Doing business while giving back

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By Romsanne R. Ortiguero

Having a day job can be a handful already but Timmy Potenciano and Jopie Sanchez, both 32, were able to establish a business that not only generates income for themselves but also gives back to a community.

In 2016, Ms. Potenciano, who is into marketing, and Ms. Sanchez, a freelance makeup artist, founded Nawa, a social enterprise that collaborates with the T’boli brass casters of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato to make unique, handcrafted jewelry. In an interview with BusinessWorld, the two young entrepreneurs, who were friends way back in high school, shared how they were able to put up their business.

It all started with a question posted on social media by Ms. Potenciano, asking her friends where she could buy brass bangles. Ms. Sanchez commented on the post, saying that she happened to have met brass casters when she visited Lake Sebu for a film shooting back in 2014.

Both of them decided to have their own bangles made in Lake Sebu for personal use. When Ms. Potenciano snapped a photo of her new bangles and posted it on her social media account, many of her friends became interested to buy their own piece. That is the time when the two of them saw the opportunity to market this one-of-a-kind jewelry.

Upon starting their business, it is clear for both Ms. Potenciano and Ms. Sanchez that they want to be of help to the community of brass casters as well, and are not solely after profit alone.

“When we were trying to come up with the brand, we also wanted something that can help promote the culture of the T’boli. We’re not very much after profit. It’s about the community,” Ms. Sanchez said.

To promote the culture of these artisans, Nawa allots a portion of their profit for the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions, a nongovernment organization dedicated to preserve the tangible and intangible cultural traditions of the T’bolis.

“These jewelry pieces are not something you can get off the rack at a fast fashion chain,” Ms. Potenciano said. “Basically, the feedback of customers on social media when they buy it and wear it — particularly Filipino-Americans or people who have migrated — they really feel a sense of Filipino pride. And then, they really feel like they’re learning more about their culture.”

Apart from their Filipino market, Nawa was also able to reach customers from US, Australia, and France.

From just a starting capital of P10,000, Nawa was able to earn way more than expected after roughly two years of operations.

Since it started, the brand was able to give P150,000 worth of donations in cash, materials, and equipment to the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions.

Moving forward, the founders shared that they are hoping for more people to learn about the tradition of brass casting. “As long as we’re around, we’re helping in keeping the culture alive,” Ms. Potenciano said.

“We want to make the culture of brass making and T’boli culture sustainable for them. One of the difficulties is that the younger generation is not as interested anymore. Maybe they don’t see it as profitable or they don’t see it as keeping up with the times. Our next goal is to spark interest in the younger generation in coming up and sustaining these accessories. What we did is we purchased machines or the tools that they use for it so that come summer, they can start training and teaching younger people during school vacation,” Ms. Sanchez continued.

Meanwhile, according to the two entrepreneurs, their firm belief in what they are offering contributed to the success of their brand.

Ms. Sanchez noted, “We put a lot of faith into it; we trusted our brand. So far, it has attracted a lot of people who share the same thought or the same penchant for sustainability, concern for culture, and who aren’t just into mass consumption.”

As a tip for aspiring entrepreneurs, the two women said that it is important for an entrepreneur to believe in what they do, and at the same time, to come up with a product that you believe in.

“If your friends believe in your product, they will support your product, and they will talk about it. It starts with word of mouth; that’s how we built it. They found it out through social media, and they really liked it. The product spoke for itself but then people continue to talk about it. Start with your friends but don’t force them to market it for you because people can tell,” Ms. Potenciano shared.