Cultivating seafarers as entrepreneurs

William Gaspay has always believed in the importance of having multiple sources of income.

Knowing that the way to financial freedom begins in entrepreneurship, he tried his luck by putting up a general merchandise store, a pharmacy, a small burger joint franchise, and a food cart.

None of these ventures are still operating but William never saw it as a failure; he only found four different ways to succeed.

William entered into another venture, this time, going out into the sea and cultivating seaweeds.

His business attempt finally took off with only a small motorboat, some bamboo poles, several bolos, goggles for his workers, and a drying platform. Within six months of tending his seaweed farm, William’s investment returned, he was able to provide employment to some people from his community, and he helped decrease the carbon content of the waters around his farm in Masinloc, Zambales.

Last December 2015, the 58-year old entrepreneur also won the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines’ (ISP) Business Plan Competition when he presented his Seaweed Farming proposal.

More than a business man, William is a seafarer by profession.

Effective reintegration and education of seafarers

Seafaring can never be a permanent profession, not in this lifetime. 

A mariner can only be as good as his experiences and skills but come old age, he will be easily exchanged by his employer to a younger man.

This stark reality in the life of a seafarer was what Capt. Gaudencio Morales intended to address when he established the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines (ISP) in 2013.

The ISP was formed to reintegrate returning seafarers in the society. They were given the opportunity to learn either on becoming an entrepreneur or an onshore employee.

“There are seafarers who are displaced when shipping companies are hit with the financial crisis, many have to wait for months to be deployed at sea, while others just have to accept the fact that they are already deemed too old to operate a ship. This is where we come in,” Capt. Morales said.

The ISP provides Financial Literacy seminars to the seafarers and their respective wives/families to be able to manage their finances especially when there are no shipboard deployments available for them.

“I have observed for several decades now that many seafarers retire with nothing – no savings, no assets, and no investments. They earn a lot in a few months’ time but all of it was quickly spent on non-essentials; where did it go? How did they spend it? We understand how these mariners are breadwinners of extended families, but there are also some of them who are plain extravagant. We want to educate them on the difference of needs and wants,” Capt. Morales said.

He added that the main person in charge of a seafarer’s earnings and savings is their wife. “They should also be educated because they are the ones holding the money; they should learn how to save and invest to sustain their family’s needs even when their husbands are not able to work on board,” the ISP founder explained.

The Financial Literacy program includes the significant identification between “needs” and “wants” that seem to tear seafarers when faced with purchases.

“Most of these guys would buy cars before investing in a house; cars are not a necessity,” Capt. Morales opined, noting the latest ISP survey showing that less than 50 percent of Filipino seamen owns a house while less than 10 percent have their own businesses.

Many business do not prosper, others failed to make profits while some were scammed. These, according to Capt. Morales, is due to the lack of education in entrepreneurship, disinterest to personally manage the business or fear of engaging in endeavors that are new to them.

“The best time to put up a business is when you are already here permanently. With your savings, you can put up a business and we will teach you how,” Capt. Morales added.

Willliam Gaspay is one of the successful seafarers who have benefited from this program; he now employs eight to 10 persons from his community and has established an association of seaweed farmers in Masinloc, Zambales.

“We encourage our returning seafarers to put up a business that personally interests them. It can be agriculture, animal farming, carwash, ornamental plants, or food business. We give them entrepreneurship seminars conducted by subject experts, then we monitor the status of their business.

“The most important skills we need from them here are interest in their business, determination to attain their objective, and the passion to succeed,” he furthered.

These things, according to Capt. Morales, make the ISP program effective and successful that even the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and various LGUs are fully supporting it.

“We are able to produce positive and successful results, and all these have benefited the community and local economy of the country,” he concluded.

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