Profile of nanoenterprises

Nanoenterprises are typically unregistered livelihoods of self-employed individuals or informal solo-preneurs with asset size ranging from PhP3,000 to PhP150,000. They operate businesses alone or with the help of unpaid family members targeting their immediate local communities. Microenterprises are mostly registered enterprises able to hire employees albeit on a minimum wage rate. There are approximately 8.1 million nanoenterprises in the Philippines as of 2022.[1]

Most government programs and private sector engagement fall under the banner of microenterprises, that grossly misrepresents the needs and largely excludes the magnitude of nanoenterprises. Making nanoeterprises visible means more effective and customized policies and programs that should provide them the opportunity to grow into a more sustainable enterprise that would lift them out of poverty.[2]

There are 30 million Filipinos considered as poor based on a survey the Department of Social Welfare and Development conducted in 2022.[3] Directly addressing the needs of the 8.1 million estimated nanoenterprise will reduce this number by 27% which is a great leap forward for a truly inclusive Philippine economic development.[4]

The table below is a brief summary that compares and contrasts nanoenterprises from microenterprises.[5]

AssetsPhP3,000 to PhP150K>PhP150K to PhP3M
Employees01 to 9
Approximate number8,100,0001,000,000
Enterprise registrationMostly unregisteredMostly registered
Economic statusMostly poorMostly non-poor

This paper attempts to provide a more comprehensive profile of nanoenterprises in terms of the following: livelihood characteristics, access to finance, market participation, coping mechanisms in times of emergencies – climate crisis and disasters, digital inclusion, and access to government programs and services.

Livelihood characteristics

Examples of nanoenterprises include sari-sari stores operators, carinderia, small holder farmers and fisherfolks, dressmakers, and ambulant vendors. Those who participate in the gig economy are also largely considered as nanoenterprises such as delivery riders, and ride share drivers. Freelancers could also be considered as nanoenterprise such as graphic artists, video editors, content creators, writers etc.

Nanoenterprises use rudimentary and obsolete equipment in manufacturing products or delivering services or they may have more advanced equipment that they lease. Microenterprises typically have better equipment and have ownership of these.

Most nanoentarprises are individuals who typically have low educational levels and hardly maintain bookkeeping records. Microenterprises typically have higher educational levels compared to nanoenterprises and could maintain some level of record keeping. Microenterprises also pay business permits and taxes that nanoenterprises hardly pay since they are mostly unregistered.

Both nano and microenterprises lack managerial and technical skills to grow their livelihood and are forced to be entrepreneurs due to lack of employment opportunities. They also have limited access to technology, information and financing that leads to low productivity and low product quality.

Access to finance

Nanoenterprises heavily rely on loans to afford basic needs – food, education, shelter utilities –  and recover from a disaster. Loans are also typically used to grow their livelihoods and to finance major life events such wedding, anniversaries and death. 

NEs typically access loans from informal sources which make them vulnerable to predatory financing practices. Aside from this, most of them also borrow money from cooperatives, rural banks, microfinance NGOs and pawnshops. Majority also borrow from family and friends albeit in limited amounts.

This goes to show how NEs are trapped in debt. There are very few savings and insurance products available in the market that cater to their needs and preferences – simple, fast, accessible and affordable. Savings and insurance products are more appropriate for disaster risk mitigation and financing major life events. Microfinance institutions, in their continuous drive for growth and profitability, aim to increase their loan portfolio. It is also far simpler for MFIs to offer loans and gain profit to address NE needs compared to designing savings and insurance products for profit that address the same. This are the reasons why most MFIs use loans as the financial product to address livelihood needs, coping in times of emergencies and financing major life events. 

It has been shown that low-income individuals can save and will pay premium for insurance if these financial products are designed according to their needs and preferences.[6] Most NEs have extremely limited savings and insurance coverage due to the lack of financial product that directly cater to their needs and preferences. 

On average, nanoenterprises borrow a small sum of money ranging from PhP3,000 to PhP20,000 to finance their livelihoods. Although in the proposed definition of naneoneterprises, their loans could be up to PhP150,000.[7]

Microfinance institutions offer them short-term, collateral-free loans to them usually payable in three to six months with interest rates ranging from 2% to 5% per month. SEDPI, a microfinance institution, has a loan portfolio composed of 95.7% with less than PhP20,000 in terms of loan size. Four percent (4%) of loans extended are greater than Php20,000 but less than PhP50,000. A miniscule 0.3% have loans greater than PhP50,000.

