We put together this interview to raise awareness and contribute to the ongoing discussion of promoting gender equality and empowering women in business and the workforce.
Do you ever daydream about living in paradise, starting your own business, and simultaneously making a positive impact in the world? In honor of International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered the stories of seven remarkable women entrepreneurs from Siargao who prove that anything is possible with passion, creativity, perseverance, and a healthy dose of island spirit. Whether you’re a young girl with big dreams or a seasoned entrepreneur looking for inspiration, these women have got you covered.
In this first part of our interview series, we’ll feature three inspiring women who share their journeys, challenges, and insights on what it takes to succeed in life and business. So, buckle up, grab your coconuts, and dive into the stories of Kara Prieto, Kaye Aboitiz, and Monika Rivilla.
What inspired you to start your business? Was there a particular moment or experience that sparked your entrepreneurial spirit, or has it always been a part of who you are?
Kara: I started Sidargo with my dad and my son at a time in my life when I was feeling the need for a change of pace, and this aligned not only with that but also with prioritizing family concerns over just my own. I’ve always been an entrepreneur (I was only employed for one year after graduating from college). For 20+ years, my dear friend and I had a graphic design firm (FXB Design) which gave us the opportunity to work closely with entrepreneurs from different industries. I also took up my Masters in Entrepreneurship in AIM in 2000-2001, which also hugely influenced the path I’ve been on.
Kaye: It’s funny because when people work within the wellness and yoga sphere, many people tend to shy away from the word business. To me, thinking about your passion, and your calling as a business ensures that it stays financially sustainable for yourself, those you work with, and those you serve. The start of my yoga business happened and continues to happen organically in response to the needs of my community. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment that it all unfolded. What I can say is that my philosophy towards what I do in my career (and life in general) is never to stay stagnant. I constantly push myself to study, learn and practice every single day of my life.
Monika: Architecture is my main source of creative release and play. It had to be my main source of income. When I first visited Siargao in 2014, I knew it was the island I wanted to set my roots. In my heart – it was only a matter of time and opportunity; these came almost immediately – like the Universe knew my secret longing even before it was ever verbalized. Everything was so slow back then; everything so raw and close to nature. Dwelling options were so few and simple, it was a sacrifice – but I loved it… loved the bareness, the naturalness and simplicity of everything. From the start I knew I wanted to make a long-term home for myself there. I wanted to create something laid back yet comfy, nothing fancy, with only minimal amenities of modern living. It’s been an amazing journey meeting people – native locals, and foreign locals alike… all genuinely welcoming and helpful – from the local surf coaches, yoga teachers, carpenters, masons, contractors, and land owners! All helped bring my dream of owning, building, and leasing out small comfortable units to reality. It was our pure love for surfing and spending so much time in the ocean that brought about Aguariva Swimwear into being. Merging Aguariva to my homestay came naturally. Though these businesses are different, the desire for simple, fun living made the collaboration possible.
What do you hope to achieve through your business, and how do you see it positively impacting Siargao and its community? Is there a particular cause, vision, or mission that drives your business and gives it a more profound purpose?
Kara: My hope, with Sidargo in particular, is to be able to elevate the Siargao experience for both tourists and residents — to contribute to the island’s growth in a positive way. We strive for excellence in everything we do, which benefits not just our customers but our team as well. We make sure we train, educate and nurture our staff so that they are better off from when they began with us. This is how we help in community building — by helping shape their work ethic and values. This is true to the mission of Sidargo — to provide the Siargao community with a fresh dining concept based on island-centric values such as inclusivity and a sense of belonging and focused on serving satisfying comfort food and drinks in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Kaye: In the long term, I hope to build a yoga brand and eventually a physical space, within which people can feel included, seen, and safe while they explore yoga. What drives me every single day is my deep belief in the transformational power of the practices which my teachers have passed on to me through their grace. What drives me to work hard on every aspect of my practice and business is witnessing others benefit from it. The way that I can see this positively impacting Siargao in the future is that it has the ability to magnetize mindful and kind people into the island. Through the practice of yoga, we self-realize into more compassionate beings which I feel is needed here (and anywhere really). As it is a service or experience-based business, it has the potential to create learning and work opportunities for the Siargao community while creating minimal environmental waste.
Monika: While livelihood is one purpose of our business – we try not to make it the main purpose. It’s a lifestyle of living in deep communion with nature, living simply, and connecting with souls that are aligned with my spirit ❤️ I wanted to make myself not just a house but a home. At this stage, I hope to continue learning from the community’s way of life; allowing the island and its people to help me develop an ever-increasing natural awareness of contentment and gratitude. After several years of living on the island, I have learned to respect and acknowledge very talented local workers and engineers whom I now consider my family. I appreciate the humility and generosity shared for the benefit of the group. We work together on design and construction and we look after each other. Recognizing people for who they are is an important value to nurture and encourage in the community. This uplifting of the whole community brings about the deeper meaning and purpose to our existence. With Aguariva, it’s about making surf-proof suits that you can look cute in; be confident in your own body – it’s about having fun in the ocean and being able to play freely and be secure too. Locally made, we try to keep our designs effortless and affordable, with available sizes to fit a wide range of body types, being mindful of what we consume, loving our planet by using nylon that was once polluting the earth, seeing and supporting others by collaborating with local artists and acknowledging our own personal experiences and sharing that through our journals. ❤️
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and play, so how do you ensure you take care of yourself, your relationships, and your well-being? How do you balance your personal life with your business responsibilities?
