On Monday I visited Negros Women’s for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) on Negros, an island of the Visayas in the Philippines. To get there, I had to fly from Manila to Bacolod, where we were warmly welcome by a NWTF representative and drove through sugar cane fields to our final destination. On the road, I saw people on motorbikes wearing rain ponchos and a festival of colourful umbrellas.
NWTF was established in 1984 as a food programme. The founders later realized they needed to contribute to sustainable development. They created women’s cooperatives, which failed. Corazón A. Henares, NWTF’s director for operations, explained to me that cooperatives often failed for very poor people because they suffer from poor management due to their members’ circumstances.
After an extended study tour to Bangladesh to learn about the Grameen model, NWTF decided to introduce this lending methodology, which proved to have been the right decision. Through the women’s cooperatives they had reached 700 women. With Grameen’s methodology, NWTF’s outreach grew to 7,000 clients. To date, NWTF serves more than 300,000 people and has 2,000 staff managing a network of 100 branches.
“We missed you”
The relationship between NWTF and Oikocredit dates from 2005 when NWTF requested a loan to scale up their operations. But why Oikocredit? “We chose Oikocredit above other lenders because you offer capacity building and we realized that we needed to improve. Oikocredit also puts us in touch with other organizations through events and helps us to learn from other organizations,” said Corazón.
In 2012, NWTF ended its financial relationship with Oikocredit because they had enough liquidity. “But we missed you. And in 2015 after a visit from your staff we decided to restart the relationship,” continued Corazón.
“But what exactly did you miss?” I asked.
“We missed the camaraderie and the other organizations. We met with other organizations at the events organized by Oikocredit,” responded Corazón with a big smile.
“I am Dungganon”
Dungganon means “honourable”. This is NWTF’s programme based on the Grameen lending methodology. Five women form a group to receive collective loans under strict criteria and after a training programme that equips them to run a business and understand how the loan works. This dovetails nicely with NWTF’s mission to ensure every Filipino is Dungganon.
“I want to be able to help with the family budget” and “I live Dungganon” were some of the statements of anonymous women featured in NWTF’s corporate video. “We do not want to be an organization that grows only in numbers — we want to contribute to enabling dreams.”
Does this empower women? With the Dungganon methodology women are able to start a business from home and with NWTF training they get the chance to develop their businesses and to be more in charge of the family’s livelihood. NWTF training is not only financial: “With our training, women can speak up as they learn how to speak in public as well as they learn to sing and dance. They feel more empowered,” emphasised Corazón.
This is what empowerment is about, to be able to say: “I live Dungganon.”