Sunday, September 19, 2010

Teaching values is great for business

Teaching values is great for business
By Cris Evert Lato
Inquirer Visayas
September 19, 2010

CEBU CITY — Little did fashion accessories exporter Grace Neilly Querickiol-Niggel know that her involvement in teaching values education to out-of-school youths in Cebu would open opportunities for her to succeed in business.

It was 2008 and Querickiol-Niggel’s venture to penetrate the export market was slowly bearing fruit when Don Bosco Technological Center (DBTC), a technical-vocational school, entered into a joint weaving project with the German Development Service (DED), furniture exporter Dedon and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).

“Dedon wanted the Cebuanos to continue the art of weaving since this is one of the skills unique to us. Dedon provided us some scrap plastic fiber material (normally used in making their outdoor furniture), DED gave us the fund, Don Bosco provided the manpower and my company was responsible for the marketing aspect,” says Querickiol-Niggel, president of Gracie Q Creative Designs.

She then proceeded to develop something out of the plastic fiber.

The first that came to her mind was the Cebuano’s unique way of cooking rice locally known as puso (hanging rice), where rice grains are placed inside woven coconut palm strips and boiled in water.

“I thought it was a good way of utilizing the weaving skills of the students, save the environment by using the scrap materials and creating something which is very Cebuano,” she says.

In September 2008, the first batch of puso necklace, earrings and key chains were displayed in her humble showroom inside the DBTC campus.

To her, the age of the puso accessories has begun.

Gaining publicity became the next hurdle for Querickiol-Niggel and her young workers.

“There has to be a way for the puso (accessories) to get the attention of the public because we cannot sustain the project of helping more out-of-school youths if we will not earn.”

She began by bringing samples of the accessories to seminars and conferences that she attended where fellow participants have grown amused at how the plastic fiber was mixed with stones and coconut shells to create artistic pieces.

She was also given the opportunity to share her story of building her company through Inquirer’s sister paper, Cebu Daily News, in a January 2009 issue.

“The curiosity about the puso accessories started there and we started getting inquiries.”

In one conference last December 2009, which her friend organized, she met Marissa Aboitiz who became her partner in discussing challenges encountered by non-government organizations (NGOs) in sustaining their advocacies.

“I was the lone entrepreneur during that conference because all of them represented NGOs. I shared to them what I was doing with Don Bosco and gave them samples of the puso accessories,” she shares.

The conference became very instrumental in spreading the word about the puso accessories further.

With Aboitiz, who comes from a prominent and well-respected family in Cebu, wearing a puso necklace during the conference, inquiries and orders about the accessories came through phone calls, text messages and e-mails, Querickiol-Niggel says.

Cebuanos started ordering puso pieces to send to their relatives in Europe, Turkey, Germany and Italy. She says the dream of spreading “puso artistry’ to the world was gaining good momentum.

Since then, Gracie Q Creative Designs has been producing puso-inspired pieces that have extended beyond necklaces and earrings. They have expanded into puso bouquets and puso trophies for the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. and the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry to few—of course, still utilizing the expert hands of the young people and the plastic fiber from Dedon.

In their recent participation in the One Cebu Fair at the Cebu International Convention Center, they have received suggestions on creating puso bags and puso purses.

This endeavor of reaching out to young people by providing them employment has enabled her to develop more creative pieces which, she says, should be at par with the creativity that the puso accessories espouse.

“We are very open to (develop) anything as long as it will help more young people because we are all very committed in preserving and spreading Cebuano culture with what we are doing. The good thing about this is the fact that we are sustaining our advocacy because we are earning.”

“It really makes good business sense to help other people especially that you are sustaining it. That is why it is not really hard to solicit support from people and encourage the youth to continue exerting their best efforts,” adds Querickiol-Niggel.