Monday, February 22, 2010

Money & Friendship

Last week, we had a colleague come to us with a dilemma. A Burkinabè friend was planning to shoot a film about a famous musician in the country. However, to get financing for the film, he first had to host an event to which potential funders would be invited. He said he’d already been promised money by one funder who was planning to come to the event. The problem was that he needed money to host the event. Could our colleague lend him the money for this, with the understanding that she would be paid back as soon as the first of the funding for the film came in?

The dilemma arose from the fact that to refuse to help could cost her the relationship (unlike in North America or Europe, friendship in Burkina includes the right to ask a friend for money and an obligation on the part of the friend to give it if at all possible). However, if she did give him the money (it was quite a significant amount), there was no guarantee that she would ever get it back. Two Burkinabè acquaintances had already told her that there was a 90% chance that this is exactly what would happen. So what should she do?

When we lived in the village, we often had requests for money from friends. These were usually for significant amounts and we rarely felt that we could afford to “lose” that much money. So we ended up trying to find polite ways to say no. Needless to say, our friends were not happy about this. It took us a while to figure out that they did not actually expect us to give them the full amount they required. They were simply making the rounds of all their friends and we were on the list!

The solution? Give them a token amount or whatever you thought you could afford. This resulted in a win-win situation for everyone. The friendship was preserved because you showed empathy and contributed something to help them in their time of need. And if your friend never managed to pay you back (they usually didn’t), then it was no great loss.

So that’s what we advised our colleague to do.

On Friday, I asked her what happened and how things had turned out. She said that her friend had come by and she had given him some money as a gift towards the cost of the event. He had taken it, thanked her, and left. Later on, he sent her a text message to thank her again. The friendship was intact, and our colleague did not have to worry whether or not she was ever going to get her loan money back. All was well :)

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