Pacita Juan: In the business of empowering women

ECHOstore owner Pacita “Chit” Juan is not just a leader in the coffee industry and sustainable lifestyle – she is also a leader in ensuring that women have a real voice in all aspects of society.

Empowerment is a complex concept, more so when applied to a woman. For ECHOstore owner Pacita Juan, business is a formidable force to empowerment as it can be a tool to achieve independence. She believes that through business, women can build financial safety nets and secure safer home for themselves and their families, and most importantly, make them realize their full potential.

One of the country’s renowned women entrepreneurs, an advocate for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and a champion for local coffee brands, Pacita Juan commits herself to raising awareness on the various ways in which business can promote gender equality in the workplace, market, and community.

Nature meets nurture
Stories of one’s parents not being thrilled by the idea of their child setting up a business are common among unsuccessful entrepreneurial pursuits. But luckily for Pacita or Chit, the entrepreneurial path has been paved way with words of encouragement and much confidence. 

“In our family, it [entrepreneurship]’s the usual path. It was encouraged that we take the entrepreneurial path rather than a professional one,” she revealed.

Being the youngest of eight children, Chit found inspiration from her father, Dr. Maximo Juan, a dentist who decided to “hang up his gloves” to become an entrepreneur. “[My] father finished dentistry and realized after two or three years of practice that he actually wanted to be an entrepreneur. He realized that he was earning more from selling stuff than cleaning teeth.”

The spirit of enterprise is undeniably in Chit’s blood, growing up in a family of entrepreneurs.

“My siblings took business courses and I think I was the one who took a slightly different path by taking up Hotel and Restaurant Administration. But I would say that my course was also into business only that it specializes in hotel and restaurant,” Chit shared.

Chit also recollected her humble beginnings as an entrepreneur.  “I would sell stuff to my classmates—chocolates and candies—and my father did not think it was wrong. In fact, my mother would come to replenish my stocks,” she shared.  Chit admitted that unlike most children, she loved school days because of the time it provided her to sell goodies to her schoolmates.

“[Selling] made me look forward to each school day. I hated it when school is called off because it’s like having a holiday and you can’t open your store.”
As early as her first business experience, Chit had already identified her business credo: To sell products that she enjoys. And how she has gone far from selling candies at the age of eight, to now selling home-grown coffee and eco-friendly products.

They say that with a solid entrepreneurial foundation, a strong structure can be made; and Chit’s career is a proof to that.

Throughout the years, Chit has ventured into various businesses– a restaurant, a chain of coffee shops, a music lounge, but it was in 2008 when her passion for sustainable lifestyle and partiality towards natural, organic products and healthy food options, have become more compelling that along with her advocacy on empowering women in various communities was the founding of the ECHOstore.

Environment and Community Hope Organization or ECHOstore is Chit’s brainchild. It is the country’s first sustainable lifestyle store that features natural and organic products and promotes fair-trading of coffees, teas, and environment-friendly merchandise.   ECHOstore prides itself with a vision of providing market access to marginalized women, community artisans, and small local producers.

Empowering women through business
Chit’s advocacy on women empowerment started when she was running a coffee shop chain.  She said that the industry has made her fully appreciative of the significant role of women in coffee production and made her more aware of issues affecting women in coffee-growing communities.

 

The ECHOstore founder cited market access and access to finance as two of the major challenges facing women in small-scale businesses, adding that these challenges necessitate the idea of capacitating women in managing their businesses in a sustainable manner.

Chit revealed that ECHOstore has been instrumental in cultivating the champion in every woman she encountered. Through the store, she is able to help women reach their full potential by inspiring, mentoring, and providing them support mechanisms in setting up their businesses and make sound business decisions.

On top of a full business calendar, Chit manages to be active in organizations whose mandate is on entrepreneurial development, economic empowerment, promotion of gender quality, or equitable distribution of resources and whose leaning is towards fostering synergies in points of collaboration.  As a result, women not only experienced significant improvements in their livelihood ventures, but they also become influential voices for social advocacy in their communities.

Chit is currently the Chair of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network and the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines, Governor of the Management Association of the Philippines, and President of the Philippine Coffee Board among others.  Her active membership in reputable organizations help her connects with other women entrepreneurs and advocates across the globe.

Breaking the status quo
Despite the fact that women’s contribution is widely recognized and welcomed in societies today, Chit still maintains that the corporate world continues to miss out much on women’s leadership potential Most corporate boards are still male dominated, which leaves among women the burden of proving their worth for a seat in the board room. “If you are to ask me about the lows in my career, it’s when [I] happen to sit on a board of men who have not been sensitized by diversity,” she said.

Chit shared that her definition of women empowerment is when a woman has improved not only her social, political and economic status, but has actually enhanced her decision-making capacity in all spheres of her life. She also emphasized that her perspective on women empowerment is being more open to diversity, rather than simply being gender-bias.



To achieve the goal of capacitating women, Chit believes that there is a need to update policies and to revisit programs geared towards facilitating women’s participation in society, securing support for their livelihood ventures, and increasing economic opportunities.

“I hope we can have a Ministry of Women or Department of Women and Children, Women and Culture so it gets a budget to have sustainable programs that are not dependent on foreign aid. If other countries see the value in it, why can’t our government see the value in establishing one?” 

Postscript
A typical day for Chit starts with the view of the sunrise over a cup of coffee. Rise early, retire early is her daily mantra. Activities in between include morning exercise, reading and writing, attending meetings, and visiting her stores.

Pacita also shared that she loves traveling. She finds herself fortunate that her advocacies comes with a prize: sponsored trips to see the world. “I get invitations to conferences, to talk about coffee, about women. I’m happy that I get to travel while [I] get to talk.”

The coffee and women empowerment advocates have opened doors for Chit to speak at the United Nations (UN) –by far her most memorable experiences.  After all, it’s not every day that one gets to go to the UN to talk about coffee or empowering women. “Dati nababasa ko lang sa libro [ang UN], but to actually sit there in the trusteeship council is just ‘wow’. It’s amazing to see representatives from other nations listening to my stories on women.”

The core of Chit’s achievements throughout the years is being able to touch lives and find a champion in every person. The business of teaching someone how to fish keeps her going and makes her look forward to more people to be inspired and empowered. 
 
When asked about her advice to the youth and budding entrepreneurs, Chit disclosed her secret success: Focus, fail forward, and roll with the punches.