There is money in seaweeds! This was proven by Rosalind Wee, a Chinese-Filipino teacher and occasional actress who got wealthy trading and processing seaweeds harvested from many areas of the Philippines. Because her company is one of the Philippines’ biggest exporters of dried seaweed, she is considered the “Seaweed Queen of the Philippines.”
Rosalind Wee is the woman behind the W group of companies which include W Hydrocolloids Inc. and Marine Resources Development Corporation. Actually, she co-founded the diversified family business with her husband Lee Hiong Tan Wee, the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia. Together, they started the business in 1970 or 50 years ago. Rosalind is vice chairman of the group which now includes a real estate company with at least six buildings in the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig under its fold.
The 10th of 14 children of a Christian-Muslim couple, she was born in Jolo, the capital of Sulu Province in Mindanao. She studied AB Math from Far Eastern University in Manila. After graduation, she went back to her province and became a school teacher with Mandarin as the medium of instruction. When peace and order became a serious problem, she transferred to Metro Manila and continued teaching at Xavier School in Greenhills, San Juan.
While teaching, she started home-based business producing handicraft from seashells and dyed T-shirts. On the other hand, her husband sold Bangus (milkfish) from Divisoria, the main whole market of the Philippines. The couple also started a movie booking business in Cotabato and later expanded to Pampanga and Zambales. The Bangus business was very profitable and the couple added other marine products. Their name in the fish business became known to wider clients to include foreigners.
One day, an American sought her help in looking for a supplier of Eucheuma cottonii, a particular specie of seaweed. Having grown-up in a province where native seaweed abounds, it was not difficult for Rosalind to address the problem. Then and there, she started her love affair with the seaweed business.
Seaweed is used to make carrageenan, the primary ingredient in the manufacture of many food items and personal care products. It is grown primarily in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Most of the seaweeds produced in the Philippines is Eucheuma variety.
The Seaweed Business
The couple started “farming” seaweeds in Batangas Province but the best quality products came from Tawi-Tawi, a province adjacent to her native land Sulu. They also developed suppliers from Palawan Province especially from the island of Cuyo.
The seaweed business was not easy to enter. The couple need to learn many things including the sourcing of seeds, its cultivation, and determining the quality of the seaweeds. Rosalind had to resign from teaching to focus on the new but promising business. Much technical help came from the government particularly the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
At first, Rosalind and her husband exported the product in its raw form. The thought of extracting more value from their produce encouraged them to built a processing plant of their own right here in the Philippines. How will they hurdle their lack the technical know-how? A couple of visits to other countries and attending exhibits did not help because nobody wanted to share technology for fear of having a competitor. Luckily, a 70-year old Japanese expat who previously worked for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) offered to give assistance. Soon, the processing plant was up and running in Canlubang, Laguna.
At present, The Wees export some 20,000 tons of carrageenan to the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and many other countries. As in any other kind of business, the seaweed has its own downturn. This prompted the couple to invest in other businesses particularly real estate.
The quality of your products should never be compromised. Her companies endeavors to maintain high quality by doing constant research as well as stringent laboratory tests on all products before they are shipped to customers.
Rosalind also shares that it is very important to equip people with the skills to help themselves. Special training for farmers is regularly provided by the W Group not only to Filipinos but also to farmers in Indonesia where her husband is assigned as ambassador. Also, educating the people especially the farmers about climate change can help in mitigating its effects.
Rosalind appeared in at least two movies, namely Mano Po 7: Chinoy, This Time I’ll be Sweeter and Open. She is on the board of Go Negosyo, a non-governmental organization (NGO) helping Filipino entrepreneurs. She is also involved with the Philippine Red Cross Quezon City Chapter and the Philippine Federation of Local Councils of Women.
Rosalind is legally blind. A couple of decades ago, she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in New York. She couldn’t see clearly but she can focus and scan the surroundings.
In 2009, Rosalind received the prestigious Pearl S. Buck “Woman of the Year” award. This award makes her in company with the likes of former President Corazon Aquino, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, and actress Audrey Hepburn who all received the award in previous years.
Other awards given to her were the Go Negosyo Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneur Award and People of the Year Award by PeopleAsia.
In 2017, Rosalind was awarded Doctor of Humanities Honoris Causa from her alma mater Far Eastern University.
1) FORMER SCHOOLTEACHER FOUNDED ONE OF THE BIGGEST SEAWEED EXPORTING FIRMS IN THE COUNTRY, Agriculture.com – retrieved 2/16/2020
2) Bringing PH dried seaweeds to the world, business.inquirer.net – retrieved 2/16/2020
3) Yes, Wee can!, philstar.com – retrieved 2/16/2020