Zoe Mallonga went to Japan in 2009 to obtain her PhD in Energy and Environmental Systems, majoring in microbiology and biotechnology at the Shizuoka University under a Japanese government scholarship. She finished her PhD in 2013 and worked as a Postdoctoral researcher. In 2015 she resigned from the University to take care of her newborn son and in 2017 worked as a public elementary and high school teacher.

Zoe returned to the Philippines with her family in June 2020 determined to take control and rebuild her future now that she is back home.

“I arrived at a time when most parts of the Philippines were quarantined. People close to me were telling me that it was the worst time to start a business. Pero kailangan may gawin ako,” Zoe related.

She searched for government programs available to repatriated OFWs and chanced upon the Bayanihan CARES HEROES Program online.

“I knew that time that it was best to seek assistance from government agencies especially with the economic situation and my status as a returning OFW. I had the least chance of qualifying for bank or commercial loans,” she explained.

Zoe participated in a three-day online training conducted by the Philippine Trade and Training Center (PTTC) and was automatically granted a loan under the Bayanihan CARES HEROES Program.

“The HEROES Program has provided me with a good foundation. Who would have imagined that a scientist like me can actually craft a business proposal and present an elevator pitch? Entrepreneurship is a field I never thought I will go into,” she said.

Zoe eventually opened her business, Grainsmart, in Butuan City in October 2020. Seeing that many stores have closed in their area and people need essentials and a convenient way to pay bills, Zoe decided to venture into wholesaling and retailing of local organic rice and liquid petroleum gas, and she also opened a bills payment center.

“With a previous career centered on science and research and no business experience, I have to learn a lot of things as I go along. It is a continuous learning process. It’s demanding but I find myself fortunate to be thriving and succeeding at this very early stage and more so, at this time of pandemic,” Zoe said excitedly.

Under the new normal, walk-in customers are few so Zoe offered free deliveries to identified and targeted markets. She also relied heavily on online selling and marketing.

“It is rewarding and comforting to know that I don’t need to work abroad anymore to earn enough for my family. I am so grateful and proud to be among the early recipients of the HEROES program.”

Zoe hopes other repatriated OFWs may realize that they can also be entrepreneurs and earn as much without having to leave the Philippines – this is possible if the necessary financial support and training are available.

“We can enjoy financial stability and be with our families. If we were able to persist and dedicate ourselves to our careers abroad, we can do the same and succeed here in the Philippines,” Zoe said in closing.



Published on December 19, 2020