Kiva or Not?

This is a rant. It’s an attempt to make sense of something i’ve been struggling with.

I’ve been a Kiva member for 6 months now.


Kiva is a very awesome charity that focuses on ‘micro’ loans, mainly in third world countries. Simple concept: People need small loans to help their business or livelihood, so they go to a local ‘field partner’ and ask for one. These field partners work with Kiva (which is based in the US), and they then turn to Kiva and ask them for money to fill each loan they distribute. The individual or group requesting money has a story and photo published on the Kiva website where internet users all over the world can ‘lend’ as little as $25 to whichever cause they choose.

Very cool idea!

I love that it’s not really ‘charity’. It encourages business and development and growth, in a way that simply giving money to someone doesn’t. The borrowers have to pay the money back.

But like i’ve said, i’ve been a member on the site for 6 months now- and I have yet to make a single loan. The average Kiva member supports 6 loans at a time, and many have dozens, even hundreds. I check the site each and every day, hoping to make my first loan.

I trawl through the loan requests. There may be as little as 7 loans going, or there could be thousands. Lots of choice. But I can never find one I feel passionate enough about!

I worry that i’m being too picky. I automatically search for loans in Africa. Then I often narrow it down to just women. Maybe a little sexist, but I really want to support women, especially those in countries where they’re still pretty marginalized.

Tonight I saw the first South African request i’ve seen on Kiva. It was for a group of ladies who run a fruit and vegetable store in KZN. Just what i’m looking for! I’ve dropped meat recently, so fregetables are a big interest of mine right now. I also want to support something healthy. I wouldn’t support a chip stand or a candy store. Fortunately, other people will.

I was really excited and about to push the button to lend my $25. Then I looked at the profile for the ‘field partner’ who disperses this loan. I look specifically for loans from field partners who don’t put any religious or personal conditions on their loans, and this one passed that, but they charged massive interest rates. Like… massive. About 65% interest.

The average interest rate charged by field partners at Kiva is about 37%. That’s a lot, but given the costs of running the things they run, it’s acceptable. But 65% is crazy. I can’t see how a loan with such a huge interest rate can have its benefits outweigh it’s costs. I don’t know much about these things. But I do know that one of my closest family members is in serious trouble with credit card debt. She has it hanging over her. It’s stressful. She’ll never pay it back. I can imagine many people who apply for Kiva loans must feel the same way. This group of South African woman may feel the same way. At the same time, they may not. This loan may be the biggest blessing of their lives and they’ll pay it back (including the whopping interest) with ease. It may kick-start their business and change every single aspect of their lives for the better.. and yet, I couldn’t take the chance.
I nearly supported the loan anyway. I wanted to do it. It checked all of my other boxes. But I couldn’t do it.

At least on Kiva, all loans are filled within a day. As i’ve been writing this, the entire $3000 requested by my group was raised and the loan is no longer available. It’s that fast. That’s how generous and loving the world is. It’s awesome. So any loan I pass up on is filled within a few hours.

But I still feel guilty. I feel like i’m putting too many conditions on giving. Is it right to be waiting to the ‘ultimate’ loan? I want to contribute to a cause I feel passionate about and support someone whose progress I can follow and I want to celebrate their success with them. At the same time, money sitting in my bank account isn’t helping anyone else, when it could be.
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