Market participation

High cost of raw materials, labor, limited market access, lack of market information, outdated technology, inadequate services and infrastructure hampers overall business environment of NEs. The poor are more than mere victims of circumstance. They are creative individuals. A major barrier preventing NEs from exiting poverty is the problematic market environment. An effective development strategy is to remove the barriers that stand in the way of NE’s ability to help themselves and enhance their ability to participate in markets.

Developing markets and improvements in market linkages and market infrastructure will strengthen the participation of NEs in value chains. The government and development organizations should design programs that lead to sustainable solutions. These interventions should be designed using the following development principles – achieves high impact, specific and focused interventions, sustainable, cost-effective and market-driven.[8]

Coping mechanisms in times of emergencies

The Philippines topped the world disaster risk index in 2022. The Philippines scored high in its exposure, vulnerability, susceptibility, lack of coping capacities, and lack of adaptive capacities in the face of disasters.[9] Impacts of climate change and the global economic crisis are compounding the threats faced by people living in poverty around the world.[10]

The top coping mechanisms, pre-pandemic, of NEs in times of extreme natural events are accessing loans, finding additional work, asking for help from family members, assistance from government and charitable institutions, and selling of assets. Other coping mechanisms mentioned were saving, praying, damayan ang insurance.[11]

Loans topping the coping mechanisms is not surprising but a lot are not aware that this is not good for one’s financial health. Loans should be used for productive purposes only, a cardinal rule when borrowing money. In times of emergencies, loans will be used for consumption – to buy food, rebuild or repair houses, medicines for the sick etc. The loan purpose is not bad but the financial product used is incompatible with the purpose. There is no return from the loan use and loans accessed in times of emergencies typically have high interest rates.

The appropriate financial tool used should be insurance and savings. It is a stark contrast that these two are at the bottom of the coping mechanism strategies of the poor while accessing loans is on top. Insurance is specifically design as a protection strategy against emergencies and external shocks. Savings on the other hand provides a cushion or a buffer to smoothen the impact of financial shocks.

The pandemic made matters worse for NEs since this added to their vulnerabilities – extreme natural events due to the effects of climate crisis. During this period, the coping mechanisms of NEs changed. This time the top coping mechanism used was getting assistance from the government. This was followed by insurance, savings, accessing loans, damayan and distress selling of assets.[12] When strict lockdowns were enforced, NEs could not operate their livelihoods that’s why they did not seek loans as a top coping mechanism. Finding additional work was not mentioned as a coping mechanism unlike before the pandemic. Mobility restrictions imposed during lockdowns prevented NEs from working.

Insurance and savings ranked higher in the coping strategies during the pandemic which is an improvement when these two were at the bottom before the pandemic. This is because microfinance institutions offering savings and insurance products have already penetrated all municipalities in the Philippines. There was less market penetration a decade earlier that made these products inaccessible then. 

Although access to savings and insurance products already improved, there are still opportunities for improvement to make these more effective. For example, microfinance institutions should promote savings mobilization rather than provision of higher loan amounts to finance the growth of NEs. MFIs should not merely treat savings from its borrowers as collateral to loans but also a means to smoothen expenditures especially in times of emergencies. 

Insurance products for NEs could be improved by offering coverage for disasters that would enable them to restart their livelihoods so that NEs need not be too dependent on loans. Turnaround time in processing claims could also be improved from current practices which takes months due to voluminous documentary requirements. These all could be simplified through streamlining processes and procedures.

Digital inclusion

The Philippines has been dubbed as the social media capital of the world. Meltwater, an Oslo-based social listening and social media analytics company, ranks the Philippines as second in the world in terms of social media use.[13]However, this social media use does not seem to translate to positive economic changes, especially to the poor. 

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).[14] Internet access and ownership of gadgets are therefore important in order to take advantage of opportunities in the digital age. This is where the challenge starts for NEs since only 40% of them have access to the internet, 52% of have smart phones and only 8% have laptops.[15] Aside from this, there is also the challenge of the cost of smart phones and internet subscription. NEs, especially in the rural areas, have difficulty getting mobile phone signals due to lack of infrastructure.[16] Not owning a phone, having basic phones and limited access to the internet prevents NEs from accessing information and taking advantage of opportunities online. 

