Article: Iris Dorado: Developing women entrepreneurs through microfinance support


Iris Dorado: Developing women entrepreneurs through microfinance support

Traversing even the most rugged terrain, the VP of client and enterprise development at RAFI-MFI is an example of grace and tenacity.
Iris Dorado: Developing women entrepreneurs through microfinance support

Iris Dorado is a driving force behind the success of hundreds of Filipino women micro-entrepreneurs.

Her business acumen and leadership skills are marked by a quiet grace whenever she moves about different grassroots communities.

The soft-spoken servant leader, who relates to people from all walks of life with humility and calm, has crossed rivers and mountains to reach remote areas as part of her work in enterprise and community development. Yet, her track record in growing MSMEs through microfinance in marginalised sectors is undeniable.

With resources from the nonprofit Ramon Aboitiz Foundation's microfinancing arm, RAFI-MFI, where Iris is vice president of client and enterprise development, numerous MSMEs in Southern Philippines have been given access to capital and the training needed to sharpen their financial literacy. These, in turn, have helped MSMEs flourish as drivers of the local economy.

From simple neighbourhood micro retailers, like the traditional sari-sari store, some MSMEs have grown to employ hundreds more Filipinos, generating a positive ripple effect in their towns.

With the team at RAFI-MFI, Iris realises the potential of the often untapped talent pool of women entrepreneurs. As of 2021, RAFI-MFI has released loans totalling over US$224 million to support more than 580,000 clients, many of whom are nanays (mothers) who take part in cottage industries.

RAFI-MFI works to empower small businesses locked out of traditional funding opportunities in a bid to alleviate poverty across the country.

An integral part of your work with RAFI-MFI is helping entrepreneurs become catalysts of social change. How is the diverse pool of entrepreneurs sparking change in grassroots communities?

During the pandemic, micro-entrepreneurs at the grassroots level thrived especially when the lockdowns were being implemented. Local communities still had access to necessities because our micro-enterprises provided basic services and commodities.

In terms of MSMEs being integral to grassroots community development, I cannot say enough. For a local economy to thrive, MSMEs must be part of the rallying factor to improve that local economy.

How does RAFI-MFI leverage enterprise development and microfinance to alleviate poverty?

When we started to analyse the basic problem of poverty, we saw that poverty was multidimensional. What we saw was the lack of access to infrastructure and resilient interconnectivity. We also saw the lack of quality education, among others.

When we work with some of those causalities of poverty, we can say it is really about the lack of access. At RAFI-MFI, we recognise this lack, and of the different interventions we have laid out, the first one is access to education.

This is not just education for micro-entrepreneurs to become more confident in their business acumen but also education to break intergenerational poverty.

The second is access to platforms for market linkages. Products are developed by our micro-entrepreneurs, but the next question is: where can they promote their products and where can they sell their products? That's why we provide the platforms and linkages so that they can be linked to other businesses, especially those who might avail of their services.

We also saw there was a need for access to technology. One of those aspects right now is our digital transformation. This access to technology is coupled with interventions primarily in the microcredit phase for financial inclusion. In short, access to capital.

We also promote access to social services to make them and their families more resilient – more resilient to disasters or poor health care. These include other development programmes we provide.

These are the five access points that we endeavour to provide as an intervention to allow us at RAFI-MFI, in one way or another, to address the problem of persistent poverty.

You've seen so many micro-entrepreneurs grow in their journey. What would you say are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur?

You have to have the tenacity to push forward with your goal. If you have the end goal in mind, no matter the challenges you face along the way, you don't stop. Because when you stop, you don't learn and you don't grow your business confidence.

In the first month, some micro-entrepreneurs don't earn or see the return on their investment immediately, so they don't want to do business anymore.

For me, tenacity is a big thing for micro-entrepreneurs. You have to have knowledge and passion for what you're doing.

You have a strong background in business. Today, you engage with communities in helping others build micro-enterprises. Do you remember the moment when you realised this was what you wanted to do?

All my work life, I've been wearing different hats, mostly in corporate, from being an auditor to being involved in risk management. I clearly remember the day I found my purpose [after experiencing] acquiring a microfinance institution in the form of a rural bank.

I was exposed to the community and micro-entrepreneurs, women in particular. I said, “Maybe this is what I'm meant to do. This is the purpose I had been looking for in life.”

As a leader, what lesson would you like to share to put women front and centre of the conversation on community development and economic empowerment?

If I can say something about women in general, and women entrepreneurs and women in the workplace, it would be that women can.

In community development, people think women cannot go out in the bukid (rural areas) or go into very difficult terrain. But I’ve experienced taking a balsa (raft) and a habal-habal (motorcycle) to go up the mountains.

To box up women into certain roles is a thing of the past. Women can. Women can ride a motorcycle and go on all these adventures. They can help their communities. And they can be successful entrepreneurs who impact the community and give back to society.

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Topics: Diversity, Leadership, #BigInterview

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