build their network into supplying pillows for a local company.
 
With the increased business success, they were able to bring their children to the city and began sending them to school. Zenaida’s children also assisted her in making pillows and convinced her to attend seminars of the CMDC.
 
“Back then, I thought that running a business was easy and attending seminars weren’t necessary. But CMDC opened a new perspective by teaching us to value our customer, value the money that we earn, and how to spend our profits wisely.”
 
Now that she’s learned the proper way of handling their business, Zenaida hopes to have her own sewing machine and a delivery truck in the future. These will greatly speed up her business’ production and improve delivery to customers. As the pillow business continues to grow, she plans to expand and sell her products in nearby provinces.

Social commitment and progress for all

According to Raul Manikan, president of Bayan Academy: “Over the last three years, CMDC has proven to be a highly effective program, aiding many small entrepreneurs grow and develop their enterprises. It has been doing this quietly for many years without fanfare – a truly social program.”
 
Zenaida’s story, along with Alvin’s and Rona’s, are just some of the inspiring accounts of students of CMDC, who are now making lives better not only for their families, but for their communities too.