Filipino Values Pt 1: Bahala Na

12 January 2010 at 00:55 15 comments

When I was in grade school, we would start every year of Pilipino class with a lesson on what the Filipino traits were. The ones I particularly remember are: bahala na, pakikisama, hiya, mañana habit, and utang na loob. These five values inform every Kiva Fellow’s experience in the Philippines but also explain why many of the micro-entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to become borrowers in the first place. Literally translated, these words sometimes seem pejorative in English yet without understanding them, one would be hard-pressed to understand how microfinance works in the Philippines.

Bahala na– From Bathala na, there is no direct translation but more or less means “Leave it to God” or “Come What May”. When I was in school this was taught to me as a negative character trait of ours- it meant we were defeatist in our attitude to life and were only willing to do as much as was necessary, preferring to leave the rest up to God’s will. In fact, during my time here, I’ve been thinking that my Grade One teacher was really right. The Bahala Na attitude got us nowhere.

I’ve had the same conversation with almost every borrower I’ve met. “I do the best I can and the rest I leave up to God. I try and pay back my loans to the best of my ability and God makes the rest of the decisions.” This can often seem infuriating to those brought up with more Western ideals and are used to taking control of their lives and making their own decisions. That’s partly how I felt anyway. It was particularly surprising to me given the fact that these people had taken action in their own little way– they ran their own businesses which was more than I can say for myself, still stuck to the corporate world.

But when you think about it, entrepreneurship in the developing world as opposed to the entrepreneurship of Google, Amazon, and yes even Kiva. Entrepreneurship in America and the rest of the developed world has a daring, even romantic appeal to it. Be free! Unchain yourself from the shackles of your corporate 9-to-5 desk job and do something that inspires you…AND you’ll be rich at the same time! Not so for the developed world. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in 2006 “early-stage entrepreneurial activity is generally higher in those countries with lower levels of GDP” yet this is because the very entrepreneurs we laud here on the ground are often “pushed into entrepreneurship because all other options for work are either absent or unsatisfactory(necessity entrepreneurs).” Many of these micro-entrepreneurs then are not entrepreneurs by choice but because they’ve been forced into it from unemployment or the death of a loved one or the need to support a family of five or six or more. Understanding this fundamental difference in the attitudes to entrepreneurship makes a big difference in understanding the effects of microfinance.

Let’s face it. Not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit. One can understand all the business metrics, the numbers and the system but one would still have to be willing to take on the risks. Most people, lower-class, middle-class, upper-class, whatever, are much more risk-averse than your successful entrepreneur. The other day, a couple of PMPC staff officers took me to the field with them and I met Nestor Parcutilo.

Nestor told me how he had spent 25 years working at the shipping docks in Manila. When the time came to renew his contract, the company decided he was too old and let him go. He was unable to find another job in the city and had to move back home. Here, he opened a “sari-sari” or general store, which has done pretty well. He’d found a good location and stocked it with popular items. At the same time, Nestor admitted that he would still prefer the security of employment and a steady paycheck then the constant risks of entrepreneurship. He even showed me the ring from the shipping company he still wore everyday, commemorating his 25 years with them. Nestor hasn’t failed though; his business has grown but at the same time, he just doesn’t have the entrepreneurial spirit, nor does he want it. All else equal, he’d really rather have his job back and be in Manila, with his friends, with his regular salary, with an active life. Yet, as he also said with a smile, “Bahala na sa Diyos”, I’ll leave the decisions up to God and do the best with what I have.

So it turns out that an attitude that was always presented to me in school as defeatist changed in meaning entirely after that conversation. There was nothing defeatist about the way Nestor played his cards so far but at the same time, it does show how rarely microentrepreneurship and the availing of a microfinance loan is a choice yet it still provides an option where there might have been none otherwise.

A skyline of Manila- where Nestor worked for 25 years

Nestor's home town today

To learn more about the lives of micro-entrepreneurs like Nestor and the choices they make, click here and make a loan or join our lending team

Entry filed under: Anti-Poverty Focus, Entrepreneurial Support, Facilitation of Savings, Family and Community Empowerment, Innovation, KF10 (Kiva Fellows 10th Class), Paglaum Multipurpose Cooperative (PMPC), Philippines, Social Performance. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. cheap air conditioners  |  17 August 2012 at 02:19

    Link exchange is nothing else but it is only placing the other person’s webpage link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do same for you.

  • 2. shella mae  |  15 May 2011 at 04:00

    the bahala nah attitude should be used to strengthen one’s determination to face challenges so that in the end, we get what we desire and we develop the best in us….

    what a nice conversation…

  • […] we’ve noted several times before, U.S. microfinance tends to be a little different than microfinance in […]

  • 4. joshua cabandon  |  20 July 2010 at 01:02

    i will never tell u that

  • […] at oneself and her circumstances. In a more religious sense, it’s also the concept of “bahala na,” or, roughly translated, “come what […]

  • […] 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 […]

    • 7. Rajesh  |  9 June 2012 at 01:04

      Kiva sounds cool. Nice one for loianng some money. I think that Web 2.0 philosophy and connectivity should help “regular” people like us to make more of a difference to the lives of people in developing countries with “direct action” style loans, help and eventually, possibly even online teaching.I just don’t understand your post title! Where is the shit here and which fan is it hitting? Everything seems fairly positive to me!

  • 8. marire  |  25 January 2010 at 12:57

    very interesting way of writing this piece of reality. it`s like a master-piece

  • 9. Barbara  |  16 January 2010 at 02:15

    Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts and experience into writing. I really like your closing sentence. Microfinancing is about giving options, and probably in many cases the only option.

  • 10. sidetrips  |  15 January 2010 at 18:20

    Sobering insights. Fine writing. Realism like this is in very much welcomed to help the rest of us understand the guts of micro-finance.

  • 11. Tom  |  14 January 2010 at 22:29

    Perhaps this attitude is reflected when we say “Mag-negosyo na LANG ako”…as if going into business is the last resort…

  • 12. dave oglaza  |  14 January 2010 at 12:11

    I have made about 10 loans to the Philipines all of which have been repaid. Well done the Philipines!!

  • 13. Nasha Virata  |  12 January 2010 at 16:40

    Somehow I thought our names automatically generated at the bottom of the post… brain freeze- this was Nasha’s post 🙂

  • 14. Pek  |  12 January 2010 at 13:59

    Imma have to quote you “Let’s face it. Not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit. One can understand all the business metrics, the numbers and the system but one would still have to be willing to take on the risks. Most people, lower-class, middle-class, upper-class, whatever, are much more risk-averse than your successful entrepreneur.”

    Nice article

  • 15. marydear  |  12 January 2010 at 04:16

    great piece on Bahala na who is this? It’s Mary KF10 .

    What i believe is the results are up to GOD but I have to do the footwork and keep taking the next small action – the results are up to God..

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