'Nanay Tess' shares sweet smell of success

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 07 2015 08:23 PM | Updated as of Mar 08 2015 04:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Teresita Valdez, the national winner of the 12th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, shared her success story, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) on Sunday.

Last March 6, a dozen women from Citi Philippines trekked to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan to visit Valdez, whom her workers all fondly call Nanay Tess (Mommy Tess).

After seven best-selling products for export, Nanay Tess and Tatay Manny continue to aspire to expand their line and dreams of more recipes using anchovy and shrimp.

Director for Public Affairs and Corporate Citizenship Aneth Lim and Consumer Business Manager Bea Tan, who serve as co-chairs in the Citi Women’s Network, hosted an intimate discussion with Nanay Tess where she generously shared her life story.

At age 13, she quit school to help her struggling parents, thinking then that as a girl, her brothers are the ones that should continue their education.

Because she was quite tall, her employer assumed she was of age, and put her to work removing fish heads to make sautéed shrimp paste or bagoong. With her initiative and resourcefulness, she was "promoted" to prepare the sauces.

At age 16, she perfected a recipe to extend product shelf life. Later, she set up her own business making not only bagoong but also anchovy sauces with her in-laws. Her competitive edge was not using preservatives, other than vinegar, to prolong the shelf life of her product.

While it would seem that she met one success after the other, what makes Nanay Tess’ story truly inspiring is that each of those successes came at a personal cost. In choosing to withhold her recipe from the factory supervisor whom she suspected planned to leave and set up a company to rival her employer’s, she endured a range of menial, even humiliating tasks, such as cleaning up clogged canals using her bare hands.

To exit a business partnership that she felt was enriching mostly her relations while using her skills and receiving only a modest salary, Nanay Tess and her husband faced many years of alienation.

And in 2007, finally running a business all her own, her top customer could not pay over P2 million in debt. Crippled financially, Nanay Tess and her husband were forced to sell their home.

Microfinance saved her, when she was able to borrow P10,000 to start anew. Today, her venture regularly employs 22, and her two sons and daughter are also involved. When they have bulk orders, she contracts as many as 40 additional employees in her community to meet the demand.

Citi Microenterpreneurship Awards

Nanay Tess is grateful for winning in the Citi Microenterpreneurship Awards (CMA), which presented her both cash and non-cash prizes to improve her business and accelerate her enterprise’s progress. The non-cash incentives include a two-week course on Grassroots Entrepreneurship and Management that covers courses on marketing, operations, human resources, and finance, which she recently completed.

She is looking forward to signing up for mentoring and coaching sessions with subject matter experts, including Citi senior officers that serve as volunteers in the Citi Microenterprise Development Center.

CMA is a homegrown Philippines program that started in 2002. It is a nationwide search for outstanding microentrepreneurs in the country, mounted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Microfinance Council of the Philippines and Citi Philippines, with funding from Citi Foundation.

By the time Nanay Tess won, the program has honored 100 outstanding Filipino men and women for their invaluable economic contribution to the microfinance industry – the transformation of a meager loan to a thriving microenterprise. These winners, including Nanay Tess, serve as role models to other aspiring entrepreneurs to endlessly overcome challenges and improve their knowledge and skills to excel in their enterprises.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

"2015 marks Citi’s fifth global International Women’s Day celebration. For this year’s theme, we adopted 'Connecting Women. Inspiring Change. Making Progress.' Many of our planned programs are centered on connecting women in ways that inspire change to foster progress, both personally and professionally," Lim said.

The roots of International Women’s Day date back to the early 1900s, with observations and celebrations occurring in many countries on various dates. By 1977, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 8 as International Women’s Day, as it continues to be observed today. In some countries, International Women's Day is recognized as an official holiday.

This year, Citi engaged employees, clients and community partners through more than 220 events across 130 cities in 90 countries, all taking place throughout the month of March.

"It was very difficult for any of us who went to visit with Nanay Tess to say what we admired most about her, after hearing her testimonial. Considering her lack of formal education, and in some of the instances also young age, she showed real courage in the face of adversity and never gave up. Nanay Tess gives us hope that escaping poverty is very possible. She made me proud to be working for a company like Citi, and strong validation on why we need to continue our work in promoting microfinance and financial inclusion," Lim said.

In the coming weeks, you can read about the personal stories and experiences of Citi women on Citi’s blog (www.blog.citigroup.com) and by following the hashtag #WomensDay on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.