These ICT challenges of NEs constrained their participation in e-commerce. SEDPI’s research shows that in 2022 only 19% of NEs are into online selling and 13% buy products online. There was a short-lived participation in e-commerce in 2021 but this was not sustained due to the lifting of mobility restrictions and high cost of deliveries of products ordered online.[17]

Digital financial inclusion among NEs is low. Only 23% of them have bank accounts, 3% have mobile wallets and 3% know how to do online banking.[18]

Access to government programs and services.

At the personal level, they also lack civil registry documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates that makes it challenging for them to access government welfare services such as SSS, Pag-IBIG and PhilHealth. These civil registry documents are typically required to get government identification cards such as a driver’s license, voter’s ID, passports. These government-issued identification cards are then required to apply for membership in SSS, Pag-IBIG, PhilHealth and other government programs.

Due to the lack of government-issued identification cards, NEs experienced delays in getting the cash assistance program the government provided to its citizens during the pandemic. Lockdowns started on March 14, 2020.[19] A month after, only 60% of NEs under SEDPI received cash assistance. This improved to 98% by the end of the month when local government units started easing requirements.[20]

As of May 2021, there are 3.36M self-employed individuals who are members of the SSS. This is the membership classification where NEs fall. However, they comprise minority since self-employed members also include professionals, proprietors of businesses, farmers, fisherfolks and the informal sector. Even if the 3.36M self-employed members of SSS were all considered as NEs, this will only make up 41% of the 8.1M estimated NEs.

Nanoenterprises lack support from the government because they are lumped with the microenterprise sector. Nano and microenterprises clearly have different profile, behavior and needs. Microenterprises are defined as having up to Php150,000 in assets as defined under the Republic Act 8425 (Social Reform Agenda) and Republic Act 10693 (Microfinance NGO Act). However, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas defines loans extended to microenterprises at a maximum of PhP300,000. Meanwhile, the Department of Trade of Industry defines microenterprises as entities with up to PhP3M in assets.

In reality, MFIs serve mostly NEs, who are considered mostly poor, but have financial products and services designed for MEs, who are considered mostly non-poor. Financial products designed for microenterprises focus more on repayment history, capacity to pay and using savings as collateral. These designs are inappropriate for NEs since they face more vulnerabilities. There should be more social safety net mechanisms for financial product designed for NEs such as using savings for emergency purposes, capacity building for livelihood development, insurance coverage for disasters and subsidies from the government.

The inconsistencies in the definition of various government agencies on what microenterprises are, barring the fact that nanoenterprises are rendered invisible, leads to ineffective and inappropriate policies and programs. Microfinance institutions design their financial products and services according to the criteria set by government financial institutions geared towards microenterprises. Thus, the needs and financial product preferences of NEs are not addressed which may explain why they have a hard time escaping poverty. 

Way forward

Making nanoenterprises separate and distinct from microenterprises means more effective and customized policies and programs that should provide them the opportunity to grow into a more sustainable enterprise that would lift them out of poverty.

A more robust welfare and social safety net programs should be in place to allow NEs to not just cope or survive in their current situation but to recover and thrive to transition as a micro or even a small enterprise. This strategy would complement existing market-based approaches that would reduce vulnerabilities of NEs. 

The sheer number of nanoenterprises as distinguished from microenterprises should make them more visible to the government and private sector. Upscaling nanoenterprises renders tremendous multiplier effect. If NEs eventually transition as MEs, they will provide employment that starts at the bottom of the pyramid. They should be recognized as a pillar in socio-economic development since lifting them out of poverty will propel the Philippines to a developed country through inclusive growth.






[6] The poor and their money


[8] Morgan, Mary, Making Markets Work for the Poor: A Reader, Southern New Hampshire University, June 2006



[11] Based on SEDPI’s research conducted in 2008 with Opportunity International, 2014 with Cordaid and 2015 with People In Need. There were 79 FGDs conducted all over the Philippines.

[12] SEDPI conducted a research in 2020 in CARAGA region to determine coping mechanisms used by NEs during the pandemic.



[15] Based on SEDPI research

[16] Ph data: Schumacher and Kent, “8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19,” Pew Research Center, April 2, 2020

[17] Based on SEDPI research

[18] Based on SEDPI research

[19] Santos, Ana P. (March 17, 2020). “Coronavirus: Philippines quarantines island of 57 million people”. Al Jazeera. Retrieved March 20, 2020.

[20] Based on SEDPI research

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