Kara: I believe you can’t take care of others without first taking care of yourself. I start each day with a workout because that gets me in the right headspace to deal with the issues that come up daily. I also practice Reiki daily, to balance out my energies and stay positive. Then, when I focus on work and the concerns at hand, I can give it 100%. I’m also super grateful I get to work with the best boss in the world — my son, Joaquin. I also make sure to dedicate time to my family back in Manila — monthly trips back, and always checking on them virtually when I’m not physically around. And of course, I end my days at Sidargo — Kakubin in hand! Cheers!
Kaye: In total honesty, I love devoting most of my time to my life’s work. Although I have gotten better over the years, I am still learning to take time to switch off. I am the type of person who will stop only when the work is done, which is never if you are self-employed. I teach my classes on weekends in order to serve those who have been working during the week then I allocate most of my weekdays to admin tasks and online work. When I do convince myself to take some time off, I go for a tiny wave surf, a little adventure for my dogs, or some online shopping for cute swimsuits. I also recharge my energy by attending my co-teachers’ yoga offerings. I recently came back from a few days in Bali where I was able to simply be a student and forget I was ever a teacher. That experience of letting go of that role is so powerful and energy-giving for me. I also care for myself daily through my skincare routine – which is 10 minutes daily where I apply beautiful serums and creams. That is pure, delicious me time!
Monika: This is a hard one and I can’t say I’ve perfected the formula to a truly balanced life. And this may be a lifetime challenge! I try to take it one day at a time, one problem at a time, and I try to celebrate small wins and not to be too hard on myself (so hard lol). It helps so much when you have an amazing supportive husband like I do! – he helps keep me balanced!
Have you ever faced a setback, failure, or challenge that made you stronger, wiser, or more resilient?
Kara: Countless setbacks, challenges, and failures! They are all part of this life I’ve chosen. Most recently, of course, was Typhoon Odette. I’ve gotten to the age, though, where I have personally learned that whenever something bad happens, it’s an opportunity to learn, and something good will come out of it. You just need to know you can handle it, with the right people around.
Kaye: The pandemic and Typhoon Odette could be considered major setbacks as they impacted my livelihood but I consider them to be the biggest learnings. During the pandemic, it was logistically difficult to teach classes which meant that you would get 1-2 students each session. This taught me never to base my self-worth as a teacher on the number of students in class. It encouraged me to get creative and pushed me to connect with people instead via social media. Typhoon Odette destroyed both places where I taught classes, one of them being Lotus Shores, which I consider my spiritual home. To lose your house and then your spiritual home strips you raw to your very core. Yet it taught me, whatever I lose, the teachings remain, the devotion remains, and the community remains. I don’t believe in failure. I believe, as taught to me by both my parents who run successful businesses, in constant adaptation and timely skilled action.
Monika: Yes, of course, life is full of challenges – both exciting and difficult. Life is hard. But I try to remind myself that everything that happens is for a higher purpose. If I go the wrong direction, the Universe provides guidance sometimes through hardships and lessons, shakes things up in the craziest ways, but always leads us back to where we need to be. No one is failure-free… many times failures are blessings in disguise.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life, and how have you applied it to your business?
Kara: This is a hard question — there have been so many! But one thing is for sure – nothing is permanent. There will be good times, and there will be bad. You just ride it out, do your best and you need to LOVE what you do. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it. It’s never too late to start over.
Kaye: I’ve learned to be more firm and have boundaries around myself and my work. I value my time and energy, which are my most valuable resources.
Monika: Hmm recently I’ve realised that seeing the positive is most important – so when we get a new project or new opportunity – it’s a blessing. And if we don’t get it – it’s a protection. We need to trust, trust, trust, and trust again. And whenever our human hearts feel restless, take a step back and be grateful for what we have and who we are and our hearts will burst with joy.
What message would you like to share with other aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Kara: Go and find your passion because that is what will fuel you! When you are passionate about something, work will never feel like work. Be happy! Follow your intuition — it will never lead you the wrong way. Stop worrying about what other people say. Let them talk. You do you.
Kaye: The one thing I would like to share is a contemplation which I personally use. If you knew for a fact that you would leave this earth in exactly 8 years, what would you do with your life starting from today?
Monika: Be yourself ❤️ Be grateful and never compare!
Thank you again for your time, and we are excited about your journey and where your entrepreneurial spirit will take you! Would you like to share where our readers can reach you or your business?
Kara: Connect with us on IG @sidargo.ph or just come by and find us at Purok 5, GL!
Kaye: www.littleshellyoga.com or @littleshellyoga
Monika: aguarivaph.com and monikarivilla.wixsite.com/portfolio
These women entrepreneurs are redefining what it means to be a successful business owner. They prove that you don’t have to choose between passion, purpose, and profit and can positively impact the community while living your best life. We hope their stories have inspired you to chase your dreams and follow your path, no matter where it may lead. Who knows, you’ll be the next!
We want to thank these outstanding women for sharing their stories, wisdom, and humor with us. We’ve learned so much from them and are grateful for their inspiring example.
If you feel inspired and want to support their businesses or learn more about their projects, we encourage you to check out their websites, social media, and local stores. Remember, supporting women entrepreneurs is not just good for the economy, but it’s also good for your soul. Cheers to more island dreams, women power, and adventures ahead!
Stay tuned for Part 2…