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DOST's iFWD PH Provides Hope to OFWs Amid the Challenges of the Global Pandemic

Febe Estamo - Nov. 02, 2020



Innovations Moving OFWs Forward
In a policy brief authored by a top Philippine university, about 300,000 to 400,000 OFWs are estimated to be affected by the pandemic, from cuts to layoffs in employment to eventual repatriation. As of 6 May 2020, there has been a total of 174,000 repatriated Filipinos, most of whom were Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to this problem, the Department of Science and Technology launched the Innovation for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines or the iFWD PH Program to help OFWs who were repatriated or forced to come back home by providing them with opportunities to move forward by establishing technology-based enterprises.

Among the OFWs who have been repatriated was Elaine Wakefield, who worked as a sea-based massage therapist. Before the pandemic started affecting every other economic sector, it first crippled the tourism industry. Despite working for 5 years with the TDG Crew Management Inc., one of the major players in the Philippine ship manning industry, Ms. Wakefield was not successful in deferring her repatriation.

"(I) got repatriated on March 15, 2020 po and my back-to-sea schedule for June 8, 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic," Ms. Wakefield recounted when asked about her experience as an OFW when the pandemic broke out. She continued by disclosing that, "Nahirapan po ako sa transport from the airport at naabutan po ako ng lockdown sa Manila. I got scammed po sa condominium na tinirahan ko." She said that the whole experience was very stressful for her and that she felt harassed because at that time, she "didn't get any instructions kung ano gagawin pag dating ng Pinas (Philippines)."

Wakefield said that to be able to cope with the new "normal," she made herself busy planting vegetables, selling online products and helping her husband "so we can survive this pandemic and try to stay positive and of course (still) enjoy being with my family."

Starting Anew: iFWD PH Kicks Off with Phase 1 of Program
"It is difficult to be away from your family; it is difficult not to be involved in their important steps in life. Loneliness is accompanied by anxiety and worry about whether they are in a good situation - to leave and work far from home was a big decision you've made," was how DOST-National Capital Region (DOST-NCR) Regional Director Jose B. Patalinjug III started his remarks during the iFWD PH Phase 1 Orientation last 20 August 2020, to welcome the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), whom he addressed as the "Makabagong Bayani" in the modern world.

The phase 1 orientation for the iFWD program was graced by Department of Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato De La Pena, together with DOST Undersecretary for Regional Operations USec. Brenda L. Nazareth-Manzano. During the orientation, the OFWs also heard the story of Mr. Benjie Inocencio of Journey Woodblock Enterprise, a ex- former OFW who worked as a machine operator in Kuwait, and is now an industry partner who availed of DOST's services through the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP).

For the iFWD PH's pilot run, the DOST-NCR received 119 applicants coming from different provinces nationwide; a total of 98 OFWs were accepted and divided into two batches: batch "Mapanlikha", which in Pilipino means "creative" and batch "Mapagpabago", which means "innovative." As the iFWD PH program is composed of two phases, the two batches will now started their journey onto phase 1 or the Capability Building for the Development and Management of Technology-Based Enterprises which will run until the end of October 2020.

The iFWD PH phase 1 is composed of sessions on "TeknoLokal" and TeknoKonsultasyon Para sa Makabagong Bayani," and "Paano ba Mag-Negosyo or Core Business Development Sessions" with DOST-NCR's partner consultants from the Entrepinoy Volunteers Foundation Inc. (EVFI).

Ms. Maria Ester "Maret" Follosco-Bautista, one of the resource persons from the EVFI, shared that their group provides management and technical assistance to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through resource persons who are experts in different business endeavors and who have industry exposure here and abroad.

The DOST-NCR will utilize online platforms and its homegrown iFWD PH e-Portal to conduct virtual lectures to be provided by the EVFI. The resource persons from EVFI designed a course syllabus that is practical, integrated, and interactive.

Expectations and Hopes of a Returning OFW on iFWD PH
"I have (always) been a business-minded person. So I would like to take advantage of this program to gain knowledge and assistance and build a long-term business (to be able) to generate a regular income to help support my family and probably help my community. I am expecting this program to assist me from the start on marketing, packaging, machines, etc. until my business is up and running," Wakefield said when asked about her expectations about the iFWD PH program after being accepted as one of the 98 successful OFW participants who applied for the program.

