The International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award

The International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award

By Cori Q. Perez

The President of Phoenix Publishing House, Inc., Maria Pilar Fatima R. Sibal, fondly called Maam Penny by everyone else is one of the awardees for this year’s highly prestigious International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Foundation. Based in New York City, IWEC is a” Global and Non-for-Profit Organization” that recognizes women business leaders and entrepreneurs for their increasingly influential and global work. The organization’s mission is to “connect and develop a global network of successful women business owners through working with international chambers of commerce and women’s business organizations.” This “connect and grow” mission and goal of IWEC has expanded into an “ecosystem of over 43 organizations and 384 Past Awardees,” who are deemed the “most influential  businesswomen from the world’s most important emerging and established regions.”  Besides this noteworthy business acumen, an important criterion for the IWEC Award is the presence of a corporate and social responsibility arm that is comprehensively fostered by the company through the leadership of the Awardee.  The barometers for IWEC Award are extremely difficult but Penny Sibal and Phoenix Publishing House, Inc. have successfully aced the steep and excellent standards.

Beginnings of Phoenix Publishing House, Inc.

Before Maam Penny Sibal was appointed as President of Phoenix Publishing House in June of this year, she served as the Executive Vice President from 2001 until the middle of this year. As  the Executive Vice President, she widely catapulted the company into a brand leader in the field of Filipino-authored textbook publishing and other areas pertinent to their line of business. This vision of nationalizing textbook publishing was pioneered by her father, Dr Ernesto Sibal. Through the prodding of his visionary wife, Alegria Rodriguez, an accomplished and astute businesswoman during her time, he relentlessly campaigned for a publishing thrust that mandated Filipino-authored textbooks for Filipino learners. This crusade saw its passing into a law after more than a decade. The law provides that “an integrated, nationalistic, and democracy-inspired education system in the Philippines, all schools, colleges, and universities should use, if available, only textbooks authored by Filipinos and published locally in preference to those written by foreigners and printed abroad.” Dr Sibal implicitly believed in the power of print, particularly of textbooks that would foster amongst the youth deep nationalism, democracy, and love for the nation. The legacy of the Sibal elders is firmly carried out by their children, among them, Penny and Erlinda, the latter of whom served as the President of the company for a number of years until her new appointment early this year to manage another Sibal firm.

Penny’s Education and Business Principles

It is this combined business acumen which Maam Penny had inherited and learned first-hand from her parents, and polished by a Business Administration postgraduate course at New York University in the mid 70s, and humanized by a sterling democratizing work ethic that has earned for her accolades and enormous achievements in the publishing industry. This petite, slender, lovely woman briskly walking down the halls of Phoenix Publishing buildings is a force to reckon with. She is regarded with much awe and respect by her employees as she goes around checking the operations of the House. She is a brilliant luminary and an inspiration to her employees, friends, school leaders, and teachers.

Modelling Resilience

When asked by the IWEC Awards Committee to spell out her business philosophy, Penny Sibal  shares that she is spurred on by three work principles: modelling resilience, selling skills, and influencing and fostering service. She explains that a strategic mindset, knowing the business landscape, and knowing when to diversify are the very key that have kept the company strong and resilient. She points out that her company is built on “business fortitude.” She explains that while the pandemic has profoundly upturned lives and has caused the closure of hundreds of thousands of businesses, and many more in the brink of closure, the company’s predisposition to openness and the willingness to adapt and diversify has kept it comfortably afloat. Maam Penny lets on that the company’s stalwart against business vulnerability, especially in this trying new normal times has instigated the company’s branching out into other business domains such as  “assessment tools and digital learning resources to address the demand for flexible learning solutions.” This business attitude has so far, helped the company hurdle economic challenges, especially in the area of publishing. Moreover, as the company completely understands the logic and intelligibility of the 21st century which sees the growing dominance of cyber-transactions, this attentiveness to the times has seen the creation of Phoenix ARALINKS Collaborative Learning Management System (LMS) several couple of years ago.  Aralinks as a virtual, remote LMS, has come in at the most opportune time, with the pandemic forcing the lockdown of businesses and schools.

Selling Skills

            In keeping with another business philosophy of “selling skills,” Maam Penny and Phoenix Publishing House have put in place an infrastructure that would replicate the long-term goal of building skills and ultimately building lives. Through her bold leadership, she has established an Educational Foundation that has created different programs for school leaders, middle management heads, and teachers in areas of instruction, curriculum design, assessment, instructional leadership, digital resource solutions, to name a few. This continuing education and training  that are offered by a team of in-house consultants and specialists for the company’s client schools have enabled the invaluable honing of  capacity skills to school leaders and teachers. This continuing education through the largess of Phoenix Educational Foundation has empowered the recipients causing a ripple effect in the realization of development and growth of careers and schools. To this date, the company has helped out a staggering half a million school administrators and their teachers. The company has been greatly instrumental in building expertise in the realm of education and school leadership.

