Entrepreneur and Cacao Farming Advocate
Iman Suguitan is a contemporary Muslim Filipina who is both an entrepreneur and community advocate. She runs her own business, contributes to the Muslim community, whilst pushing forward a social entrepreneurship initiative, at the same time preparing for a family with her husband.
I am the founder and managing director of Ahsant Premium Hotel Supplies & Specialized Gifts. I am also the brand director of Nypa – a lifestyle brand offering furnishings and amenities to hotels. I am in this business because I love establishments that give a sense of relaxation and beauty, and hotels do that! The first time I ever stayed in a 5-star hotel in Manila, the middle income-bracket, young, tropical city girl in me thought, “Wow, this is heaven on earth! Air-conditioning all day, you don’t need to clean up, it’s so quiet, it’s so luxurious!” My staff in Ahsant and I take great pleasure and pride in being able to contribute to the guests’ unique hotel experience.
What do Filipinos need to do to get ahead globally?
It might sound harsh, but for me in order to get ahead globally, Filipinos need to stop patting themselves in the back the minute they accomplish something. Jack Welch said that the end of excellence is when people become so comfortable with what they achieved that they actually believe it’s ok to relax and be satisfied. If you look at the stalwarts of excellence of our generation, those who have really broken through the global scene, they show us that the key is discipline and a never-ending wanting to be better, and that want translates to hard work.
Now there are traits though that we Filipinos should never lose. One is our ability to look at the glass half full. I see this when Filipinos thrive when the pressure is on at work, when we can laugh even at the most dire circumstances, when we are able to deliver great results despite bad company – may it be at work or at home. Malasakit at maagap, those are two superb Filipino traits.
My dreams and aspirations
I dream of a lot of children. Four. I’ve always wanted to be able to pass on all this knowledge to them, to leave a legacy. But while my husband and I are still waiting, I’m trying to do as much as I can for myself, the Muslim community and for our country. As an expat, I dream of a day when non-Filipinos start truly appreciating our contribution to this country. And maybe the greater dream is that we Filipinos need not go outside of our country and expect to be appreciated by other nations because we are already appreciated by our own government and our own countrymen.
I think this could start by having a mindset of pulling each other up. Days of crab mentality are so last century. If we will ever become a truly great nation, we have to help each other. I will go back again to my earlier suggestion of just having a mentality of excellence. Beat your own record and on your way to the top, pull some people up, too. This is one of the reasons why we are championing this new social enterprise which I and my sister started. It’s called “OFW para sa Magsasaka” wherein the OFW invests his money into cacao farms in the Philippines, farmer tills the land, then they share in the income. Not one person or family just becomes rich, as what is happening now, as many as possible in the value chain will have financial success.
One thing I have learned the past six years that I’ve been running Ahsant in Dubai as sole owner and director is that if you’re not too greedy, you can actually create equitable business, very simply, everyone is happy – from yourself, to your staff, to customers and suppliers. So my dream stretches to making even more people happy beyond Ahsant and beyond UAE! It would just be so good to help alleviate poverty among farmers.
Then the selfish dream is to one day go back to the Philippines and stay there for good; I think I have the same dream as most OFWs, that we never have to leave children trying to earn money, that if we were to travel, it’s because we travel to enjoy and not because we’d lose money if we don’t fly back to the country where we are foreign workers.
Living life to the fullest everyday
I wake up for the first prayer of the morning – salatul fajr, and try as much as possible not to go back to bed. My sister and I work from about 6am to 8:30am on “OFW para sa Magsasaka” then we go to our respective offices to our regular work. I only work 4 times a week, something I started this year. I have two day-weekends plus Tuesday, my “knowledge day” wherein I only do things to increase or share my knowledge. Right now this is dedicated to Islamic studies and learning Arabic, plus I co-curate a blog called Sister, Sister, Brother (www.sistersisterbrother.blogspot.com) which is a journal of the modern Muslim which aims to connect with other cool Muslim professionals around the world who, like us never abandon our religion no matter how modern or how forward thinking we are. It also aims for non-Muslims to better understand us, especially in these times when beyond the Middle East Islamophobia is ever-present.
I use weekends for exercise, seeing close friends or business friends, having chick-flick movie nights, and campaign for the causes I believe in through social media.
I’m able to do everything seamlessly because of the people who surround me. My Ahsant team is superb. My husband and sister are also my two best friends. Not only do they believe I can fly, but they keep me grounded. Islam is a huge part of how we enjoy our lives and we’re proud to say it.
My Mantra in Life
“Tie the camel and do tawakkul.” It’s from a hadeeth, or a story from the time of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) wherein He was asked “should we tie the camel first and then trust/rely in Allah (tawakkul) or should we rely in Allah then tie the camel? The Prophet answered, “Tie the camel then do tawakkul.”
This means you work hard first and then you leave everything to Our Creator. For me, when I say work hard, that means I need to be sure that I gave my utmost best; may it be for a product we are developing, a speech I’m crafting, or even the weights I’m lifting in the gym. So when things don’t happen as I want or I don’t get the results which I want, it’s very easy to say – “It was simply not meant for me because I did my absolute best.”