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Entrepreneurship flourishes among Filipino populations at risk for HIV

Entrepreneurship flourishes among Filipino populations at risk for HIV
A programme for populations vulnerable to HIV helps individuals start small businesses, like a food stand, at a time when many have trouble finding employment during COVID-19. © UNFPA Philippines/Merceditas Apilado | Photo for representational purposes only
  • 28 June 2021

METRO MANILA, Philippines – Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and COVID-19 created needs of sweeping depth and breadth all over the globe. Many newly unemployed had to reinvent themselves to find an alternative stream of income as old jobs shrunk or disappeared completely because of the pandemic.

Be your own boss

In the Philippines, some found livelihoods under new bosses: themselves. Piloted in Pasay and Caloocoan in Metro Manila last October by UNFPA and the Center for Health Solutions and Innovations, Inc., the Economic Opportunities for Women and Key Populations Disadvantaged by COVID programme first began to aid women engaging in transactional sex and women living with HIV to blunt both the socio-economic impact of the health crisis and the risk of contracting the coronavirus by earning a living in a field other than sex work.  

Instead of handing out money, the programme provided training, including skills like accounting, signage and products to launch micro-businesses, which include mobile phone reloading services, food stalls and shops selling basic sundries (called sari-sari) or handicrafts. The newly minted entrepreneurs then use profits to support their ventures, which are monitored by programme coordinators. 

The programme has since expanded to Cebu City and Angeles City and to populations at risk for HIV, including transgender women and men who have sex with men (MSM), and has benefited more than 250 people so far. These key populations, who are more likely to have underlying health conditions because of poverty or a lack of health care because of discrimination, are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Paying dividends

Julio*, 41, is a MSM who started a mini-store outside of his house in Cebu City after hearing about the initiative from the city’s health department. “Even though I started small, I will do my best to sustain it so I can support my family and extend help to others in our community,” says the former government worker who had trouble securing employment because of COVID-19. 


After losing her job during the pandemic, Carmen* started a snack stand, which she says is growing slowly but surely and helps her support herself. Photo courtesy of subject

Carmen*, a 44-year-old transgender woman also in Cebu City, lost her job as a volleyball referee given social restrictions and couldn’t find work. In addition to covering her daily needs, the snack stand she opened also presented a valuable lesson: “This experience taught me that our most painful struggles can grant us necessary growth. What seems like a curse in the moment can actually be a blessing, that the end of the road is a discovery that we are meant to travel down a different path. No matter how difficult things seem, there is always hope. No matter how powerless we feel, we can’t give up.”

*Names changed for privacy

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