WE recently gathered almost 50 women from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to agree on aligning under one brand for our products: Great Women. Ahead of everyones speculations, apprehensions and other anxieties about coming together under one Asean Economic Community, the women agreed to carry their sisters under this identifying mark.
We had powerful businesswomen: from Lao PDR, the great dame of DAO Coffee Madam Leauang; Thailands Sumivol founder Pre; Cambodias Queen of Organic Pepper Nanda Pok of Kampot Pepper Farm; owners and women directors of Raming Tea, Bonback Manufacturing; and Nancy of Facy Beauty Products, among many others who showcased their products to the other women in the crowd.
It was an exhilarating experience to hear of stories of empowerment from Mo Hom, a returning Burmese who now has tea farms and silk weaving in Myanmar. She now has Mo Hom Foundation to help women avoid the opium trade and avoid being trafficked into China through their shared borders. All these through her weaving and textile operations in Yangon.
We were regaled by Silk Avenue owners with stories about how they have helped many women find good jobs weaving silk and also contributing to green efforts of the company.
We also listened to Madame Pre, daughter of the founder of the largest crocodile farm in the world. Even as a single mother, she ventured into exotic handbags manufacturing and selling of quality exotic skin to the worlds biggest fashion houses like Gucci and Hermes. She now has Sumivol, named after her mother, a luxury brand now on its third year in Thailand and soon to open in Bahrain.
These women were brought together to the conference by the Asean Connectivity through Trade and Investment office of the United States Agency for International Development in Jakarta with the efforts of Dana Stinson, Patty Alleman, the indefatigable Thitapha and the very able Putri Adamy. The Acti has tapped “Great Women” brand owners ECHOsi Foundation of the Philippines President Jeannie Javelosa and yours truly to spread the word about branding quality products from Asean. Not just branding but collaborating among Asean woman-entrepreneurs and designers to come under one platform: “Great Women.”
The Philippines was ably represented by Business and Professional Women (BPW) Makati members Camille Escudero, Zarah Juan and famous jewelry designer Wynn Wynn Ong who also represented her native Myanmar. Wynn lives in the Philippines and produces her works here but also has business connections in Myanmar.
The Filipinas took over the meeting, led by Jeannie, Great Women brand visionary and Asean lead. I provided the synthesis of the workshops and summarized the days proceedings at the end of each conference session. It was fun and interesting having to divide the groups not by country, but by specialty-truly one Asean with no country limits and no borders in cooperation. Just plain old productive girl talk and meaningful discussions of collaborations.
Malaysia immediately invited everyone to showcase the sampler products (for example, Jasmine tea with lemongrass from Philippines, Jasmine tea with ginger from Malaysia but all done under Raming Teas production line). Malaysia is mounting an small and medium enterprise show in late May which will be the maiden show of Great Women in the region.
The textile people were organized by Zarah Juan and Camille Escudero where silks from Thailand and weaves from Myanmar or the Philippines may find themselves in one product. Interesting, challenging but doable.
We so look forward to the first product of this meeting: a platform where women help women up the value chain. We realized we were all helping the same kinds of people: women who needed to be empowered. Women who are weavers, skilled artisans and farmers.
We look forward to helping our other Asean sisters and learning from those who have advanced in their fields. The Philippine group simply shared what has already worked in the country. The ECHOsi gathered women designers, taking them to indigenous peoples and artisan groups in different communities. For food like coffee and jams, I told them we had already done an Asean blend in coffee. We now can do it in pepper, tea and many more products like rice which abound in all Asean countries.
Next time you buy a gift, you may find a “Selection of Asean Rice” packaged by Bonback of Thailand but having Philippine, Vietnam and Thailand rice in it. Or pepper may be a selection of the Asean hot stuff: Kampot pepper; Philippine siling labuyo; Myanmars chili; and Malaysian sambal, but packaged by Nanda Pok of Cambodia.
The logistics may be challenging but the branding idea is welcomed by all. One Brand. One Asean. One Great Women. How wonderful that women have already forged ahead for regional cooperation doing what they love to do: Talking and meeting and, most of all, helping other women rise up to lead better lives.