Filipino culture and microfinance

By Vishnu Hariharan, KF10 Philippines

When I visit a new country, I am always fascinated to see how the social values differ from my own as a British born Indian. When I found out I would be heading to the Philippines, I was pleased to see that the cultural guides were richly filled with Filipino traits. It made my day when I read another Kiva Fellow’s blog about the most well known Filipino trait – Bahala Na’ which means ’leave it to God’ . Along with Bahala Na, I wanted to share two other common traits that I believe make borrowers from the Philippines great candidates for micro-lending. Group loyalty (Pakikisama) and inclusion (Sakop).

Bahala na (resignation)- This trait can be considered fatalistic. If this was the case, leaving everything to chance when the going gets tough is something you would expect to see but not what I witnessed. From my time in the field, clients on average work from 5am – 9pm, seven days a week, all year round, through typhoons or heat waves. Clients often have many other jobs aside from the business stated on their borrower profile such as farm laboring or vegetable vending to earn extra income for their families. Some parents relocate abroad as domestic helpers to remit a higher salary back home, often spending years apart from their families. With this level of tenacity and sacrifice, to me shows that Filipinos leave very little to chance but the unexpected. Bahala na may be a virtue for it incites humility in the admission that people are not in full control of their destiny but I believe they do their utmost to take fate into their own hands.

Pakikisama (group loyalty) –This is a person’s ability to maintain harmonious relations with others. In the Philippines, towns are subdivided into small communities known as barangays which usually consist of 50-100 families. With their own weekly meetings, political structure and pakikisama, everybody in the barangay works together for the common good. For microloans, financial problems incurred by one family are shared between community members to find a solution. With this idea of people working in groups, they inherit good communication and trust between members, making the organisation of group loans easier. While there may be negative aspects to this trait, I believe that this concept of living for others and striving for peace serves Filipino borrowers well.

Sakop (inclusion) – means one cares for the family and clan; one stands or falls with them. This trait makes a person show concern for the family to which he belongs. Similar to Pakikisama, sharing and sacrifice play a huge part in matters of the community. As the drought induced by El Nino continues to devastate much of the farmland in the Northern Philippines, barangay members are united in helping each other through the difficult times. During my field visits, I was surprised to see how little impact El Nino had had on repayment rates and sakop was regularly mentioned as the reason for this.

These intangible forces might just be stimulating the growth in microfinance that the Philippines is witnessing. I hope you will join me in lending to borrowers in the Philippines – some of the friendliest people in the world!

Vishnu Hariharan is a Kiva Fellow (KF10) working with ASKI in Cabanatuan City, Philippines. Please click the links for info on ASKI field partner page & how to join the lending team.

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