PH social enterprise awarded Apec prize
CEBU CITY—Anya Lim was poised to take over the family’s textile business that has been operating for more than two decades.
Instead, she found herself running a social enterprise that preserves and promotes Philippine hand-loomed fabrics by engaging partner communities in Abra, Cebu and Bukidnon provinces. The fabrics are made into apparel and fashion accessories that are sold in their physical and online stores.
With her mother Annie, Anya started Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous/Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers (Anthill) in 2010.
Because its work creates positive social and cultural impact on the community, Anthill was awarded the special prize from the jury in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Business Efficiency and Success Target Awards in Lima, Peru, last month.
The award recognized the next generation of women entrepreneurs at the 2016 Apec Women and Economy Forum. Other awardees come from China, the United States, Peru, Chile, Russia and Brunei.
“It (the award) is a pat on the back and a push to do more for our country and our partner communities,” said Lim, a 32-year-old member of Global Shapers Cebu.
“At Anthill, we always say that ‘we wear our tribe with pride.’ We were already very proud to represent the Philippines and this award is a validation that we are on the right track. It is also a reminder that there is so much work to be done and that Anthill still has so much potential,” she added.
Although she holds a degree in advertising and economics from De La Salle University, Lim engages mostly in community development work for different organizations.
She volunteered for Unicef Philippines and the Teresian Missionaries in their Indigenous Summer Mountain Service in Taiwan, and worked in the field of advocacy communications and fundraising for World Vision Philippines.
“I saw community development projects being rolled out. Candle-making, soap-making … but a lot of them are not sustainable,” she said. “The cycle of poverty continues and I got a bit frustrated.”
She then saw the need to build sustainable enterprises. In 2009, her mother prodded her to open a business so she did her research, which took a year.
The next year, mother and daughter started Anthill Fabric Gallery initially positioned as a textile and lifestyle store where they sold fabrics from her mother’s business, Black Fabrics, and high-end limited cut fabrics from all over Asia.
The idea came from the Beehive Co-op in New York where the crafts of designers and craftpreneurs are brought together in one hub.
Asked why she called it Anthill, Lim replied: “Ants are known to be hardworking, resourceful … They have this communal spirit and we found that very appropriate for our relationship with partner communities, designers and us. We gather everyone under one nest and our fabrics represent the sugar of our anthill.”
The business brought in high-end clients who later became Anthill’s brand ambassadors.
Most rewarding part
Lim said the most rewarding part of her job was to see the spark in the eyes of the weavers when they see their hand-loomed fabrics transformed into clothes and other apparels.
“Their weaves were undervalued … They were used as mats and rags but when they saw that the weaves were actually worn by people who were in high heels and were wearing makeup, they found relevance in what they were doing,” she said.
Anthill directly works with three communities: Abra Weaving Community, the Daraghuyan Bukidnon Tribe and the Handcrafters of Mary Enterprise in Cebu.
Among their weaving communities, they work with 48 weavers in Abra and 150 weavers for their indirect supplies from Lake Sebu town and Mindoro and Benguet provinces.
Pride of place
Born and raised in Legazpi City in Albay province, Lim grew up with parents Jose and Annie, who instilled in her and her brother, Joseph Aaron, love for country.
Furniture at home were bought from cottage industries. Instead of traveling abroad, her parents brought them around the Philippines. Her mother was part of the Jesuit Volunteer Group, from which she learned the value of serving people and working with communities.
Her favorite subject as a child was araling panlipunan. Up to now, she has in her possession a book titled “Pilipinas Kong Mahal,” which contained poems about indigenous tribes.
On a trip to Banaue, her parents took her to an Igorot community where she saw the women weaving fabrics and the men sculpting wood.
“Seeing them put to life the indigenous people I saw and read in books. When I was there, I felt very alive. I felt that they are the genuine Filipinos … no trace of colonialism. The village was thriving and I felt like I was one of them,” she said
After graduating from college, she decided to go back and visit the village. But the community was already a ghost town. She was told that the women and men who used to weave and sculpt became tour guides.
This is one sad experience that Lim does not want to go through again.
Her team at Anthill conducts capacity-building training to improve and upgrade the skills of their partner communities.
In 2012, Lim left for Australia to work for a master’s degree in communication for social change at the University of Queensland.
“The time I spent with grassroots communities made me realize that the biggest foundation of work results is really how people communicate with each other. When I came back from Australia, I fully embraced my being an entrepreneur,” she said.
She learned participatory leadership where listening was vital in dealing with communities. “It is like giving the microphone to the community. Coming back, I became more quiet and witnessed more the transformation of communities.”
Lim said she was told by one of her mentors that it was wrong to say that “we empower communities because power is innate. Our role is to … provide them with an enabling environment so they realize their potential and they make good use of the resources available to them.”
The most difficult part in running a social enterprise like Anthill was in the beginning when it was a challenge to let the weaving communities see the bigger picture and inculcate in them a sense of ownership, she said.
After six years, however, Anthill has slowly built a nurturing and trusting relationship with the communities and has since opened all possible communication lines.
Success to them, according to Lim, is measured in two ways. One is when Anthill sees an increase in the number of younger weavers in partner communities. The other is when the group sees young people wearing their weaves. They call them weave wearers.
As a social enterprise, Anthill has managed to be self-reliant in the last six years without any outside investors.
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