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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Help for small businesses

We are so overwhelmed with depressing news from all fronts these days. The strain on our mental health must be building up at an unprecedented rate. Even if there are no noticeable changes in our external behavior, the unending stress streaming through our subconsciousness affects us in so many different ways.

In my case, even if my conscious thoughts do not amount to excessive psychological stress, I’ve noticed that I’ve been having lesser hours of sleep, and my blood pressure has been above safe levels recently. While we need to give considerable attention to protocols aimed at protecting ourselves from the virus, we cannot let the pandemic totally control our lives.

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The sprouting of so many home-based businesses shows that many of our people are asserting control over their lives, refusing to be at the complete mercy of the virus. While so many of our giant businesses are on the brink of collapse, many homegrown businesses that sprang up because of the pandemic are thriving in our communities. These businesses need to continue thriving for the sake of families whose breadwinners have lost employment. But even after the pandemic, it is in our country’s interest to make them flourish.

These considerations may have been in the minds of the local officials of our small town, Alcala, Cagayan, when they recently met with officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) at its Cagayan Valley regional office. I tagged along because I was curious to find out the kind of government assistance available, and I was looking at putting up a startup enterprise myself. I was so glad I joined the meeting.

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I was impressed with the DOST presentation led by regional director engineer Sancho Mabborang and provincial director engineer Sylvia Lacambra. What underlies the DOST programs that were presented to us is the recognition that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the true engines of growth in the countryside. With this premise, the DOST has designed various assistance programs to help SMEs in the various aspects of their operations.

The DOST has priority sectors where it concentrates its assistance. These are SMEs involved in processed food, marine and agriculture, furniture, metals, gifts, decor and handicraft, electronics, and health products/services and pharmaceuticals. It was very encouraging to know that the DOST has a roster of scientists and experts who give online technical advice and consultancy services for free to SMEs in making their crops yield more harvest, in manufacturing their food products, in recommending the right equipment and technology, in turning their waste into fuel and fertilizer, in maximizing their profitability, in minimizing their expenses, etc. Private enterprises can go directly to the DOST for assistance.

For food products, the DOST even helps SMEs with their packaging and labeling requirements, food hygiene and food safety protocols, and in providing access to laboratories that will measure the nutritional value and determine the expiry dates of their products. Among the SMEs that I’ve learned have benefited from DOST assistance are a bakeshop, a kamote beer entrepreneur, a peanut product venture, a canned goat meat enterprise, and a citrus farm, among many others.

The DOST also operates OneStore.ph, which is an e-commerce web portal where customers can easily shop from all DOST-assisted SMEs.

Recently, there’s news that our government plans to provide billions of pesos to help giant business conglomerates survive the economic crisis. I hope the government equally allots more funds to help the small businesses that have mushroomed because of the crisis.

The emergence of these small ventures presents to us a crucial chance to recalibrate our economy by redistributing to small enterprises wealth opportunities that have long been monopolized by big conglomerates. The growth of these home-based businesses gives our country a rare opportunity to help stop the decimation of our middle class, and to halt the widening gap between the extremely rich and the rest of us.

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TAGS: Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, small businesses
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