Interview by Stephen L. Doggett
I first met Josefina Ner Dueñas (aka ‘Jojo’) only last year when I was asked to be on the Organizing Committee of the 2020 FAOPMA-Pest Summit Virtual Conference. Jojo managed to assemble an amazing team of dedicated individuals from across Asia to help organize the event. We met virtually on a weekly basis for months prior to the conference and I am heartened to say that our professional contact soon developed into a friendship, such that I always looked forward to our weekly meetings and was deeply saddened when the conference was over. However, the outcome of the meeting even astounded the organisers; the conference was one of the most extraordinary events held to date. This was even more incredible when you consider that it was the first ever virtual event of its type and that it was held during the most difficult period experienced during our lifetime, namely through the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the success of the meeting can be directly attributed to Jojo who was the chair of the Organizing Committee. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm raised the spirit of all the organising team and encouraged them all to do their best. Plus her bubbly personality and beautiful smile would warm the heart of the saddest. Jojo is again on the Organizing Committee of this year’s FAOPMA-Pest Summit and thus we can expect another great event; I recommend that you all attend; see advertisement on the preceding pages.
I am proud to present my colleague from the Organizing Committee, Ms Josefina Ner Dueñas.
Thank you, jojo for agreeing to be this month’s icon. Firstly, please tell the readers about your history in pest control?
Oh my, that’ll be a rather long story! In the Philippines, when you graduate from college with honours they automatically give you this professional eligibility plus ready employment with a government agency. Eager to work right away and gain experience, I took it. The office was the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority. So while my college education had nothing to do with insects and pests, it led me to 16 years with Bayer and then another 2 years with BASF, from the Philippines to Asia Pacific. I learned my way through as I made sure I was equipped with a proper education to be confidently capable in doing my job, until I even became part of the training team myself. So when I retired from the corporate world, and thinking what to do next, I only had two questions for myself; do I do what I love or what I’m good at? I picked doing what I’m good at. So I became a Pest Control Operator. Armed with my corporate and business knowhow and having seen both sides of the fence, I was confident enough to set a good competitive advantage for myself both on the technical level, as well identifying strategic niches
to focus on. I am now on my third decade in an industry that I have grown to love and breathe. I am currently the President of the Pest Control Association of the Philippines, or PCAP, after heading its Training and Education Committee since 2017.
In an industry so dominated by men, how hard was it for you to be accepted?
Tough and unrelenting!
Do some of the older men find it hard to have a lady boss? How do you deal with such people?
Yes, I believe so, but not all. I know I can never please everyone, women included. I have faced ruthless opposition, which I guess was done partly on their prospect that women just can’t be capable enough. So I just try to understand them. And depending on the circumstances I am actually happy to help anyone to become better versions of themselves. I also learn from the experience actually. Of course, as needed we should definitely speak up to make our point. But there are also times that it’s better to walk away. Being steadfast in my personal commitment to always try to do things right helps a lot. I think most will agree that it is always so much easier to do anything with a clean heart. Like everyone I cannot be perfect, but it shouldn’t stop us from trying. Being a woman I believe I am blessed to have both the heart and the mental toughness to do what needs to get done, while also accepting that there are things that can’t be changed.
How can we all encourage more women into the field of pest management? Does FAOPMA have a role in this and how can they help?
I would like to echo what I said in the International Women’s Day webinar hosted by UPL last April: “There are not a lot of women in this industry, so we need to make EACH ONE OF US COUNT. Just be out there and brave it.” And yes, as the largest association in the pest management industry, I think FAOPMA is in the best position to do this. For starters, maybe the FAOPMA can support or spearhead advocacies that promote gender equality in the workplace, from creating platforms to recognize women’s contribution in the simplest day to day operations, to empowering women to handle key roles in management or projects. And hopefully, it wouldn’t just be a short term project, but a continuing program to really get traction.
What have been the biggest challenges the industry has faced during your time?
It will definitely be this pandemic bearing down on the whole world, and especially at the unprecedented extent of time it is taking. As businesses close or lie low, this also meant a reduction of opportunities for some of our colleagues. It also tested individuals, picked our mental health, and the sadness of it all. But I also know it challenges us to be creative, and embrace new opportunities. And yes, surviving these times takes nerve and resolve.
Please tell the readers how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your business and its practices.
COVID-19 reminded me of the importance of a strong and established work process, however small one’s operation is, and the value of continuous learning. It certainly helped me institute our mitigation processes, while operating in an altered set-up early on.
Right now, which is over a year into this pandemic, we operate our front office remotely and have realized that it actually works very efficiently, and in fact sensible! We should not be afraid of technology and to use it as much as applicable. Getting our people’s buy-in is also key. Now more than ever is when we need to forge authentic relationships with our people and clients.
What are the challenges the pest control industry will face in the future?
