In the Philippines, March is National Women’s Month. It’s a perfect time to reflect on the accomplishments of Filipina women, but also to renew and strengthen the ongoing work to empower women across the country. Through the collaborative efforts of government, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), more and more Filipino women are becoming major economic contributors to their families, their communities and their country.

In late March, Philippines President Benigno Aquino III attended the celebration of 5,000 women graduates of the Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources (STAR) program. The program is the result of a partnership among the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Coca-Cola Philippines and more than 20 NGOs and microfinance institutions. The STAR program provides training, financial education and peer mentoring to women micro-entrepreneurs who run sari-sari stores (small convenience stores) and carinderias (eateries). Participants attend 12 weeks of entrepreneur training, learning business skills to help them become better business owners and operators.

Philippines 5by20
President Benigno Aquino III is joined by Coca-Cola Philippines representatives Gilda Custodio-Maquilan, Sustainability Manager and Diego Granizo, President and General Manager; TESDA Director General Joel Villanueva; 2014 STAR Scholar Lolita Mendoza; and the 5000 STAR Program women scholars in the recently concluded STAR Women’s Month Celebration 2015.

Addressing the large audience of program beneficiaries, program partners and media, President Aquino maintained that the STAR program is not only improving women’s lives—it is improving the state of the Philippine economy. “With these sari-sari stores, we see the vigor of trade,” Aquino told the crowd. “It is also here where we first see the connections that help bridge the expansion of business.” Freedom from hunger is one of the country’s most central needs, he maintained, and the women empowered through the STAR program are—and will continue to be—an important part of addressing this need more effectively.

According to a front-page Philippine Star article about the gathering, President Aquino explained that he is keenly aware of how women can shape the course of a country, since he is the son of the Philippines’ first woman president. Running a sari-sari store or a carinderia, he said, gives women a greater ability to determine that course: “We are aware that every business, big or small, has [a] valuable contribution to make the economy grow.”

Since the STAR program began in 2011, more than 34,000 women have directly benefited from the program. As part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative, the STAR program’s goal is to empower 200,000 women throughout the country by 2020. The success of the STAR program has been noted far beyond the Philippines: Marissa Wesley and Dina Dublon recently used it as a case study in their Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Empowering Women at the Grassroots.” (Read more about the SSIR article in this recent Journey post.)

In addition to more tangible skills, the STAR program offers Filipinas the power of self-sufficiency. (Hear the stories of two program beneficiaries here.) Program graduates are given the tools and know-how to be business-savvy leaders, which strengthens their communities’ economies. They are truly the links that form the chain of inspiration—they are role models for their families, and they provide a wonderful example for the generations to come.