A better quality of life overseas, particularly in developed countries, has mostly been the main reason for OFWs to pack their bags and leave their families. In the Philippines, the acronym OFW is synonymous to "makabagong bayani" (modern-day heroes) because of their contribution to the country's economy despite personal sacrifices. This phrase was coined during the 1988 address of former President Corazon Aquino before the Filipino workers in Hong Kong.

The term still remains relevant today although with a different connotation. To us, the "makabagong bayani" is someone who has innovative ideas and new solutions, who has makabagong pananaw and uses makabagong pamamaraan to affect a makabagong perspektibo of doing things. As RD Patalinjug addressed the OFWs, "Ang makabagong bayani ay para sa makabagong panahon. Ito ang inyong panahon."

Starting the Core Business Development Training
"One's value corresponds to the action we take in every decision we make. It helps to dictate our system on how we are to utter words or respond to any situation. This, together with our beliefs, makes us a better person. This is included in our course module because values will be part of our entrepreneurial foundation, as you develop yourself towards building your businesses," said Ms. Sonia Aquino of the EVFI. One of the topics under values and entrepreneurship is the "Triangle of Values" where sustainability and growth will be expounded.

The iFWD PH program started the series of sessions with values in entrepreneurship to instill in each of the participants the importance of personal values that an entrepreneur needs. These are attributes such as honesty, passion, determination, and confidence. No one likes to do business with people that are arrogant, selfish, dismissive and egotistic and any business venture is a reflection of the entrepreneur's personal values, attitudes, and beliefs. An example of this is how an entrepreneur will make his/her customer feel good or satisfied. Likewise, professional values are the tenets of one's work environment. "Just like the DOST," Ms. Aquino said, "part of their values is to give the best that they can in their service for the people through science and technology."

"With all the good values humanity can have, the greatest of all will always be love. When you do things with love, fruit in abundance will be seen. The people will notice the difference of your work attitude, - there would be patience in what you are doing, respect for your colleagues, courage to take a risk because an entrepreneur is someone who takes risk on a reasonable scale, you walk in integrity, which can be seen by your customers as you deal with them with honesty, there, you grow," she continued.

Eyes are open with vision for tomorrow, you lend an ear to hear the needs of the people, and your lips will ask mentors to tell them what to do to improve.

With this, Ms. Aquino encouraged everyone to just believe in him/herself, because just like what many say, "Kung 'di ka maniniwala sa sarili mo, sino pa? Be confident for people to see that you can stand your ground, but not too confident that you forget your people - Huwag naman puro self-love, learn to give" she stressed.

TeknoLokal Session
Moving forward, iFWD PH applicants were inspired when the DOST Secretary Fortunato De La Pena again graced the opening of the TeknoLokal sessions, together with the DOST Undersecretary Brenda Nazareth-Manzano. All were encouraged by the opening messages that ignited the child-like spirit of each participant, wanting to learn and do more for the future. These OFWs who have spent a decade or so abroad with little or no experience in business had a vision of what it is like to put up a business of their own through the iFWD PH program. Each of these aspiring entrepreneurs aim to be successful in the future with the help of DOST, which is assisting them through technical training and funding.

DOST-NCR gathered several resource speakers from the different DOST agencies to present to the 98 accepted applicants the different technologies for commercialization. These technologies came from DOST-PCAARRD-funded research and development projects and MIRDC, ITDI, FNRI, ASTI, PTRI, and FPRDI. Each agency presented its own set of technologies for food processing, woodcraft and furniture, gifts, housewares and decorations, marine and aquatics, horticulture and agriculture, metals and engineering, health products, and services/pharmaceuticals, ICT and electronic sectors. They discussed in detail the features, market potential and investments of the technologies. Even before the start of the TeknoLokal sessions, many of the OFWs were already interested in food processing and after the illuminating discussion on that sector, many more were hooked - almost half of the crowd were thrilled by how these featured technologies could help them in the industry they want to be in.

Putting up a business is not just about writing a five-year plan but also about identifying niche markets and selecting the right equipment for developing quality products in a cost-efficient manner. The technologies that were presented were proven to provide convenience and are locally made, - 'tatak-Pinoy' talaga! These innovations are indeed products that answer to the DOST's theme, "Science for the People," showcasing all Pinoy-made technologies to help in the development of the institutions, both private and public.

DOST's Pilot Run of iFWD PH Concludes with 59 Graduates
They believed they could, and they are now halfway through. The Innovations for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines (otherwise known as the iFWD PH) Program's first phase concluded last Friday, the 30th of October 2020. The DOST recognized fifty-nine (59) Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). They successfully hurdled the course during the Concluding Ceremony-awarded with Certificates of Completion on Capacity Building for the Development and Management of Technology-Based Enterprise.

