In a timely celebration of National Women’s Month and to prepare sarisari store owners for a highly digitized “new normal,” Coca-Cola Philippines and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) opened the iSTAR Center for Excellence in Manila on March 15. Sari-sari stores serve as the backbone of the Philippine economy, and the training facility is set to further strengthen the business management skills of storeowners by making learning tools more accessible to a wider audience.
The iSTAR program builds on the success of the Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources (STAR) Program, the company’s long-standing project that aims to train women microentrepreneurs and give them access to financial resources to empower them to grow their business. STAR modules are now available online through iSTAR, making it more gender-inclusive and available to anyone enrolled in the program. In 2021 alone, iSTAR was able to reach 9,123 beneficiaries.
Found in nearly every alley in the country, sari-sari stores sustained livelihoods and families at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the nationwide lockdown limited the movement of their usual patrons, 42% of sari-sari stores were forced to close in 2020, according to a survey conducted by the Philippine Association of Stores and Carinderia Owners (PASCO). Micro retailers reeled from their economic losses.
Fatima Handa, an iSTAR February 2022 graduate and sari-sari storeowner in Taguig City, says she had to rely on her business for her family’s basic necessities. “Medyo nawalan po ng laman ang tindahan namin dahil lahat ng pangangailangan doon na namin kinukuha at nawalan din po ng trabaho ang asawa ko. (We had to get our basic necessities from our sari-sari store because my husband lost his job. As a result, our store’s supplies dwindled.)”
“Hindi ko isinara ang tindahan, para kahit papaano mayroon pa rin kami pagkukuhaan ng kita. Pero tuwing may bumibili po sa amin, lagi po kaming walang stock at bumaba po ang bentahan namin (However, I could not afford to close shop because we needed the money. But we almost could not sell anything to our customers because we ran out of stock for most items),” shares Fatima, who saw her sales drastically decrease to P200 a day from making as much as P2,800 daily before the pandemic. But she was able to effectively manage her finances and regain her losses—a vital skill she learned as an iSTAR program beneficiary.
With the opening of the iSTAR Center for Excellence, more microentrepreneurs based in Metro Manila like Fatima will be able to explore TESDA’s online learning modules; enhance their entrepreneurial knowledge such as online selling, inventory control and planning; and gain access to low-interest microloans that will enable them to rebuild their businesses despite the pandemic.
“We have been working together for more than a decade now to upskill and reskill women across the country. Together, we also celebrate their successes afterwards,” TESDA Secretary Isidro S. Lapena said of their partnership with Coca-Cola Philippines during the launch of the training center on March 15. “Amid any adversities, our commitment to make a difference in the lives of every Filipina remained. Today, we are once again making another milestone. With this newly refurbished center, we will now be able to capacitate thousands of women in the years to come.”
An existing TESDA training center was transformed into a digital learning classroom for beneficiaries who have no access to laptops, mobile devices or internet connectivity. The iSTAR Center for Excellence is compliant with COVID-19 health protocols, complete with proper ventilation, alcohol stations and tables surrounded by plastic barriers.
Diversifying trainees with iSTAR iSTAR is Coca-Cola’s response to the growing demand for digitally available learning tools covering key competencies in business management, such as industry knowledge, product preparation and development, and customer service.
“With iSTAR, Coca-Cola Philippines and TESDA removed the limitations of an offline classroom, and diversified its trainees by opening the program to both male and female micro retailers,” said Tony del Rosario, Coca-Cola Philippines President. “Sari-sari stores are vital in the community and are among the main drivers of economic activity. We at Coca-Cola are committed to improving the livelihood of sari-sari storeowners and providing them with more opportunities to grow their business.”
Since its launch in 2021, iSTAR has helped empower thousands of micro retailers across the country, who graduated from the 12-session course with renewed hope and added knowledge on micro enterprise, such as overcoming possible obstacles in running a business.
Coca-Cola and TESDA also partnered with microfinance institutions ASA Philippines, ASKI Group of Companies, First Community Cooperative (FICCO) and Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation Inc. in recruiting trainees for iSTAR to ensure that they have enough knowledge to set up their own businesses.
“The issues facing microentrepreneurs today are many and complex, and we need a strong partner who is aligned with our vision and committed to pursuing essential goals for the betterment of the community we serve,” says Maria Esperanza Liwanag, Manager for Training & Vocational Courses for ASKI. “Our decision to partner with Coca-Cola was built upon the outcome of the 5by20 initiative launched in 2011, which had been a truly impactful and successful program that exceeded our expectations as their partner.”
Coca-Cola’s 5by20 and STAR legacy
In 2010, Coca-Cola set a global commitment to economically empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020, called the 5by20 initiative. For Coca-Cola Philippines, it far exceeded its target by the end of 2020, empowering more than 250,000 Filipino women and giving them access to skills training and peer-to-peer networks.
Their successes are celebrated in “5by20, Women, and Coca-Cola: A Decade of Women Economic Empowerment in the Philippines,” an upcoming book that tells the story of their journey toward becoming self-reliant entrepreneurs.
Course offerings for the iSTAR program may be accessed through the E–TESDA website.