When she was eight, Lisa Padua lost everything after her father died, forcing her to leave school in her mid-teens to work as a maid in Qatar and then in Singapore.
Twenty-one years later, she still works in Singapore as a domestic helper, but now owns three businesses and earns enough to send six nephews and nieces to college in the Philippines.
Padua says she owes her success to Aidha, a micro school in Singapore that trains women like her in wealth and business management so they can build a better future back home.
Aidha offers a nine-month course for S$350 (US$280) that emphasizes computer, communication and financial skills. The three-hour classes run two Sundays a month to accommodate the days off of the women who work as maids, nannies and caregivers to the old and ill. Ambitious students can then take a more intense nine-month module that helps them launch their businesses.
“This journey of transformation allows them to stand up by themselves financially,” Aidha executive director Veronica Gamez said.
Gamez, who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and worked at Credit Suisse and Boston Consulting Group, uses her experience to make the modules practical for the real world.
Saving for the future is the crux of the course.
The biggest challenge in breaking the cycle of poverty is finding a productive use for the money the women send home, Gamez said.
At least 211,000 foreign domestic helpers work in tiny, wealthy Singapore for between S$300 and S$600 a month. Taiwan and Hong Kong also have large concentrations of these women.
The money they send home is modest on a personal scale, but the overall remittances from hundreds of thousands of women working abroad are enormous, ploughing billions of dollars into the economies of the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar. Directing those funds into entrepreneurial projects can have an even bigger multiplier effect for developing countries, especially in rural areas.
In villages like the one where Padua grew up, farms without funds are left barren and abandoned, and people are left without work. However, the farm Padua bought using her savings is now managed by her brother. They employ up to 18 farm hands, providing her neighbors with jobs and income. Padua also rents out a house to families and invested in a friend’s business that delivers frozen food to local shops.