In his opening remarks, DOST-NCR Regional Director Jose B. Patalinjug III highlighted why DOST gave our OFWs such recognition. He passionately applauded the graduates with a reminder of what it takes to be called "Makabagong Bayani." As he said, "tinawag naming kayong mga makabagong bayani hindi lamang dahil sa inyong sakripisyo para sa inyong mga pamilya, kundi dahil narin sa pinili ninyong matuto at magkaruon ng mga makabagong perspektibo at pamamaraan para maitaguyod ang inyong napiling kabuhayan sa tulong ng siyensya, teknolohiya at inobasyon."

The year 2020 is a very challenging year for everyone, especially for those who have lost their jobs, like the repatriated OFWs who have joined the program. But, the pandemic only challenged them to move forward and find a way to continue. Through the iFWD PH, many OFWs were enlightened by what the country can offer. Manuel L. Dela Rosa, one of the graduates, thought that going out of the country was best for him and that the pasture on the other side of the road was much greener. But now he has realized that he has the chance to build his own business here in the Philippines.

With the intense training provided by the Entrepinoy Volunteers Foundation, Inc. (EVFI) under the DOST-NCR's supervision, these OFWs are now ready for the second phase of the program.

DOST Secretary Fortunato T. Dela Pena, in his keynote message, thanked the graduates for putting their confidence in the Department's iFWD program and taking on the role of ambassadors of the program to the public. He commended the graduates for completing the activities and requirements for Phase 1 and having inspiring discussions amidst various challenges. Sec. De La Pena added that "the next phase of the program will be more hand-molding and face-to-face." The endorsement of Phase 2 Candidates to DOST Regional Offices is where their home provinces fall under and where they would like to set up their businesses. The second phase of the program is where the participants will go through product development, product testing, packaging, and actual production.

The Secretary assured the participants that they would also be invited to technical webinars to keep them updated on S&T innovations that could elevate their businesses to the next level. He also advised them to, "First, if you feel that you are getting stuck, either in your growth or having problems in your business plan, never check your reports and spreadsheets. Instead, sit with your customers. If you want to build an amazing company, you need to be crystal clear on who your customer is. And second, is that you must build your company like you'll own it forever. A company that you will really love to run for the rest of your life."

For her part, DOST's Undersecretary for Regional Operations Brenda L. Nazareth-Manzano also extended her congratulations to the OFWs who wish to become entrepreneurs. Ms. Manzano shared consistent, universal, and cross-cultural principles, such as Integrity, Diligence, and Perseverance. "Always aim to improve. Many of our seasoned entrepreneurs surpassed their challenges with their eyes locked on their vision and mission - and if they can, so can you," she said. Entrepreneurship might be the road less traveled, but these fundamental essentials will help achieve and pursue their goals.

One of the iFWD PH graduates, Mr. Manuel L. Dela Rosa, also gave a message on behalf of his batchmates. He thanked the DOST for its initiatives for repatriated OFWs. He ended his statement by encouraging his batchmates as he said, "I pray that all of us OFW graduates of iFWD PH will be leading the pack of taking the challenge of continuing and finishing Phase 2. May we all succeed in going through Phase 2. It's about time. It's our time now. Be the best and the most successful entrepreneurs that we can be. And once we succeed, do not forget to pay it forward by helping others, as we transform from a kabayang OFW to a makabayang negosyante."

Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OPA-OFW) Undersecretary Edwin Bael lauded the graduates as breakthrough artists. He says, "throughout the years, you have broken through barriers of your comfort zones, be it going through the many obstacles to travel abroad, to communicate with your foreign employers and other new undertakings you have finished. And now, with the guidance of DOST, you have conquered another challenge, the challenge of acquiring the needed skills in putting up technology-based businesses".

Atty. Hans Leo Cacdac, OWWA Administrator, also extended his congratulations to the OFW graduates. He timely introduced OWWA's Tulong sa Pangkabuhayan sa Pagunlad ng Samahang OFWs or Tulong PUSO, and the Balik Pilipinas, Balik Hanap Buhay Program; two programs that the OFWs can avail of to augment the needed funding for their technology-based businesses.

The closing ceremony concluded with congratulatory messages from the EVFI family and the iFWD PH team of DOST-NCR, celebrating with their success by tagging them as "Ang aming mga Makabagong Bayani."