SHE TALKS PEACE: Aika Robredo: Not Just Her Parents’ Daughter

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 12 December) — The World Economic Forum (WEF), a bastion for business and enterprise, did a study on the impact of women on the economy in 2015: “There is mounting evidence that the lack of gender equity imposes large economic costs as it hampers productivity and weighs on growth.  Our new study analyzes the links between these two phenomena—inequality of income and that of gender.  We find that gender inequality is strongly associated with income inequality across time and countries of all income groups.”

I start off with this study to emphasize that supporting women’s livelihood and business is not just promoting human rights, it is good for the economy.

Our guest on She Talks Peace understands this very well.  Jessica Marie “Aika” Robredo  heads the Restart Micro-Enterprise Inc. which helps people get back on their feet through livelihood opportunities. RestartME has extended help to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the Marawi Siege. RestartME is also supporting those impacted by COVID.  Aika  chose to do NGO work after finishing Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to development work, Aika was in the private sector – involved in marketing, planning and operations in the energy sector. She has also worked in government, first as Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Transportation and Communications then moved to the Office of Civil Defense, where she worked on Disaster Risk Resilience and Management.

Rural women’s economic support is necessary, especially in conflict-affected areas like Marawi, not just for their own livelihood but for overall economic development of society and community.   There are numerous studies, including the WEF’s, that reveal how a country’s economy grows faster when women are earning.  Even though women are becoming socially empowered, through peacebuilding or human rights training, they cannot truly be empowered if they have no income.

One of RestartME’s many success stories is a Marawi bakwit,  Nanay Raidah.   Before the 2017 siege, she had a mini grocery, which complemented her husband’s income. Their family income vanished in a puff of smoke during the siege.  Four months after,  Raidah  availed a calamity loan of Php 10,000, on top of her existing business loan from the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development, Inc.(CARD), to resuscitate her mini grocery.  RestartME had provided the funds to CARD.  Nanay Raidah is now continuing to grow their little business.

Then there is Khaironesa M. Musa, who owned a gold shop worth around Php
1 million. She lost everything during the siege.  Today, with a small loan, she has ventured into garments and is slowly recovering her income (for more success stories, go to https://www.restartme.ph/featured).

I asked her about the situation of the bakwits in Marawi, four years after the siege, if they had been rehabilitated.  She highlighted the difficulty of preparing for a more permanent and sustainable foundation for economic growth, given the temporary nature of the resettlement areas.  The inhabitants have no certainty on the length of time they would stay in those communities.  Thus, investment in infrastructure for their micro-enterprises becomes a risky proposition.  “Then COVID happened,” she said.  She also pointed to the need for a clearer direction for the economic rehabilitation of the bakwits.

Aika is proud of the accomplishments of RestartME.  RestartME has provided zero-low interest rate loans to micro-finance institutions (MFI) operating in disaster-affected areas so they can pass it on to their members.  She explained that right after a calamity, RestartME bridges the gap between the destruction and recovery.   In Marawi, she spoke of how many of the women were housewives who had no choice but to find a way to help provide for their families.    Women, without any business experience, bravely started their micro-enterprises – like a sarisari store or buy and sell – just to help their families survive.  Whether in Marawi or any COVID-affected community or typhoon-ravaged barangay, women react in the same way.  Aika says two qualities that make these women successful are their commitment to pay on time and their seemingly innate ability to budget well.  Perhaps the latter is due to mothers generally responsible to make ends meet, no matter how large or small the family income is.

What influenced her career choices?  Aika admits that she won the parental lottery, having Jessie and Leni Robredo as parents.  But with that luck comes great responsibility, one that she did not want to bear.  Having Jessie as a father, she wasn’t too keen on politics and government.  I can understand that –  as elected local government officials who are effective spend day and night attending to the needs of their constituents.  Family life suffers.  So, she decided to go to private sector.  She enjoyed the corporate world, with its structured and disciplined work style.

She later moved to the public, feeling that it was time to serve the country.  She brought her corporate work virtues  to her work in government.  She notes that in government, she learned to be more patient.  I can understand that, too.  Government agencies move very slowly, in part due to accountability requirements and the necessity to coordinate so many moving parts.  Now that she is in civil society, she acknowledges the difficulty of being heard – of lobbying for change.  She refuses to trade on her family name, preferring to be known simply as “Aika.”

My co-host, Malaysian writer Dina Zaman, asked, while noting how Aika and her sisters had a hard time accepting that their mother would seek the presidency in the 2022 elections, what did she think about women’s involvement in national politics? How does it feel to be the daughter of Leni Robredo?

Aika says that the feminism she has learned from her family is not a combative one.  If you want cooperation from men, don’t appear to be a threat and show that women are not the enemy.  Her mom was a supportive wife, never in the political limelight.  But once in leadership position, give it all you got.   These are lessons she has learned from VP Leni Robredo.  Steel in a velvet glove.

Will we be better off with women leaders at the national level, like New Zealand?

Aika answered with a firm “Definitely!”  She believes that there will be more empathy, more understanding in government with women in leadership positions.   The stereotype of a strong woman is a loud and aggressive leader, like men. However, Aika muses that a leader requires more strength to be restrained.  In a toxic political climate, it helps to have a leader who knows when to step on the brakes, a cooler head with more empathy.  She observes that this is more common in women.

Aika Robredo is very clear about her own path: it veers away from electoral politics.

For more of our engaging conversation, listen to She Talks Peace on Spotify:

Apple Podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ph/podcast/ep-20-aika-robredo-talks-empowering-women-as-entrepreneurs/id1579999446?i=1000544680294

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy).