You cannot get blood from a stone. Ever heard that expression? If you’re not familiar with it, it is defined as:
Prov. You cannot get help from an uncharitable person or money from someone who has none.
A lot of people think it comes from the Bible, but it does not. But it’s very true all the same.
Recently a reader has been writing to me asking for ways he can help his wife’s family in the Philippines set up a business that they can operate and make a living from so that they become self-supporting.
An honorable idea, and the reader is to be applauded for trying to help … but there’s a couple things that need to be considered carefully before blindly rushing off on such a worthy task.
Somebody Has To Know Something
I asked this reader what his own business experience was. Nothing.
I asked him what experience anyone in the family had running a business. Surprise. Nothing.
I asked what the “target market” for this proposed business was interested in?
The only response was, “Well they’re very, very poor and I want an idea from you what would be a good business to start that my wife’s family (also very poor) could profit from”.
Let’s review the bidding here, shall we?
We have a proposed business which is to be started from scratch and run by folks with no business skills or experience.
We have a well-meaning and eager to help American relative who wants to help, but, in truth, he knows nothing about running a business either.
And we have a proposed target market who doesn’t have any money to buy what the “notional business” is going to try to sell them.
Am I the only one who has alarm bells going off in my head when I type this out into black and white?
Didn’t think so …
A “business” is not something like a turnip that you can buy a packet of seed for, throw on the ground and expect a crop from.
Among the most essential ingredients is a willing population you can target who has disposable income … that is income over and above the bare essentials for survival. That’s where my “blood from a stone” title is trying to represent.
No matter how clever your business idea is, no matter how hard someone works at promoting the business, no matter how closely every penny (centavo) is monitored and accounted for, if you aren’t trying to sell to people with money, you have very little chance of ever making a profit.
For sure, “good intentions” are not going to be able to overcome real poverty.
This is why my advice has been consistent over the years … live in the Philippines but earn (whether from a job or an independent business) from the rest of the world.
Many of you have read these words before, but not allowed them to sink in, perhaps. Every day new people come here looking for advice, see these words, and choose to completely ignore them because the advice is not congruent with the idealized “picture” they have in their mind of the family back in the Philippines sitting down every evening to a decent meal and smiling as they count up the day’s receipts.
It’s A Lovey Vision
The problem is it is a dream, a nice dream, but when the parties involved come to their senses and wake up it all too often becomes a nightmare. Any of you folks who are reading this article (and if you got this far into it, you must have some interest in the subject) should read (carefully) (and the comments as well) this article I wrote a few months ago: Seed Corn and Utang – Will They Sink Your Boat?
The “bottom line” is, setting up a family to earn money through a business, when they know nothing about a business, and especially if you have no practical business experience to guide them yourself, is very seldom successful. In fact it borders on cruelty, even though it starts from kindness. I don’t advise it.
- If you truly feel you must help, the overall cheapest alternative is to just decide, in concert with your wife, how much per month you feel comfortable with just flat giving them … and then, well, give it.
- If you are really interested in trying to help long-term, then give them help for day-to-day expensive and send the most promising child to school. After s/he graduates they can get a job and start providing help along the way. Someday you can scale back your own contribution (although, rest assured, that will cause contention, in many cases once you start giving, you really are never going to stop.
- Look for something several of the family members can do nearby where things aren’t so poor … commuting until they get some money flowing in. An example is here. For 8 years now at our home in Bulacan, two ladies from quite a distance away .. farther than Pampanga, actually, commute (via bus) several days a week and make their rounds in our subdivision (and others) selling mainly fresh vegetables that they purchased the same morning in their home province. Sounds laborious, but guess what? They have been living off that income for years, feeding, clothing and putting their families through school. Anyone can do it _IF_ they want to.
Poor Is An Overused Term
Many of us Americans are overly concerned with the idea of “poor”. That’s understandable since even really poor people in the USA are rich almost beyond belief in comparison to many really poor folks.
Just this morning I had an email from an American reader who was describing the situation of another American living here in the Philippines, with his Filipino girlfriend, and apparently quite happy.
The fellow telling the tale though was very concerned about the situation because they were “living on practically nothing .. only about P30,000 a month” from the fellow’s savings, and no other money coming in. Do you think he was right to be concerned? Well, personally, I don’t live on P30,000 a month (about $680 USD) . I really wouldn’t care to.
But could I? I certainly believe I could. (You’d be very surprised to see what my wife and I lived on in our little P7,000 a month rental house when we first came to the Philippines, with a pot load of typical American credit card debt, (long since paid off).
Money Isn’t Everything
P30,000 a month is a actually a decent middle-class salary here in the Metro Manila area. That’s like the wage of a mid-level manager in a store or a bank … enough to raise a family on, send kids to school, pay the electric bill, buy school supplies, office clothes, commute, etc. Poor is a very relative term.
Helping out family is a fine thing to do, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel trying to bring people “up” to American-style income numbers by making “business tycoons” out of them. Remember that the people who you are so concerned about being “poor” were living just fine for many, many years before you came along, and truth be told they will go right on living and loving after you are gone.
Be careful you don’t making them feel “poor” and “needy” in your eyes just because you are used to more money.
Remember their pride and have respect for all that they have accomplished over the years. Money isn’t everything. Far from it.