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Paying it forward: how a Cooperative Executive is empowering farmers for a more secure livelihood

Seeing her father overcome challenges in their small farm, Donna Dizon realized that farming was not an easy job. In a time when traditional farming was the only approach farmers knew and there were limited tools and manpower support, she witnessed her father deal with long standing problems such as pest infestation.

“Watching my father working on the farm, I realized that folk song spoke the truth, ‘ang magtanim ay di biro (farming is no joke)’.”

Looking back, Donna is happy that she took the right path where she is able to make a difference in farmers’ lives. Today, Donna is the Vice President for Administration and Corporate Planning in CLIMBS General and Life Insurance Cooperative, a micro-insurance provider that advocates for social protection for the grassroots in the country. She also serves as the CEO and Principal of the Co-operative College of the Philippines, a training and education arm for higher level training in the Philippine Cooperative Movement.

At CLIMBS and Co-op College PH, Donna and her team are able to work with farmers and cooperatives to improve their livelihood and quality of life.

“To me every farmer and cooperative is memorable. They overcame unique challenges, and collectively each has their own story to tell.”

The need for social protection

For Donna, when farmers have access to premium financing they can address the biggest challenges in farming. With the right support, she believes we can improve farmers’ productivity, ensure food security, and positively impact the country’s economic growth.

“Risk management is a foreign term for farmers so we need to translate it into a way that is relatable to them. These concepts are the last thing that comes to their minds because they’re too busy thinking about the food they can bring to their table. So when disasters or any unforeseen events strike, God forbid they lose everything. We tried to streamline the processes for them so farmers can bounce back better.“

CLIMBS helps farmers understand that social protection can help them recover from losses. This way they can become resilient in the face of compounding challenges including the climate crisis. Through services like the weather-protect insurance, farmers can become more resilient from the the impact of typhoons.

“In CLIMBS we are offering parametric insurance which is called the enhanced Weather Protect Insurance. It's an index based insurance that applies digital solutions so that in 10-15 days we can process the farmers’ claims. Trigger parameters are measured in terms of rainfall and wind speed and cover one year protection. It is a novel product and we see that it can really help them rebuild their livelihoods.”

Through their strong focus on social protection, CLIMBS is contributing in climate action and empowering vulnerable groups including farmers. Aside from their products and services, their impact lies in enhancing farmers’ decision making processes through capacity building training. Believing that the ability to process and apply what they have learned is just as important as having access to them, Donna thinks that with access to education in the language they understand, farmers can really thrive.

“Social protection is part of uplifting the lives of our smallholder farmers. And we are making social protection within reach among Filipinos, regardless of their status in life. I find joy in what I do in CLIMBS, because I see the impact on the cooperatives and the communities that we serve.”

Donna emphasizes that aside from talking to the cooperatives, knowing what goes on at at farmer-level is also important. Conversations with farmer beneficiaries, provides a feedback mechanism enabling CLIMBS to design services and programs aimed to empower farmers and help them become more resilient.

“The most memorable part of the job is seeing farmers receive their pay out. It translates our passion to help into action.”

At the heart of the solution

With an average of 20 typhoons entering the country every year, climate change and the global health crisis are also some of the biggest issues affecting farmers’ productivity. Donna saw how Typhoon Haiyan affected the Visayas and Mindanao.

Seeing first hand the impact of calamities, responding to crises became one of Donna’s advocacies. At CLIMBS, the team is involved in helping communities struck by disasters through the Community Action Response Emergency Services or CARES. The CARES program helps CLIMBS impact anchored in the principle of concern for the community.

“We have fire brigades, medical missions, outreaches, circumcision drives, and other initiatives where we respond to emergency situations. We also get involved in the community through coastal cleanups or tree planting,”

Donna thinks investing in technology, research and development coupled with a strong support on market access, infrastructures, policy, and integration through multi-stakeholder partnerships can help transform the sector especially in the face of crises. At the heart of solutions, Donna believes that multi-stakeholder collaboration must be present.

“We are always at risk from these threats, but if we utilize a multi-stakeholder approach then we can really give solutions that will work for everybody. That’s why I believe in our partnership with PPSA, because as these challenges unfold we need to ensure that our efforts are aligned. Meaningful partnerships have been forged even at the time of pandemic such as the development of the enhanced Weather Protect Insurance with global partners IBISA, Alliance CIAT, Global Parametrics and the ICMIF where CLIMBS is a member."

Women who walk the talk

To never be apologetic when it comes to family is one of the biggest lessons she learned from the women who mentored her. Maintaining the balance between motherhood and her career did not come easy as sacrifices were made along the way. Donna recalled a challenging time when she had to put her career on hold to focus on her family. She knew she could go back to work anytime, but being able to watch her children grow up was not something she could experience again.

“As a young mother starting my career, I felt the need to be excellent in both our home and the workplace. Looking back, it really helped me to become more responsible in my work.”

Thankfully, she found a community of strong women who supported her. These are the women who left a mark on Donna for the wisdom they have imparted in her not only in how she approaches motherhood, but on their influence in her work ethic.

”I look up to the women bosses in my life. Their dedication and strong work ethic are worth emulating. They are the best in their fields but they know their limitations as human beings. They are also not afraid to show their vulnerability, they really walk the talk. I am also grateful to men leaders who are champions of women's causes and support our endeavors in the workplace. So I’m really blessed that I had bosses who became mentors to me.”

Donna hopes that young women can appreciate the many great examples of successful women around them. It also helps that there are careers and opportunities in agriculture that women can pursue. From agronomists, aggregators, and data scientists—Donna thinks that the sector needs to give women the chance to access these opportunities.

“We are in the age of technology and digital solutions. Our women in STEM are a great source of pride for us Filipinos, we have many women data scientists and space engineers around the world and they can help modernize our agricultural systems. That’s why role modeling and mentoring is very important so we can inspire many generations of women to contribute in making the sector more sustainable.”

As the women in her life did for her, Donna hopes to pay it forward. Looking back on her journey, each experience shaped her into the person she is today. If given the chance to speak to her younger self, Donna would tell herself that when faced with difficult situations, trust that the Lord is directing the journey to the right path.


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