These two ladies have so much in common. They both have twin children. They are in the same age bracket. Both from Cebu. And like how they developed their fine products, they share an advocacy to bring Philippine products to the world. Both of them also come from entrepreneurial families. This explains their “let’s do it” attitude and the “roll up your sleeves” kind of hands on management.
These two grade school friends went on a journey visiting farmers around Agusanor, Butuan City to be exact, as Julie Alegrado’s family hails from the area. Vivien Go, Julie’s partner, went with the plan and the duo took bus rides in and around Agusan and finally found their model community of coconut farmers.
Vivien and Julie. What a pair.
They took many such trips and one fateful day, Julie received the sad news that her ailing mother passed away while they were en-route to another coconut farm. The two alighted some place unfamiliar to them and with their pasalubongs (presents) intended for the farmers in both hands, they had to go back and walk in unfamiliar territory to inquire on how to get the quickest bus back to Davao.
They now just laugh at these misadventures, and look back wistfully to those times they asked their common friend Joan Young-Tiu to join them at a local pancake place so they could try their newly-developed coconut syrup, and how they also ordered calamansi juice (without sugar ) so they could try their coconut sugar in drinks. But as we say,“the devil is in the details” and the nitty gritty are what these two partners are particular about.
Their attention to detail probably gave rise to their name, Pili and Pino. Pili in Filipino can mean “select”(noun or adjective), and pino is “fine”. The other meaning they jokingly say is that Vivien is Pili and Julie is Pino. They are one of a few companies whose packaging, marketing and merchandising materials are already thought of even before their products are launched.
Other than their skills in packaging and product development, these two ladies have embraced community development in the course of their business. Having been blessed with families who exposed them early in life to business, this duo wanted to do more, or to others, heed a calling.
As our common friend Joan Young-Tiu explains, a calling does not mean you have to join a religious order. A calling simply means listening to the faint voice of your mission. It could get drowned out and you may never hear it if you are always busy and preoccupied. Heeding a call and answering a mission demands some quiet time for you to commune with yourself and the Universe. It could mean doing yoga. Or simply finding a quiet space where you can, as they say, go “soul searching.” I never bothered to find out the real meaning of such a term, until I found mine.
Before we digress, let me just say that I could feel the passion of these ladies when I finally met them in person, albeit coincidentally in Cebu. My lunch with Joan’s family was totally unplanned (we had planned a dinner which I changed so I could fly out sooner) but look what I found and who I met. Passionate entrepreneurs, working mothers, breast-feeding Vivien who in between Mommy duties came and introduced me to their social enterprise.
Pili and Pino found a community in Mindanao where the husband and wife work harmoniously because he extracts or catches the coconut sap, while the wife does the slow cooking of the sap to make coconut sugar. If we reversed their roles, maybe the outcome will not be as fine and “select” as their premium products. Coconut sugar and all products containing it are the emerging new finds in premium health food stores because of coconut sugar’s low GI or Glycemic Index (what drives up your insulin) and is preferred by those watching their sugar intake.
Further, with their global exposure as Vivien has worked and studied abroad from USA to China, they have come up with new premium lines like granola, and pancake syrup infused with orange, exotic jams like Tamarind, and other really refreshing innovative products. Julie, on the other hand, infuses the local flavor in these products with additions of ingredients like dried coconut chips, dried local fruits such as jackfruit and mango and even local cacao nibs.
Innovation. Creativity. Passion. Yes, this is what makes a successful social enterprise and these two partners are living examples of how one can find a mission and have fun fulfilling it. Pili and Pino will surely go a long way. And such a model for value-addition and community outreach must be replicated across the country if we are to leverage on our local resources. Give these entrepreneurs the produce like coconut and cacao, mango and jackfruit, and in their hands we can do much more to bring value to our simple farmers.
Like Julie and Vivien, it is never too late to find our mission. And have fun, too, while we are fulfilling our role in our short stay in this planet.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall and Davao City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org