A Global Perspective on Local Products: Australia Awards alumna Monica Co weaves new stories for Philippine handmade products

Before Monica Camille Co, co-founder of social enterprise C&C Home and Gifts, went on her Australia Awards journey to study Marketing at the University of Melbourne, the millennial was at a loss with which career path to take. “My college degree was Management Economics, and I was working as a personal banker.”

She wanted to go into business because she was familiar with how her parents run their own enterprise. “I told my mom that I wanted to study abroad, so she was helping me look into where I could apply. My mother found out about the Australia Awards, and we sent in my application.”

Aside from wanting to pursue further studies, she sheepishly admitted that she had another reason; “I grew up sheltered, and I wanted to experience being away from my family and out of my comfort zone.”

Photos - Monical Co (145).JPGBroadened Horizons

True enough, her experience at the University of Melbourne broadened her horizons. “There were people from so many cultures and different backgrounds and everyone had a story to tell,” she said. According to Monica, she found a lot of inspiration from living and studying in Australia.

For one, her interest and passion for social enterprise were nurtured inside the classroom. “Our case studies had companies which included social enterprise and advocacy in their business models, where they reach out to underprivileged groups and marginalised communities. These companies were not only fuelled by a do-gooder desire to help, but they also had genuinely good products.”

Aside from her class readings, Monica was also inspired by her professors and classmates who shared case studies based on their own experiences in their countries. “I tried to absorb as much as I could from them. So, aside from learning the basics of marketing, I also gained a global perspective of different industries.”

Innovate and Advocate

When she returned to the Philippines, she brought back the learnings and inspirations from Australia which helped drive her re-entry action plan (REAP). The REAP outlines how scholars will use their Australian education to contribute to their workplace, community, or chosen field. Monica’s REAP focused on empowerment through livelihood. Her goal was to develop self-sustaining community-based livelihood programs for nanays (mothers) who wanted to add to their family’s income but need to stay within their communities to take care of their families. The weavers of Cutud in Pampanga and the sewers of Samata Village in Las Pinas were her partner communities for this initiative.

C&C officially started in 2015 with hand-woven baskets that they offered to delis, grocery stores, and florists. “Our weaving partners create the main product line of C&C, so it’s a true collaboration,” Monica explained. “For the sewers, we donated the [sewing] machines and we worked with them for the sewn items of C&C. At other times, they use the donated sewing machines to accept sewing projects from other companies and schools to generate additional income and turning it into a self-sustaining full-time sewing facility.

Monica believes her REAP was instrumental in achieving her dream: “C&C is a convergence of my REAP and the vision of what I want to do in my life. The dream of running a socially-centered business started when I was still in college, the whole experience of studying in Melbourne gave me the business tools and technical know-how, and it was the REAP that crystalised and validated my dream to jumpstart C&C,” she said.

Inspired by Australia

Now, C&C’s line has expanded to mats and woven planters that can be ordered online through candcph.com. “We have been experiencing a healthy growth, brought about by an awareness in the market for handmade items using natural and locally-sourced materials,” she said.

C&C’s modern designs were inspired, not only by Monica’s architect business partner’s ideas, but also by the ideas she brought back from Australia. While in Melbourne, Monica was inspired by the city’s street art, creative events, galleries, and support for and pride in local businesses. “In between classes, I would take up extra courses like paper cutting, or simply go around browsing shops. I saw how enthusiastic the Australians are about anything handmade and natural. That enthusiasm is what I want to bring here as well.”

With the business thriving, Monica is proud to say that her community of weavers and sewers are just as happy because of their steady employment and convenient working arrangement. The workplaces are close to their homes. They are family-friendly, so sometimes you will see their children visiting their parents at work after they finish school.

“This is where I put in the work-life balance aspect of what I learned in Australia,” she said. Back in the university, she was impressed by the work-life balance and opportunities for growth that the companies in the case studies were giving to their employees. This is the principle that she now applies in her own social enterprise.

Aside from helping communities, Monica also supports sustainable causes. Her goal is to continue innovating while advocating for the use of sustainable eco-friendly materials instead of plastic. “Clients are now asking us to develop a substitute for plastic bags. While I cannot qualify the impact that our business is making on a larger scale, it makes me happy to know that we are helping out in our own small way.”

C&C won Best New Product (Home) in the 2018 Stilo Arte Fino, an annual arts and crafts fair that celebrates the modern Filipino and artist-entrepreneur, and showcases locally produced products, concepts and ideas.