Corazon Bautista won the top prize at the 2011 Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards (CMA). Courtesy of Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in "Small Steps to Success", a book of 10 inspiring stories of heroism and hope from a decade of the Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards program. The CMA, a partnership between Citi, the Microfinance Council of the Philippines Inc., and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, honors the country's industrious and resilient microentrepreneurs
MANILA, Philippines - At first, Corazon Bautista thought she was in the wrong place when she joined a group of mothers who were wearing white and singing hymns of praise and worship.
She recalls hesitating to accept the invitation to this meeting that turned out to be a prayer group who coincidentally were also discussing microloans. But Corazon decided to give it a try after one of the mothers told her it was a center meeting of the Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. (TSPI), a microfinance institution that gives its members business opportunities through small loans while teaching them to live spiritually fulfilled lives.
Having been a seamstress since she was a teenager and a garment factory laborer for several years, Corazon had always dreamed of running her own business and lifting her family out of poverty. The only problem was she did not have the capital.
By joining TSPI , Corazon was immediately able to borrow a start-up capital of P5,000, which she used to purchase fabric and produce 100 shorts that she brought to the Pasig market.
At P50 a pair, Corazon was unsure if the shorts would sell, but she kept her hopes up. Her first customer scrutinized the shorts, from the stitching to the style.
“He liked my product and asked how many shorts I had in stock,” says Corazon. “I was surprised when he said he’d buy them all.”
This customer, whom she came to know as “Luis,” turned out to be a retailer at a major Manila mall. To this day, she continues to supply him with garments.
When she started her business, Corazon was the sole cutter, designer, and seamstress of her ready-to-wear line. Through determination and hard work, today she is able to employ 28 workers and supply garments to 15 malls in Metro Manila. She still designs the
Having expanded her RTW line, Corazon is now one of Taytay’s leading corporate wear manufacturers, with annual sales of about P4 million.
Her success and growth as an entrepreneur caught the eye of loan officers at TSPI who endorsed her as a candidate for the 2011 Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards (CMA). As it turned out, the TSPI folks were right on the money. Corazon bested more than 140 nominees and took the national award home.
Winning the CMA immediately helped her business. “I became more popular and more customers came to us,” she says.
She reinvested the P200,000 cash prize into the business by constructing a second floor to expand her production area, allowing her to produce an average of 1,000 shorts a day.
As part of her reward, Corazon also received training on entrepreneurship at the Citi Microenterprise Development Center in Quezon City that taught her to manage her business more effectively.
“TSPI also gave me P100,000,” says Corazon. Instead of pocketing the money, she decided to give it back to the community. “We divided the money among two churches, our relatives and employees, and the member-mothers in TSPI.”
Corazon’s experiences as a seamstress in garment factories have taught her to treat her workers well and with respect. “It is fulfilling to dream not only for yourself but also for others,” she says. “I have an employee from Binangonan who thanks me because since she started working for me, she has been able to send her kids to school. It is very heartwarming.”
Corazon also holds weekly personal talks with her workers about where they need to improve. “We try to solve problems before they get worse.”
If given a chance to turn back time and do things over, she says she would not change a thing. These days she hopes for only three things—for her two sons to graduate, to build an apartment on the lot they recently
bought, and to be able to compete in the global market.
At 42, she continues to think about how she can improve herself and her business. “I’m planning to study Fashion Design next school year,” says Corazon, who was unable to obtain her Accountancy degree the first time around that she was in college in Legazpi, Albay.
She hopes that a new degree in fashion design will allow her to produce clothes of export quality and expand her production to places outside of Metro Manila.
It does not worry Corazon that she will be away from her RTW business when she goes back to school since she has learned to empower others and pass on the secrets of the trade to her family and employees.