In Cutud Pampanga, Australian Global Alumna Monica Co, works closely with a group of women weavers, pouring over design and details to create beautifully crafted baskets and other hand-made items. In the afternoon, children would visit the workshop after school so they can spend time with their mothers. As the workshop is close to their homes, these women weavers are able to take a short walk home with their children and look after their families.
This is a typical scene for Monica, co-founder of social enterprise C&C Home and Gifts. Prior to this endeavour, she was actually working as a banker. However, like many of her millennial peers, Monica wanted to go into business. She was looking to build more than just a profitable business, but one that is driven by passion and advocacy.
Innovate and Advocate
Monica started her journey as a Marketing student at the University of Melbourne under the prestigious Australia Awards scholarship. “My Australian education laid the foundation for my women’s social enterprise,” she said.
“Our case studies had companies which included advocacy in their business models. These companies reach out to underprivileged groups and marginalised communities. Not only were they fuelled by a do-gooder desire to help – they also had genuinely good products.”
When she returned to the Philippines, Monica’s learnings and inspirations from Australia helped drive her re-entry action plan (REAP). The REAP outlines how scholars will use their Australian education to contribute to their workplace, community, or chosen field. Monica’s REAP focused on empowerment through livelihood.
Her goal was to develop self-sustaining community-based livelihood programs for mothers who wanted to add to their family’s income, but needed to stay within their communities to take care of their families. The weavers of Cutud in Pampanga and the sewers of Samata Village in Las Piñas were her partner communities for this initiative.
C&C officially started in 2015 with hand-woven baskets that they offered to delis, grocery stores, and florists. “Our weaving partners create the main product line of C&C, so it’s a true collaboration,” Monica explained.
“For the sewers, we donated the sewing machines and we worked with them for the sewn items of C&C. At other times, they use the donated sewing machines to accept sewing projects from other companies and schools to generate additional income, turning it into a self-sustaining full-time sewing facility.”
Monica believes her REAP was instrumental in achieving her dream: “C&C is a convergence of my REAP and the vision of what I want to do in my life. The dream of running a socially-centered business started when I was still in college, the whole experience of studying in Melbourne gave me the business tools and technical know-how, and it was the REAP that validated and realized my dream to jumpstart C&C,” she said.
Inspired by Australia
Now, C&C’s line has expanded to mats and woven planters that can be ordered online through candcph.com. “We have been experiencing a healthy growth, brought about by an awareness in the market for handmade items using natural and locally-sourced materials,” she said.
While in Melbourne, Monica was inspired by the city’s street art, creative events, galleries, and support for and pride in local businesses. “In between classes, I would take up extra courses like paper cutting, or simply go around browsing shops. I saw how enthusiastic the Australians are about anything handmade and natural. That enthusiasm is what I want to bring here as well.”
C&C won Best New Product (Home) in the 2018 Stilo Arte Fino, an annual arts and crafts fair that celebrates the modern Filipino and artist-entrepreneur, and showcases locally produced products, concepts and ideas.
Since the 1950s, the Australian Government has provided study and research opportunities to Filipinos with the aim of empowering and equipping these individuals to drive change and contribute to Philippine development. Today, the Australian Government continues to provide educational opportunities to Filipino change-makers through the Australia Awards and Alumni Engagement Program.