16 Days of Activism

“It is time for us to go public and we are all the same.”

The ILO’s inclusive trade fair provides the opportunity for LGBTI business group to exhibit their talents and products. The government of Timor-Leste supports the inclusive effort to leave no one behind.

Feature | Dili, Timor-Leste | 27 November 2023
Julio do Carmo Candoso Amaral, a Programme Officer of CODIVA organization, standing in front of his business booth. © ILO/Gita Lingga
Embroidered short and long white handmade tablecloths and rainbow tais—a traditional textile of Timor-Leste—displayed at the booth of Coalition for Diversity and Action (CODIVA) organization had attracted the attention of visitors of the ILO’s three-day fair exhibition held last October in Dili Port. Some visitors were checking tablecloths that could be used at home or for religious ceremony.

When shaking my hand, the Minister said that no one should be left behind. Everybody should be part of the business development. I am so proud that our group has been noticed and recognized by the government."

Julio do Carmo Candoso Amaral, a Programme Officer of CODIVA organization
“The long, wide one with the illustration of wine chalices is a tailored-made design for the church that has become our regular customer,” explained Julio do Carmo Candoso Amaral, a Programme Officer of CODIVA organization, who was in charge of managing the booth.

COVIDA organization is the LGBTI-led organization in Timor-Leste aimed to provide capacity building and advocate the rights of its community members. The ILO has also involved CODIVA organization in its entrepreneurship training programme as part of its mandate to promote equality and inclusivity,

“This is our first public exhibition. We are happy that we can directly display our products and engage with our customers. We always hide behind the online marketing to avoid stigma and discrimination. Yet, it is time for us to go public and we are all the same,” said Julio enthusiastically.

He was also proud that his booth was visited by the Minister of Trade and Industry. Not only buying some products, but the Minister has also invited him and his business group to send a business proposal to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for further business development and expansion.

“When shaking my hand, the Minister said that no one should be left behind. Everybody should be part of the business development. I am so proud that our group has been noticed and recognized by the government,” added Julio.

Julio recalled that he and his colleagues have tried to establish a business group since 2018. The first business they tried was a culinary business of chicken and fish satays. The business only lasted for two years and failed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They tried a beverage business and failed again due to lack of orders. They then developed embroidered tablecloths, but they did know how to expand the sales.

“Thus, when we learnt about the ILO’s entrepreneurship training programme in mid of 2020, we just jumped into the opportunity and joined the training as well as business coaching programmes,” told Julio.

Julio is awarded by the ILO with the certificate, together with other participating entrepreneurs. © ILO
Margaret Araujo, the ILO’s Programme Coordinator for the Spotlight Initiative, explained that the ILO has used its Gender and Entrepreneurship Together (GET Ahead) training modules. The modules encourage active learning, soft skills, utilization of participants’ experience, peer support and post-training support.

“Through the GET Ahead training programme, the participants learn about business planning, business management as well as financial management that are applicable to their micro business and that are easy to understand,” added Margaret.

Through the GET Ahead training programme, the participants learn about business planning, business management as well as financial management that are applicable to their micro business and that are easy to understand."

Margaret Araujo, the ILO’s Programme Coordinator for the Spotlight Initiative
For Julio and his business group, the most valuable lesson that they learnt was the financial separation between expenses for business and personal. “Before we did not even know which budget for business and which one for personal. We just mix all together and, at the end, we realize that we are out of capital,” he shared.

Based on their business experience and what they have learnt from the training, Julio’s business group began to develop a new business strategy. They focused on online marketing and social media promotion with good delivery service.

Throughout the rest of 2020 and 2021, their business soared. Lots of orders came in, making Julio and his team should work longer hours, sometimes until late night, to fulfil these orders.

“Our success had also created new competitors. After a year, we found that at least three other businesses had offered the same products with the same design. As a result, starting in 2022, our sales were slowly dropped as well as our income,” he said.

Reviewing what they had learnt during the training, Julio and his business group brainstormed to find a new business strategy. Realizing that they already have loyal customers, they recently decide to launch a new marketing strategy: Offering a tailored-made design, selling the tablecloth in pair with lesser price and expanding business to wedding decoration and food.

Lack of employment opportunity for LGBTI community in the country, according to Julio, has made entrepreneurship and self-employment the main sources of employment and income for the community. Thus, he would like to set an example to the community that every member of the community has the ability and talent to develop his or her own business.

“We welcome that the current government has acknowledged us and we also hope that the business community will do the same. We hope to join the business community in the country and be part of the business market,” Julio concluded.

The ILO’s support was given through the Spotlight Initiative in Timor-Leste —a joint initiative of EU-UN to eliminate violence against women and girls. This global initiative is implemented by the ILO together with four other UN agencies in Timor-Leste.