Millions of Filipinos work abroad to provide a better future for their families. Many think that OFW families are financially stable, but that is not always the case.
Jennelaine “Jen” Dingalan’s mother has been in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. While her mother endures separation from the family, Jen strives to promote entrepreneurship at home.
Jen grew up in Jala-Jala, a lakeshore town in Rizal Province where livelihood is focused on agriculture and fishery. She recalls her parents “living from paycheck to paycheck” with her mother working as a hairdresser in a small salon, and her father waging on cockfights in between jobs.
Despite opposition from her father, Jen’s mother applied to work as a beautician abroad.
“Leaving behind 1 and 3-year old daughters was never an easy choice for my mother,” Jen said.
Jen acknowledges the benefits of having an OFW parent, however, the distance from her mother took its toll on her formative years as a maturing individual.
Christmases were dinners for three—Jen, her sister, and their father. The heart-warming TV portrayals of families during holidays was never their reality. Instead, it was of phone calls, screams and fights between her mother and father who threatened separation.
When she compared her family to those of her friends, she became envious. But she realized that self-pity would get her nowhere. Instead of rebelling, she tried to excel in her studies.
In 2017, Jen’s interest in enterprises grew after being taken under the wing of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion—concurrent founder of Go Negosyo, a non-government foundation that advocates for entrepreneurship. Joey reared Jen as Programs Development Associate on her first year.
The Philippine chairmanship of the annual ASEAN Summit made Joey Concepcion the Chairman of the regional organization’s Business Advisory Council; the mandate of which was to provide the private sector feedback and guidance to boost ASEAN’s efforts towards economic integration. This furthered Jen’s experience in entrepreneurship by learning from industry and business leaders from whom she gratefully sought continuous mentorship.
Jen co-handled the ASEAN business advisory council summits and served as liaison to business premiers and State Leaders. She was key intermediary to the delegations of Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.
In 2018, she co-led “Mentor Me on Wheels”, a nationwide free 1 on 1 mentorship program for aspiring and established micro, small, and medium entrepreneurs. The program has rolled out in 13 regions with 37 strategic locations benefiting a total of 13,000 Filipinos.
Jen’s promotion to a Development Officer at 23 in 2019 made her the youngest executive committee member of Go Negosyo. That same year, she pushed the digital learning platforms of the foundation: Mentor Me Online and Mentor Me Mobile Application.
Initially, these were just recorded interviews with a small group of mentors in coffee shops. Eventually, the learning sessions matured into an in-house talk show program.
These initiatives have proven very timely in the onset of the lockdowns imposed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. With abrupt halt on movement, trade, and exchange, MSMEs turned to all available support.
Go Negosyo’s audience of 1.2 million inspired Jen and her team to produce over 150 episodes of online mentorships with almost 300 industry practitioners and business leaders. The segment serves as a free learning-platform for MSMEs who are in need of mentorship during the helath crisis. It also extends to providing financial assistance to MSMEs in need of supplementary capital.
Dream in progress
Jen is a staunch advocate of promoting entrepreneurship as an alternative to overseas work, as well as for providing financial stability to returning OFWs. She believes that greener pastures can also be pursued without families being separated.
“I dream of a Philippines where no Filipinos are forced to leave their families to serve other families for money. I dream of parents not falling out of love in exchange for food and education. I dream of children never stripped off of time and guidance from their parents.”
Working overseas was her mom’s way to escape unemployment and earn enough for the family. But Jen believes with the proper mentorship, an entrepreneurial option widens the local opportunities for development and financial stability.
“Our lack of business opportunities made my mother leave. In exchange however was our education and other opportunities to adapt.”
She has since convinced her mother to save and invest, and is expecting their first business venture as a family.
Jen is a young leader who is paving the way for others to succeed.
“That, I think is what my life has been worth—a priceless cycle of learning and paying it forward.”