Merlyn Francisco and her husband Ronnie make semi-finished papier-mâché products and employ 24 people in their hometown. The boxes of various shapes and sizes are delivered to exporters, who in turn ship them to buyers in Germany and the United States.
With P20,000 in initial capital, Merlyn started out in 1996 as a subcontractor to exporters. She grew the business in the six years that followed, but when her first husband, Eliseo Francisco, fell seriously ill 2002, the prospects for the venture became bleak. Money for the business had to go to his medical bills. When he died the following year, Merlyn’s exporter-clients encouraged her to continue the business, but grief and lack of funds hindered her from doing so.
“Nahirapan akong bumangon kasi nga zero balance na ako, at ang mga tao ay takot magpautang sa akin dahil baka ’di na ako makabayad [I found it hard to recover because I really went on zero balance, and people simply wouldn’t lend me money for fear that I couldn’t pay them back],” she relates.
She was down on her luck for some time, but things changed when Ronnie, a worker from her business, came into the picture. Ronnie knew the production process well, and he helped her raise funds for restarting the business—going as far as borrowing P20,000 from loan sharks to buy raw materials. With a cash advance obtained from some exporter-clients, they started making samples in 2005.
But still needing more funds to put the business on better footing, Merlyn also signed up with the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development—a non-governmental organization based in San Pablo, Laguna—so she could avail of its financial loan offering to micro-entrepreneurs. She first borrowed P5,000, and when she proved capable of paying her loans, her loan availments grew to P8,000 and then to P21,000.