UAE: Meet the Filipina expat who started as a waitress to become a multiple business owner

She bootstrapped her first company from personal savings as employee

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Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Angel Tesorero

Published: Sun 17 Sep 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 21 Sep 2023, 6:27 PM

Hard work and firm discipline to save money were the ingredients to success for a 42-year-old Filipina expatriate who went on from serving tables to owning several businesses in the UAE.

It’s a story of grit and determination that Aisha Stef Dequit has shared with Khaleej Times in the hope that she can inspire fellow expats to also become entrepreneurs in their own way.

Like most expatriates, Aisha came to the UAE to look for a better life for herself and her family. She was 28 and a single mother of two when she first arrived in the country in 2009.

She said she was actually no stranger in running a business. She had a small mobile accessories shop back in her hometown in Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental in southern Philippines. But income was not enough and the prospect of working abroad was more promising. So, she closed her shop and made the hard decision to leave her children aged five and three years in the care of her parents to follow her sister in Abu Dhabi.

Starting salary

Aisha during her job as a waitress at a seafood restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
Aisha during her job as a waitress at a seafood restaurant in Abu Dhabi.

Her first work was as staff at a travel agency in Abu Dhabi. It was only short-lived as she found a job as a waitress at a seafood restaurant at Khalidiyah Mall in the Capital.

“My starting salary was only Dh1,600,” Aisha told Khaleej Times, adding: “But my plan right from the start was to put up my own business one day. So, out of my wage, I unfailingly saved Dh300 monthly. After a year, I had Dh3,600 in my bank account.”

Aisha understood raising capital for a business venture was a long-drawn process. But she never lost faith and she knew consistency in saving a portion of her income would bear fruit someday.

She then found a higher-paying job as a sales staff at a perfume company. Her income increased and so was her savings, at Dh800 monthly.

Aisha as a sales staff at a perfume company.
Aisha as a sales staff at a perfume company.

In 2014, the year she converted to Islam, she moved to another job as a travel agent. Her salary was only Dh2,000 but she earned an average of Dh1,500 commission which she saved every month.

Bootstrapping own company

In 2016, Aisha decided to collaborate with a Pakistani travel agent to work as sub-contractors for a travel company. After a couple of years, Aisha decided to work solo and in 2019 she unequivocally decided it was time she put her own company.

Aisha bootstrapped her first company, Mangrove Travel and Tourism, with personal funds she accumulated through the years.

As an entrepreneur, Aisha said bootstrapping – and not relying on outside investors – gave her more control of her business. It was also the culmination of her consistent saving. She said: “I was really very disciplined to save a portion of my salary. I did not splurge on material things. Anyone who will do the same will eventually have a capital to start their own business someday.”

Running multiple businesses

Aisha, from a waitress to a business owner.
Aisha, from a waitress to a business owner.

Aisha now runs three branches of Mangrove Travel and Tourism – two in Abu Dhabi and one in Al Rigga, Dubai, which she opened in 2020. She also diversified her investments and established Oro Pinoy Cleaning Services in 2019; Mangrove Flower Arrangement in 2022; and Mangrove Summit Event and Management in 2022. She is also a distributor of beauty and cosmetic products.


Aisha, however, admitted she did not do it alone. She said she had the full support of her Emirati husband whom she married in 2019. “It was my husband who gave the name Mangrove. We chose it to pay homage to the UAE and because mangroves symbolise strength. Mangroves exist to support coastal shorelines and that’s what I did through the years – I shore up by resources to start my own company.”

Giving back to community

Aisha with Filipino Influencers Award.
Aisha with Filipino Influencers Award.

After finding success in her business ventures, Aisha said she also did not forget to give back to the community. She has been involved in providing material support to fellow migrant Filipinos in distress, especially during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. She also organised several events embracing womanhood and enhancing personality development.

On Saturday, September 16, Aisha received a Filipino Influencers Award. Holding the glass trophy, she reiterated it was her hard work, grit, determination and strong discipline to save money that brought her to where she is now.


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