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Women Entrepreneurs in times of COVID: Amplified challenges and support needed

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

COVID-19 was a lightning bolt that struck many businesses, burning months or years of hard work, plans, and money of entrepreneurs in just a short period of time. In the Philippines, about 2,000 establishments were reported to have closed in the last few months. If you include micro enterprises, this number will surely spike up. It is very unfortunate, not just for the entrepreneurs but for everyone who is relying on these businesses for their livelihoods.

I’m not an entrepreneur yet, so I don’t have first-hand experience in managing a business. However, I try my best to understand what entrepreneurs experience – challenges, learnings and successes – and help them implement growth plans through my work with Villgro. Recently, we have made a conscious decision to support women entrepreneurs. Since then, I have been focusing my efforts on understanding the challenges WEs face during the pandemic.

Villgro Philippines recently launched the WE Rise Accelerator, a program for women entrepreneurs. We have been working on this program since last year; however, because of the pandemic, we knew that we must acknowledge the risks and challenges this has brought to women entrepreneurs.

A few months ago, we released a survey to understand the challenges of women entrepreneurs in the Philippines during this pandemic, and customise WE Rise based on their needs. From the respondents, we gained valuable insights on the challenges WEs were facing, and also on the support they need to survive and thrive in the COVID economy.

The Survey – Women Entrepreneurs share their concerns

A total of 36 women entrepreneurs answered the ‘Women Enterprise in the Philippines’ survey. According to the survey results, the majority of the women entrepreneurs say that they have significantly reduced their operations to a minimum, if not zero, during the quarantine. This has been the biggest challenge for them, and it is apparent because of the closing of physical market channels, which is the second most identified challenge, together with mobility. Followed by lessened customer demands, and no cash flow. Some respondents also mentioned difficulty in fundraising. Market uncertainty seemed to be the least of their concerns in the survey.

  • Significantly reduced operations: With no customers to serve, difficult access to transportation, closing of production facilities, entrepreneurs were forced to minimize, if not stop, operations to stop their losses.

  • Closing of physical market channels: Closing of shops and stores, due to the community quarantine, put a toll on service-oriented enterprises and entrepreneurs who were relying on physical stores to reach their customers.

  • Mobility: Even with the use of technology for reaching customers online, mobility was a big issue as there was a nationwide halt in transportation. Transporting goods, raw materials, and going to places to do business stopped which affected sales, production, customer service, etc.

  • Customer demands: Customers have started to prioritize their purchases, and are mostly spending money on food, hygiene products, and bill payments. The products that were not found to be essentials saw a huge dip in sales.

  • No cash flow: With no sales, cashflow stopped and the enterprises bleed as expenses continue to accumulate. Because of this, they have had to significantly cut down costs such as salary.

  • Fundraising: Enterprises that were looking to raise capital found it difficult to do so as potential investors have become risk-averse due to economic uncertainty.

  • Market Uncertainty: Entrepreneurs’ business risks have increased due to uncertain quarantine dates, affecting not just business operations but also customers’ purchasing capacity and behaviors.

Apart from sharing the challenges, they were also asked to rate different types of support for entrepreneurs based on their needs, type and amount of capital they would require in the next few months.