Why Philippines is Ripe for Gender Investments – A Spotlight on Ayala Foundation

Weavers in Philippines
  • The Philippines is best in East Asia and the Pacific, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, in second place following New Zealand
  • Ayala Foundation is known for its suite of programmes around gender to support women and girls in the Philippines
  • Philanthropy affords agricultural cooperatives and SMEs that cannot offer equity another source of starting capital
  • By working with philanthropy networks, investors can engage with programmes that support and foster long-term relationships within communities

In barangay Sibaltan, in El Nido, Palawan island, ethnic buri bags, made from a traditional weave that is aesthetic, durable, and lightweight, are entirely hand-woven. The Sibaltan Women Weavers of Palawan, a registered cooperative as of 2016, work with a range of partners to bring their products to market, handing ownership, revenue, and the direction of the group’s work in the hands of the women.

Speaking about their connection with Ayala Foundation, Ruel Manaran, President of Ayala Foundation says, “These women have set up a registered cooperative that fits directly into Ayala’s chain of procurement. And that is where we’re striking the balance between the demand and supply. We want to uphold the quality of their craftsmanship while ensuring the quality of their lives.”

Education is the main point, he notes.

“Finances are one of the key factors, but then again, a lot of empowerment is through education.”

“You have to remember, it has to be education in the sense that it has to be practical; has to be efficient; has to be effective within the capacity of the community. Philippines is still very much residing in an island mode mentality. They have to transcend this limitation and I think that is where we could work on and leverage the Ayala group of companies.”

The opportunity for gender lens investing

Lessons from one country can be drawn to understand another. In the Philippines, where the agriculture sector has drawn few investments to date, fintech and grant-making organisations’ work fulfils the gap in capital needed. Partly because many social enterprises in agriculture are registered as cooperatives that cannot – by law – raise equity, many take an alternative route from that of start-ups.

As the interest and discussion around Gender Lens Investing picks up, the understanding that “Gender lens investing” uses capital to deliver financial returns while improving the lives of women, girls, and their communities will also pick up. Philanthropy can benefit greatly from a deeper engagement and commitment to understanding the dimensions of gender to create sustainable, impactful partnerships with investors.

Taking the case of the Sibaltan Women Weavers of Palawan, what took 3 years and the support of the Ayala Foundation to learn and do, could progress rapidly with the knowledge and industry insights of impact investors in subsidizing due diligence and technical assistance. Similarly, impact investors who might not have the experience of long-horizon, dedicated community development and learning, as philanthropic givers do, would draw the benefits of tapping into a network of people with ground connections and commitment needed to deliver sustainability.

Quick growth or sustainability? Perhaps we needn’t choose between this trade-off anymore.

Supply-side opportunities for impact investing in the Philippines:

  • Mobilizing domestic pools of capital for impact investing: Like other countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has many family offices currently involved in philanthropic giving. These offices could offer a domestic pool of capital to allocate toward impact investing. Family offices and corporations are interested in diverging from grant to equity funding but lack the knowledge required to do so. Impact investors could encourage this shift by co-investing with family foundations. In addition, to address the high costs of deal sourcing and due diligence in the social enterprise sector—especially for early-stage enterprises—impact investors could collaborate with philanthropic organizations, using their grant capital to subsidize due diligence and technical assistance.

Demand-side opportunities for impact investing in the Philippines:

  • Investments in innovative fintech: Access to finance is still a critical challenge in the Philippines, presenting significant opportunities for private sector activity. Fintech service providers have grown rapidly in recent years. Payment and remittance solutions offer substantial market potential in the Philippines and could generate both social and financial returns.
  • Technical assistance for investees: Social entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as an instrument to drive development in the Philippines. However, demand-side players indicate that the lack of skilled professionals limits their growth. This gap presents an opportunity for DFIs and grant makers to set up technical assistance facilities in the country. However, given that most of the social enterprises, barring cooperatives and community-based organizations, are at a very nascent stage, they have limited capacity to pay for such services.
  • Debt financing in agriculture: Most social enterprises are in the agricultural sector, which has nevertheless had few impact investments to date. This is partly because many social enterprises in agriculture are registered as cooperatives that cannot, by law, raise equity. However, these enterprises represent unmet potential for debt financing, especially revenue-based repayment models.

While the goal of gender equality enjoys support in the Philippines where gender parity is highest in Southeast Asia, gender lens investing has received less attention. Yet, as the GIIN report suggests, ecosystem-driven opportunities exist for partnerships with impact-agnostic incubators and accelerators–for investors without a local presence to source deals and provide high-touch support, and to monitor and manage investees across growth stages.(adapted from GIIN’s 2018 report The Landscape for Impact Investing in Southeast Asia)

Donors in this space to look out for include Investing in Women, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and OPIC, which drove several impact funds dedicated to GLI being established in 2016 and 2017.

Nonetheless, Mr Manaran opts for what he calls gender-sensitivity in speaking about the work of the women and girls.

“When we speak of gender sensitivity, it has to be totally unbiased. I would also caution against falling into positive bias. Instead, we need to find the alignment. Who, in a particular role, will really benefit from such a situation? It’s really about providing the venue of opportunity and relevance.”

There is a space for philanthropic work to take the lead — moving towards greater equity for women and girls.

Catch Ruel Maranan in action as he reflects on Ayala Foundation’s efforts to support sustainable community development on the AVPN Gender Platform.


About Author
Ruel Maranan
Ruel Maranan President Ayala Foundation, Inc.

Ruel T. Maranan is the president of Ayala Foundation Inc., the corporate social responsibility arm of Ayala Corporation, where he is concurrently a managing director. He is also a member of the board of directors of Asticom Technology Inc., the board of representatives of CIFAL Philippines, the board of People’s Management of the Philippines Foundation, and the board of advisers of Natasha Goulbourn Foundation. Mr. Maranan has been part of the Ayala group for over 20 years—first with Globe Telecom, where he served as head for strategic staffing and employee relations; and then at Manila Water Company, where he was group director for corporate human resources. His strategic human resources leadership was instrumental for Globe Telecom and Manila Water Company to be awarded the Employer of the Year recognitions from the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). Mr. Maranan played the key role for the award from Ministry of Manpower of Singapore for Manila Water Company to be the First Filipino company to win the Asian Human Capital Award. He received the CEO EXCEL Award from the International Association of Business Communicators in 2011. In 2019, Mr. Maranan was conferred the rank of Diplomate in People Management by the Philippine Society of Fellows, which is affiliated with the PMAP.

Mr. Maranan earned his bachelor’s degree in social sciences at the Ateneo de Manila University, and his bachelor of laws degree from the University of Santo Tomas. He also received a certificate from the Harvard Leadership Management Program.

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