Money in peanuts: fighting poverty the micro-enterprise way

Don’t count the poorest of the poor out. From among them  will emerge the smallest of the small entrepreneurs who through their enterprising and hardworking ways will find their way out of the poverty trap. These are the micros, who enter into business, by sheer necessity – to hold body and soul together – and who, alas, will typically remain small, marginal, unrecognized.

But don’t count the smallest of the small out. From among their ranks will rise the exceptional “micros” that will innovate, progress, find their voice, and join the mainstream.

Thirty years ago, economist EF Schumacher declared that “small is beautiful. And this still holds true today. The beauty of the small is not hard to see if we believe that it is from the small that big things come. The P-noy, who has made war against poverty his centerpiece program – and rightly so — should do well to remember Schumacher. Then he would have attacked the problem of poverty through the proven tool of micro and small enterprise development.

Indeed, the entrepreneurial society is manifested through the number of its business startups and the sustainability of its micro and small enterprises.

Development consultants estimate that Asian countries need about 60 million new entrepreneurs a year in order to create a critical mass of small businesses that can rev up their economies.

In the Philippines, there is no shortage of micro entrepreneurs. They are, in fact, countless – proliferating in urban centers and rural areas all over the country. Their numbers continue to grow every day, thanks or no thanks in part, to scarce employment opportunities and the inability of agriculture to provide a decent living to small farmers. But all too often, their enterprise is palliative rather than sustainable.

The typical “micro” is engaged in retailing, service, agribusiness, or some simple manufacturing activity like food processing and garment making. He is your friendly corner sari-sari store owner. The itinerant vendor of gulay, prutas, fish, taho, balut, and kakanin. The pedicab operator who is often the pedicab driver as well. The guy who repairs  your watch, fixes your mobile phone, alters your clothes, provides balloons and rents out chairs and tables for your party.

A “micro” is in business by dint of economic need. Its operation is characterized by one or very few products, limited volumes, small local markets, manual processes, unskilled labor, and marginal profits. Unregistered and unrecognized,  it has no power to bargain with neither customers or suppliers or even with government that is supposed to help them. The micro has no voice to call for help and incentives.

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