A boot camp is a term that refers to the intensive, usually physical, training given to military recruits to prepare them for life as soldiers, sailors, Marines, pilots or even members of the Special Forces.
From my limited knowledge, gleaned mostly from movies and TV, a boot camp consists mainly of rigorous physical training and tests of endurance, including being yelled at periodically by stern taskmasters known as drill sergeants. So when I first heard about a boot camp for young women entrepreneurs, I imagined young women being forced to crawl through muddy ground under a net of barbed wire, scaling wooden barriers, and jogging in the hot sun while being harangued by drill sergeants.
Well, maybe the participants in the YWEB, or Young Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp 2013, won’t be slogging through muddy ground or testing their physical strength. “It will be more intellectual,” explains Mel Alonzo who will manage the YWEB, in effect becoming the dreaded drill sergeant. But I am sure it will prove just as, if not more, challenging than the typical test of endurance, and the lessons learned by the young recruits should last much longer. In fact, it is envisioned that the women joining the boot camp will “echo” their learnings in their own communities and create even more young entrepreneurs.
The YWEB is being organized by a women’s organization called Spark—for Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran (Organization of Filipinas for Reform and Progress)—and the US Embassy to “provide opportunities for young women entrepreneurs to be mentored by successful businesswomen and other experts.”
As Kathryn “Katy” Bondy, economic officer of the US Embassy explains, “the development of entrepreneurs has long been a priority of the Obama administration,” recognizing that entrepreneurs, or self-employed business people, are the “drivers of economic development.” The YWEB, a project unique to the Philippines, is also Spark’s first major project, aimed, so Alonzo claims, “to encourage more women to drive growth and innovation in the Philippine economy.”
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The YWEB is open to all Filipino women between 25 and 35 years old, who own their own businesses and have been operating for at least two years. Applicants will compete for one of 30 slots open to participants—10 each from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. During the three-day boot camp, to be held in Manila, participants will learn all about “finding opportunities for growth, learning how to use social media effectively, and improving budgeting,” among other skills, in addition to receiving mentoring from other entrepreneurs behind successful start-ups.
Of the 30 selected participants, one will receive $5,000 (yes, US dollars) for the best and most innovative business plan, which should center on “scaling up” her existing business. Three runners-up—one each from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao—will also receive $1,000.
A panel of businesswomen will listen to the participants present their business plans. At the same time, each of the 30 young businesswomen is expected to conduct “echo” seminars in their localities to share what they had learned or experienced while at the YWEB. Alonzo, who now sits as a board member of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority but who is best remembered as former president of the Pag-Ibig Fund, says they also hope to gather the YWEB a year after the boot camp and host “a meeting with US-based business people” not just to learn from their experiences, but more importantly, establish contacts and expand networks.
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Jenny Lind Elmaco, a trustee of Spark, says one of the criteria for choosing the YWEB participants is “social impact,” emphasizing that the businesswoman’s enterprise should help create resilient communities and a sustainable environment.
Other things the organizers are looking for: creativity, innovation and “the potential for scaling up.”
Alonzo notes that “countless studies have shown that countries that encourage economic participation and entrepreneurial activity from women tend to do better overall.” And creating more entrepreneurs, says Bondy, “in turn leads to political stability and the growth of civil society.” Or as Alonzo remarks: “[E]conomic independence is key to women’s empowerment.”
Women entrepreneurs who want to be part of the YWEB must submit a company profile describing the business, products or services, accompanied by a copy of their Department of Trade and Industry registration papers and their financial statements for the past two years. For more detailed instructions, e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for submission is July 30.
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Spark Philippines’ statement of purpose says that it is committed to the “development of women and women’s organizations as full partners in national development.”
With a board of trustees composed of women well-known in business, academe and civil society, Spark aims to establish a “network of women leaders in all sectors and at all levels, who can participate in discourse and decision-making from the community level up to the national.” They also hope to network and partner with other women’s groups, business, national and local governments, the Church and the academe, while “acting as advocate, oversight/watchdog of women’s issues.”
While people say Filipino women are already empowered enough, the truth is that “empowerment” holds true only for a thin layer of women in the top tiers of Philippine society, who may be very visible in the media, but represent only a small percentage of the vast potential pool of leaders to be found in the rest of the country.