Overseas Filipinos as Entrepreneurs

The combined effects of the strong peso and a weakened US dollar had resulted to a “loss” of income of overseas Filipinos (OFs), which includes Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).  The “lost” income is 24 Billion Pesos, as compared to 2006 figures, which amount would have gone up to 26 Billion Pesos had not other currencies appreciated against the US dollar as well.

This is the reported data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Indeed, the published exchange rate as of 4 February 2008 is around P40.50=US$1, which already exceeds the previous “prediction” that the Peso-US Dollar exchange rate is expected to hit 40.75 in the last quarter of 2008. The  “loss” previously led a group of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) to issue an open letter to the President, requesting for a special exchange rate for OFWs.

If we consider all the sacrifices that OFWs have to go through while working abroad, in addition to the undeniable contribution of their remittances to the Philippine economy, they have every reason to protest about the “lost” income. Still, I don’t think that the government would give a “preferential” exchange rate in favor of OFWs. This, however, is not the point of our discussion.

The multiplier effect of the exchange rate potentially creates a lie in which the OFW slips into a false security that as long as he is earning in foreign currency, it’s perfectly alright — he will have a greater spending power in the Philippines. This fallacy, however, is sustained only if the OFW could go on working for years. Fact is, bad things unfortunately happen that adversely affect the income of the OFW. When an OFW meets a debilitating accident, he goes back to the Philippines. When a  contract expires and an OFW can’t go back for any reason, he goes home.

There should be a shift in mentality — OFWs must not rely merely on the favorable exchange rate. In the same way that students should go to school not simply to prepare for future employment (not merely as employees, but entrepreneurs), OFWs must not consider working abroad simply as workers. The OFWs must become entrepreneurs. Come to think of it, OFWs are better equipped than those back home. They are exposed to foreign cultures, say, the United States, that force them to work harder, be on time, be disciplined and be confident. They are naturally exposed to new ideas abroad. More importantly, OFWs are risk-takers. They have many of the traits of entrepreneurs (although they should be careful about the entrepreneurial myth and scams that prey on unsuspecting OFWs wanting to invest).

There are plenty of success stories of the entrepreneur-OFW. In 2006, the government recognized 5 successful OFW entrepreneurs. For instance, Agnes Marrero, after working as a domestic helper in HongKong for 15 years, now manages a family resort, a dry goods store and a banana plantation. An OFW once noted that her contemporaries are buying lots near the beach to build resthouses. The problem with that, she said, is that you pay for taxes, maintenance and repairs. Why not make the house pay for itself? Why not build a row of cottages that could be rented? Reserve one cottage so that you’ll have a place to stay when you go there.

In “10 Little Things OFWs, Balikbayans and Pinoy Expats Could Do To Help“, Alex Lacson (the author of the “little book” entitled “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country”) encouraged Filipinos abroad, if they have extra funds and are looking where to invest them, to invest in our Philippines. I would go further than that — OFWs must set aside funds for business or investments. It’s not IF they have extra funds, but WHEN they already have the extra funds.

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