15th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards: Bicolana Finds Fortune in Pili Oil

Starting a small business is no easy feat because though you may not need a big capital, you definitely need to exert a lot of hard work before you see it flourish and cash flowing in. Your hobby is a great idea to start with especially if it’s something unique yet useful. Or you can check with Mother Nature just like what this Bicolana did and then sought the help of a microfinancing company.

The pili is not a tough nut to crack after all, especially for an enterprising Bicolana, who was named Microentrepreneur of the Year in the 15th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA), presented by partners Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Citi Foundation, Citi Philippines, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc.

In ceremonies held at the BSP Assembly Hall, Merle Paete, who has made exciting discoveries in the use of pili and its by-products, was presented the top award. Paete is joined by other awardees: Reynante Manimtim, a siomai food cart owner, the Regional Awardee for Luzon; Mimosa Cortez, a fishing and crab picking business owner, the Regional Awardee for Visayas; Ivy Millare, buko pie and egg pie manufacturer, the Regional Awardee for Mindanao; and Keith Varias, an internet café owner, recognized as the Youth Microentrepreneur of the Year.

Citi_Bicolana finds fortune in pili oil
Standing from L-R: National Selection Committee members Ayala Corp. President Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Presidential Consultant on Entrepreneurship Jose Ma. A. Concepcion III, BSP Deputy Governor Chuchi Fonacier, Phil. Daily Inquirer Chair Marixi R. Prieto, Citi Philippines CEO Aftab N. Ahmed, SPARK! Philippines Trustee Imelda M. Nicolas and Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez

Seated from L-R: Youth Microentrepreneur of the Year Keith Varias, Special Awardee for Green/Sustainable Business Rowena Manalo , Regional Awardee for Mindanao Ivy Millare, Microentrepreneur of the Year and National Winner Merle Paete, Regional Awardee for Visayas Mimosa Cortez, Special Awardee for Community Leadership Abdulia Austria, Special Awardee for Agri Micro-Business Carmelita Dapanas and Regional Awardee for Luzon Reynante Manimtim

Special awards were also given to Rowena Manalo, a supplier of driftwood used in landscaping, for Green/Sustainable Business; Carmelita Dapanas, a semi-hydroponics farm owner, for Agri Micro-business; and Abdulia Austria, a lodging house, and tour boat rentals business owner, for Community Leadership.

“Through the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, we are able to recognize and celebrate successful entrepreneurs who have made a difference for themselves, their families and their respective communities. These entrepreneurs serve as an inspiration to others through their tenacity, perseverance, ingenuity, and conviction to pursue their dreams. Citi Philippines is committed to continuing its support of financial inclusion initiatives that help Filipinos achieve financial independence, improve their ability to support their families and contribute to their respective communities.” said Citi Philippines CEO Aftab Ahmed.

Paete, who hails from Bacon, Sorsogon City, started a small sari-sari store in 2002. At the same time, she was in the business of buying and selling pili nuts and woven mats. In her hometown, pili trees, from its fruit to its bark, are proven to have many uses. Paete discovered that the pili oil, locally called Lana, could be extracted from the fruit’s outer covering. Lana can be used to alleviate skin conditions, regulate a person’s cholesterol levels, and help in weight loss. Eventually, Paete worked hard to buy a three-hectare land, cultivate it to grow pili trees, while gathering additional pili fruit from neighboring farms.

Pili Nut Oil

“Their stories are reminders of the value and nobility of our work… that is why we constantly apply creativity and conviction in creating a regulatory framework that encourages an ecosystem where the poor are granted increased access to and usage of financial services,” said BSP Governor Nestor Espenilla, Jr.

This year’s winners received close to PhP2 million in cash and non-cash prizes that include life and health insurance coverage for one year; entrepreneurship training at the Citi Microenterprise Development Center; laptops and IT training. The winners will also be showcased at the celebratory town halls to be held in their respective hometowns after the awarding ceremony.

The National Selection Committee that chose this year’s winners is headed by Gov. Espenilla and Mr. Ahmed as co-chairs; with members Mr. Antonino Alindogan, Jr., Independent Director of Philippine Airlines, Inc.; Mr. Jose Ma. Concepcion III, Presidential Consultant on Entrepreneurship; Ms. Teresita Sy-Coson, Vice Chairperson of SM Investments Corporation; Atty. Felipe Gozon, Chairman, and CEO of GMA Network, Inc.; Secretary Ramon Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry; Ms. Mary Ann Montemayor, Mindanao Private Sector Representative of the National MSME Development Council; Ms. Imelda Nicolas, Trustee of SPARK! Philippines; Ms. Marixi Rufino-Prieto, Chairperson of the Philippine Daily Inquirer; Dr. Michael Tan, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines; Mr. Orlando Vea, President of Voyager Innovations, Inc.; and Mr. Fernando Zobel de Ayala, President of Ayala Corporation.

CMA marks another milestone this year as it celebrates its 15th year of recognizing outstanding microentrepreneurs across the Philippines. Through the years, this awards program has highlighted the efforts of multiple stakeholders working together to strengthen microfinance and enterprise development in the country. After its launch in 2002 as part of Citi’s 100th-anniversary celebration in the Philippines, CMA has given recognition to over one hundred microentrepreneurs across the country, including youth microentrepreneurs and those with notable contributions to the community, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.

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