ISEA and Oxfam Co-Convene Women’s Empowerment and Social Enterprise Conference in Asia

More than fifty (50) leaders representing key organizations of the social enterprise sector from ASEAN countries gathered together for the First Women’s Economic Empowerment and Social Enterprise Regional Visioning and Engagement Conference (WEE-SERVE Asia) last April 19-22, 2017 at the AIM Conference Center, Makati City, Philippines.

Co-convened by the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA) and Oxfam, the Conference had as theme “Promoting Transformational Partnerships and Women’s Empowerment in Agricultural Value Chains in ASEAN”. The Conference was the culminating activity of Promoting Social Enterprises (PROSE), a component of an Oxfam-led initiative supported by the Swedish Government/SIDA entitled Gender transformative and Responsible Agricultural Investments in Southeast Asia (GRAISEA).

The conference showcased social enterprise best practices that have had significant impact on the lives of women and men small scale producers, which were studied by ISEA research teams in 4 ASEAN countries: Alter Trade/NOFTA and Bote Central/Philippine Coffee Alliance in the Philippines; Fisherfolk Enterprise/Lemon Farm and GreenNet in Thailand; Dompet Dhuafa’s KMM M3 and KSU Jatirogo in Indonesia and Dragon and HITEACO in Vietnam. These cases became the basis for evolving a set of “Benchmarks for Transformational Partnerships that Impact on Women and Men Small Scale Producers in Agricultural Value Chains (AVCs)” that were presented and enhanced during the Conference.

WEE SERVE Asia also initiated a dialogue on the benchmarks with ASEAN, the business community as well as social and impact investors in the region represented by the ASEAN Committee on Women and Children, the ASEAN Foundation, Shujog-IIX and the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN).

Senator Loren Legarda, a staunch advocate of women and the environment, and a co-sponsor of the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship Bill in the Philippine Senate served as the Keynote Speaker. She highlighted the potentials of the social enterprise sector in the attainment of inclusive economic growth, while also stressing the urgent need to pass laws supporting social enterprises both in the Philippines and at the ASEAN level.

“While programs and incentives enjoyed by MSMEs apply to social enterprises as well, it is imperative that legislation for social enterprises is passed. Pending in the Senate is the proposed Poverty Reduction Through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Act, which would provide social enterprises with incentives such as tax exemptions, special credit windows and guarantee funds, and local government support, among others,” Senator Legarda said.

Legarda further said that the ongoing ASEAN economic integration would make both MSMEs and social enterprises susceptible to greater competition with their constraints in finance, technologies, and markets.

The participants came up with a joint declaration that expressed their commitment to implement, promote, and mainstream the benchmarks for transformational partnerships in agricultural value chains in ASEAN and beyond. The participants saw this as a contribution of the social enterprise sector to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of zero poverty and hunger, decent jobs and inclusive growth, sustainable production and consumption, reduced inequality and women’s economic empowerment.

The Conference participants also visited three social enterprises: Gandang Kalikasan/Human Nature in Laguna; the Casile-Guinting Upland Marketing Cooperative, a member of the Philippine Coffee Alliance also in Laguna; and Bote-Central’s 18 Days Coffee Kiosk in South Supermarket, Alabang in the national Capital Region.

Serving as partners of ISEA in the PROSE Project were the Central for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP) in Vietnam; Change Fusion in Thailand; and Bina Swadaya and Dompet Dhuafa in Indonesia. The Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Coalition and the Peace and Equity Foundation in the Philippines also served as cooperating organizations for the Conference.