Penny as a caring influencer and a corporate leader

            The selling of skills for sustainability that is espoused by Maam Penny and Phoenix Publishing is not just replicated in the business domain. The outreach programs that are put together by Phoenix Educational Foundation serve as an arm in the accomplishment of the company’s commitment to corporate and social responsibility initiatives, and by extension, bringing about the needed sustainability of schools and their mission of imparting professional knowledge and effective and competitive lifelong skills to the people in their fold. For example, the mission of providing capacities for schools and their school administrators and teachers is accomplished through the Educational Leadership Development Academy (ELDA), a program that was put up 14 years ago. For the longest time, this has served as the main banner program of the Foundation.  Maam Penny points out that “the school leaders of basic education of their client schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas are given all kinds of leadership training programs to enhance their leadership competencies, values, and commitment.” She adds that a “two-week intensive course with follow -up sessions for experiential validation and updating during the school year” is a crucial part of the program to ensure that learning is properly ingrained.  Through the management of ELDA, Maam Penny has also proposed another of the many nurturing programs of Phoenix. This course program dovetails with the government’s mandate that calls for all professionals to enroll in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses. What is brilliant about the  initiative of offering CPD courses under ELDA is that the CPD Curriculum had been submitted to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for review, and in turn, been given the stamp of approval by  (CHED). The client school-enrollees under this program are given credit units in either MA or PhD-related field of study.  This philanthropic initiative of Phoenix under the work of ELDA has so far, produced 14 cohorts with a total of 995 graduates.

Penny Sibal’s gift of proclivity (which essentially springs from this caring impulse) to come up with solutions at the most opportune time to combat systemic problems that beset schools and proposing a corresponding framework to help achieve the Standards is demonstrated time and time again. In this instance, some eight years ago, she proposed the creation of the Philippine Catholic Schools Standards for Basic Education (PCSS-BE). This is a set of self-assessment guide, standards, benchmarks, and rubrics that would help assess the school’s mission and identity that is essentially Catholic faith-based. This initiative which she spearheaded has given birth to an official Handbook that is based on the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and rightfully, was approved by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

(CBCP). Moreover, with the pandemic creating massive destruction in ways unimaginable, one of the many devastating consequences is the closure of 800 private schools in the Philippines. In consonance with the vision of providing assistance in building enduring skills and capabilities- in this instance, the capacity of school leaders to run a school and keep it running, Maam Penny’s insightful and caring leadership and means have propelled her again to come up with compelling solutions, this time,  collaborating with a Catholic University in the United States to devise and formulate a self- assessment guide and standards with the goal of upgrading the quality of Catholic Education and Schools so that these schools remain competitive  and strong. According to her, this initiative should see its run in the upcoming academic year. Brimming with humility and much pride, she shares that “this pioneering initiative is my most meaningful contribution to the advancement of  Catholic education in the country.”  Much aware of the meagre human and physical resources of many Catholic and private schools, especially in the suburbs and remote provinces, Maam Penny gives her full support to them.

When the IWEC Committee asked about Maam Penny’s business plans for the next 3-5 years, she points out that she clearly understands that education challenges in today’s time is a sneak peek of the future, and thus, she shares the company is priming to “intensify its initiatives to provide educational solutions, programs and services that help future-proof quality learning in the next five years.”  Thus, in this resolve to be a leader in the future-proofing of quality education in this volatile and uncertain times, Phoenix just recently forged a partnership with a government agency, Philippine Educational Assistance Committee (PEAC). And through Phoenix Educational Program’s newly-launched KAAGAPAY, the  Coaching for Results in Education (CoRE) Program of PEAC and KAAGAPAY will collaborate in building stronger legs for private schools. The specialists and consultants of Phoenix Educational Foundation have put together a program that aims to coach, monitor, and walk through private schools in their bid to meet recertification requirements for government funds.  Maam Penny asserted that this impetus to provide educational solution is the very “core of the company’s development plan…, solutions relevant to the demands and needs of the new normal in education.” The motif and emerging brand  “continuing development” has become a template that informs the company’s ventures and relations with its clients, bringing its success.

The Alagang Phoenix Brand

The ”ALAGANG PHOENIX” Brand provides a vital insight in the way Penny Sibal leads and ushers Phoenix Publishing House’s to its day to day business operations and into the future. She sees to it that the Alagang Phoenix mantra which means “Doing Business With a Heart” is intricated in all its business ventures, dealings, innovations, decisions, and undertakings.  She explains: “Caring, the Phoenix Way is our business mantra, and it proudly defines who we are, what we value, and what we stand for.” Indeed, the daring and insightful leadership of Penny Sibal has not only vastly contributed to the success of the family business but the philanthropic arm in the form of mentorship, professional development, and enabling-building that she and her company have unselfishly extended to thousands of schools and educators has contributed to Philippine education’s empowerment and ultimately, to the vital development and growth of our society and nation. Penny Sibal’s daring and rare leadership will sally us forth not only from the pandemic that has besieged the country and the rest of the world, but to a more certain, more stable, and a loftier, freer times.

IWEC Foundation.

Phoenix Aralinks.

Presidential Decree No. 687, s. 1975.

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