Personally, and aided with learnings from our industry gurus, I believe one challenge will be on climate change. We do know how the environment influences insect behaviour for one, and I’ve heard and seen signs of this impending occurrences. Another is the onset of technology. As markets become more educated, aided by the worldwide web, we must be capable of addressing our customer’s inquisitive arguments. The birth of remote and innovative tools is also poised to make us adapt our operational tactics. Appreciating which work or is practical enough according to our level of services could determine who will prevail in this industry. Professionally, I believe it will be a challenge if we won’t be ready to accept these new realities.
You recently became the President of the Pest Control Association of the Philippines (PCAP). What prompted you to take on this task?
I have fond memories of PCAP ever since my first year in Bayer in 1990. I have served ever since as Secretary and as a speaker in licensure training. When I became active again in 2017, this time as a pest control operator, I had the benefit of being assigned to lead the Training and Education committee. As a strong believer in continuing education, this allowed me to share this value with my co-members. I am hopeful that as President of PCAP, my longtime dream of advancing the state of Philippine pest management will help get us there. This is why my goal is to prioritize education. The better our knowledge, the better we can do our jobs, and the better our consumers will appreciate our profession.
What have you achieved while President of PCAP?
We have an updated logo for one. So, I am now in my sixth month, and I am happy that our association is very much alive with our regular on-line activities, from monthly meetings, training , to even parties. While still the VicePresident in 2020, I actually helped push to reactivate our monthly meetings to the on-line platform, seeing that the pandemic is nowhere near its end. I think that kicked us off very nicely through 2021.
I also am so proud and happy of our Training and Education Committee who have so wonderfully captured all my goals in each training module. Having led this same committee for four years before, I am blessed to now see my colleagues sharing my aspirations and breathing in wonderful new ideas to our training programs. Being able to host the FAOPMA-Pest Summit 2021 under TUPMAPI (The United Pest Management Association of the Philippines, Inc.), is of course another feat for PCAP. Co-hosting with FAOPMA in November 2020 the very first virtual conference gave us a lot of lessons. So in October 2021, we are excited to present an even more spectacular virtual experience, with improved event functionalities on top of a very impressive roster of globally renowned experts to help us hone our skills and help grow our businesses further from the comforts of our home or office. I am also looking forward to achieve my term goals for PCAP and maybe share that in the future. But most of all, I’d say one of my biggest achievements so far is hearing the kind accolades of my fellow members. If I may quote (with permission) our PCAP member Rey Taino: “You know ma’am Jojo, I am starting to be more proud of PCAP. Thank you for all your hard work.”
Did the success of the 2020 FAOPMA-PEST Summit Virtual Conference exceed your expectations? And if so, why?
The 2020 Virtual Conference was our very first, and as international event, a very brave endeavour. So yes, I believe we did not only achieve our objective of keeping our industry relevant amid the uncertainties of COVID-19, we have also proven that our conference learning opportunities doesn’t have to stop if we can’t meet face-to face. Having given the delegates one of their first virtual experiences, at the very least, I think made it all worthwhile. We also saw the power and the limitations of technology. But personally I’d say the positive outlook of not being afraid to adopt and evolve is most fulfilling. I can’t thank enough my fellow members of TUPMAPI who braved the faith when I suggested it, and to FAOPMA, for trusting the Philippine team to co-host it.
What has the 2020 2020 FAOPMA-PEST Summit Virtual Conference taught us about holding future FAOPMA-PEST Summit meetings?
That teamwork works. The guidance of the FAOPMA Technical Advisory Committee working closely with the country team is important in keeping the FAOPMA stamp of quality in check. The program is always the backbone of every conference as it is what will drive delegates to attend, whether online or face to-face. I am also hopeful that in the near future we can go back to traveling as it is always a joy to visit and enjoy the culture of the host country.
What do you think that the Philippines can teach the rest of the world about pest control?
As a tropical country, we offer very ideal environments for pests that could test a Service Technician’s skills as much as patience. Likewise, termite pressure in the Philippines is high. Pair that with usually complex structural designs and you face a pretty tough termite project. Top that up with a not so wide variety of pesticides and formulations in our arsenal and you can imagine how much harder work we have to do. Filipinos are known to be industrious and diligent. These same innate qualities are why our nurses are much sought after. So if there is anything I think we can teach the world about best pest control, it will be having these qualities. And I’d have to add ingenuity in addressing each unique condition on top of the keen technical knowledge and skills.
What role does FAOPMA have in ensuring that there is technical excellence in the industry to the future?
I am looking up to FAOPMA as the champion of education throughout the region so that the levels of service quality and technical correctness in procedures is shared as a standard among the countries. Having this will not only heighten the professionalism of our players but also protect the future of our industry.
What is your most proud achievement to date?
That’s a Miss Universe question Stephen, hahaha! Anyway, I’d like to say my company PIXA, now on its 12th year. I am happy with our growth momentum and most of all having stayed faithful to my brand and market positioning to this day. But really, I am very proud of my running three decades in the Urban Pest Management Industry, and how I have personally transformed to not just thinking about growing my own company, but also becoming an instrument to raise the level of the public’s appreciation of our profession.
Thank you, Jojo for your wonderful insights and contribution to the pest management industry. So far we have only met virtually, but I am hoping that we can meet up in person soon when the world is a safer place.