Last Thursday, 28 March, the provincial government of Davao Occidental invited our CEO, Joji Pantoja, to be the keynote speaker at their 2019 National Women’s Month Celebration. Speaking on the theme “We Make Change Work For Women,” Ms. Pantoja emphasized both the reproductive and productive roles of women as community leaders. She shared her journey as a mother and the story of Coffee For Peace to illustrate the main points of her speech.
Joji Pantoja opened her presentation by requesting her audience to stand up, to face each other, and to affirm each other’s inherent worth as a woman. Her first point was about the foundational role of most woman in human society. “As a mother, I carried in my womb a human being for nine months that would become a member of human society,” Joji said. “We, mothers, are the first ones to influence a child. We nurture them and watch them grow.”
Then she shared how an ordinary woman can open one’s being to be empowered by the Creator to accomplish the Divine purpose for each person’s life. “I have never imagined myself starting a social enterprise at a later stage of my life,” she told the conference participants. “I was just supporting my husband in our peacebuilding mission here in Mindanao. I was bothered by the events and hardships in life that I saw among the people caught in the middle of war, and I felt that I had to do something,” Joji continued.
“Productivity,” according to Joji, “starts with listening.” She encouraged the women “to listen to the Creator using their heart, to listen to the people, and to observe what the Spirit is doing” in and around themselves. “By observing the dynamics of people in conflicted areas,” she testified, “I saw one beverage that made them sit down and talk. And that is coffee. An old commodity transformed to become a vehicle or iconic product for peace. Now, I’m leading a corporation called Coffee For Peace, Inc.”
To encourage the provincial leaders to move towards inclusive development through social entrepreneurship, Joji shared her journey in growing Coffee For Peace. “In 2015, we were given an N-Peace Award by the United Nations Development Program as A Social Enterprise with Peace Impact,” she said. “In 2017,” she continued, “Coffee For Peace won two ASEAN awards: Inclusive Business Award; and, Leadership Award on Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development. I was also awarded in 2017 as one of the Most Inspiring Filipina on Inclusive Development.”
Joji also mentioned the most recent recognition given to Coffee For Peace in 2018, the ASEAN Award of Excellence for Corporate Social Responsibility — both as National Winner and ASEAN Regional Winner.
Joji’s speech was so appropriate because another reason for the provincial government’s invitation was also to explore whether PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. and Coffee For Peace would be able to help in their inclusive development initiatives, particularly in establishing a quality coffee industry framed in Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Principles and Practices.
After the conference, we spent four hours in the provincial board room with the political and technical decision-makers to establish deeper relationships and to listen to their aspirations.
We were invited to come back for a strategic meeting and we made a commitment to walk with their province in advancing a PAR-framed inclusive development journey, especially through social entrepreneurial initiatives in the coffee industry.
Joji and I are grateful to Ms. Jinky Comon and the Provincial Government of Davao Occidental for the invitation.