Returning OFWs with entrepreneurship aspirations face funding challenges

Published July 4, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Jun Concepcion


Jun Concepcion

After years of toiling abroad, most overseas Filipinos yearn not simply to go back home, but to operate their own business while enjoying getting reunited with their children, parents and other loved ones.
For many, replacing an exceptionally good income abroad while getting reunited with loved ones is the most ideal situation.

Before coming home for good, scores strive through adult siblings or immediate family members to take the initial moves preparatory to the formal establishment of a business. Unfortunately, this strategy often backfires and fails to produce the desired result and attain the set objective.

Pure and simple, putting up a business and running it smoothly isn’t for everyone. Doing it remotely by OFWs with concrete plans to go home for good is doubly difficult, especially if it’s being done in the interim by those with hardly any clue and motivation in running one’s own business.

More often than not, it takes vision, ambition, guts or daring, persistence and lots of patience and hard work to put up one’s own business and make it work and successful over time. This combination of qualities is often difficult to find among immediate family members of overseas Filipinos. And sadly, not too many OFWs possess these traits for understandable reasons.

The single biggest culprit in all these is the fact that many Filipinos, including OFWs, are brought up with an “employee mindset” by their parents.

This brings to mind a rare and most memorable informal and friendly encounter of Hong Kong-based real estate agents and brokers, including myself, with multi-billionaire businessman Manuel Villar more than 15 years ago.

The precious nugget of wisdom from the real estate tycoon went something like this: “There’s a huge difference in the manner children are brought up in typical Filipino families against those in Filipino Chinese settings. Filipino parents typically ask their children this question: “Son/daughter, what type of work will you do after you complete your college studies?” But Filipino Chinese parents take an entirely different tack: “Son/daughter, what kind of business do you wish to run after your university studies?’”
To its credit, the government currently offers several lending programs, aimed at helping returning overseas Filipinos set up their own business and replace incomes abroad that will be lost as the latter gets back home for good. The most prominent on offer to returning OFWs are the SB Corporation’s innovative and refreshing 36-month, “no-interest” livelihood lending program and the Land Bank-OWWA-administered livelihood funding scheme.

But to their discredit, government livelihood lending programs are few and some are highly restrictive and even inaccessible. A case in point is the joint Land Bank-OWWA lending scheme. The Land Bank-led program is virtually inaccessible to returning OFWs who can’t provide a three-year profit track record in an ongoing business, as well as more than ample collateral or security for a livelihood loan that is being sought. Operating like a typical private commercial lender, Land Bank isn’t interested in funding start-up businesses. I know very well the score with Land Bank following a series of personal, phone and email exchanges with senior officers at its head office and a provincial branch in the Visayas. Simply put, Land Bank-OWWA livelihood loans are off limits to returning OFWs who aspire to put up start-up businesses.
In sharp contrast, SB Corporation, a unit of the Department of Trade and Industry, warmly embraces start-up businesses. It even provides an excellent one-day online crash course on what it takes to become an entrepreneur and how to run a business, courtesy of seasoned businessmen trainors arranged by the Philippine Trade and Training Center, another DTI unit. But while SB Corp embraces and supports start-up businesses, its lending cap at ₱100,000 presents a drawback.

The lending ceiling or cap clearly implies that the funding that it provides is merely supplementary and not the primary source of capital to start and run a new business. Clearly, the lending cap signifies the government’s reluctance and unwillingness to take risks with start-ups comprised mainly of micro and small-scale enterprises.

Any bureaucrat who disputes this thesis should take note of Land Bank’s sterling profit track record, highlighted by a 27 percent spike in 2021 net income to ₱21.5-billion in spite of the Covid-19 crisis. If the government is really serious and determined to assist returning overseas Filipinos who wish to put up businesses, it could easily mandate Land Bank, which is state owned, to earmark at least ₱500-million to ₱1-billion each year to fund start-up businesses instead of being highly selective and restrictive in the choice of businesses that it supports.

As things stand today, SB Corp stands out as the only agency in government that provides genuine support and meaningful assistance to returning overseas Filipinos with aspirations to put up and run their own business and become entrepreneurs.

Although overseas Filipinos bring in an average $30-billion to the country’s economy every year, their immense contribution is hardly appreciated as reflected in the puny livelihood assistance being provided to OFWs who aspire to become entrepreneurs.

OFW rights advocates, notably Eli Mua in Saudi Arabia and this writer, are hopeful significant improvements in the OFW livelihood front will materialize in the course of the newly-minted administration of Ferdinand Marcos Junior.

Contact this writer at [email protected]