Matthew 24:34
"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."

December 3, 2009

Kiva's Dirty Little Secret (they aren't secular)

Is Kiva secular?

Kiva is the premier non-profit organization for microlending to borrowers in developing countries. To fund these loans, Kiva works with Field Partners located in the borrower's country. The Field Partners (also known as MFIs or MicroFinance Institutions) approve and disburse the loan to borrowers, while Kiva provides a fresh influx of capital to the MFI in order to make the loan happen and keep the MFI operating smoothly. The MFI, meanwhile, makes money on the loan by charging the borrower interest and fees associated with the loan. This is all a brilliant concept, and very efficient. Backslaps all around boys!

Well, you've heard the adage "Things are not always as they seem"? Sadly, this applies to Kiva. Kiva prides itself on transparency, and they also claim to be a secular organization. Here's where things turn sour.

Here is what a potential lender sees when they look at a loan they are interested in funding: (note that the MFIs appear on the right side of the screen)


Most lenders never make it past these main borrower pages. If the borrower description suits them, and the MFI has a high star rating and low default rate, a loan is made. There is no reason other than curiosity which would bring a lender to the MFI description or webpage. And that is where Kiva's dirty little secret is uncovered.

Take a look at the information contained on the websites of these MFIs:

Hope International
"In addition to the microfinance program, HOPE also supports an active children's ministry in Ukraine. Tomorrow Clubs are after-school programs that teach children the gospel through games, skits and songs. Summer camps are run throughout the summer to serve areas where there are few churches and other ministry."
"But HOPE isn't only concerned with physical poverty. Christ-following loan officers share the hope of the Gospel in the context of relationships, ministering to spiritual poverty as well."

"World Relief Canada, a co-founder of CREDIT and the second majority shareholder in CREDIT.
World Relief Canada partners with the Evangelical Church in Canada and overseas to respond to the basic needs of the world’s most oppressed, poor and suffering people, empowering them to meet their own needs in the name of Jesus Christ."

"...CREDIT continued its strong commitment to it Christian mission enabling its clients to achieve socio-economic transformation. Senior management and staff continued their practice of regularly devoting time to pray and seek God's will for the business, staff and clients...May God continue to bless and provide wisdom to CREDIT management and staff as they continue their work assisting the poor and vulnerable..."

-Following Christ and living the Gospel in all of our relationships
-Developing the whole person: body, mind, and spirit
-Learning from all those with whom we serve as we endeavor to teach truth

Esperanza will promote and support development policies, strategies and activities that:
-Free people from the bondage and oppression of cultural, social, spiritual and economic forces that inhibit becoming all that is intended"

"About CCT:
CCT ministers to micro-entrepreneurs, service workers, itinerant vendors, orphans, and abandoned children in urban poor communities.

We hope to see a network of Christ-centered faith communities where Jesus Christ is honored and worshipped and where people live with dignity and sufficiency in accordance with God’s plan for a just, humane, and caring society.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we join the Holy Spirit in God’s work of transforming lives and communities.

We are Christian. We do everything for the glory of God, according to Biblical principles.
We are a prayerful, worshipping, serving, witnessing, and
discipling organization.

is the Transformation of lives to become more like Jesus Christ, and transformation of communities to become Christ-centered."

There are many more MFIs just like this. I've purposely omitted the source links for this information. After all, it should be easy enough to identify the nature of these MFIs through Kiva, right?

If Kiva prides itself on being transparent, and if they are indeed a secular organization, then why don't they disclose the active religious nature of certain MFIs? Kiva's response to this is that each person making a loan must do their own due diligence with respect to the MFIs. But it is completely unreasonable to expect a person visiting a secular Microfinance website to investigate an MFI for criteria entirely unrelated to finance and loan repayment.

If I were making a charitable donation to OperationSmile or D-Pal (both secular charities), it's quite reasonable for me to assume that my money won't end up in the hands of a religious organization. The same reasoning applies to Kiva. The last thing I expect is that the interest and fees earned off of my loan money will go to build a church, send a kid to Jesus Camp, or buy bibles to be given away for free (except to me).

I and many others have petitioned Kiva to add a simple secular / religious indicator into the MFI information, which Kiva has refused. Other workarounds have been suggested, to no avail. Kiva simply will not disclose whether an MFI is religious or secular, to the detriment of thousands of people who are completely unaware of the problem. Churches are being built with the money of non-religious lenders who are unaware of this issue, yet supposedly-secular Kiva refuses to make this information readily available.

Kiva believes that the borrowers should be the focus of microfinance, and I agree. Unfortunately, religious groups are now involved and have turned the focus towards preaching Jesus on the interest earned on other peoples' money. Kiva could fix this problem simply by disclosing to the lenders whether MFIs are religious or not. Instead, they sit silent and hide behind 'due diligence'. If you'd like to voice your concern about this, contact Kiva and let them know this is a big problem. The fact that they won't do anything about it is what disturbs me the's a very simple fix.

I have no problem with Kiva working with religious MFIs. But there is a very big problem when Kiva will not reasonably disclose whether an MFI has an active religious component to lenders who don't know any better. In the spirit of transparency, it's Kiva's responsibility to protect lenders from things like this.

I don't give money to my local church, so why on earth would I give the profits made on my loan to an MFI who will use it to brainwash people for Jesus?


  1. Thank for this post, very interesting. I'm a new Kiva member, and am rather pissed off at the thought of my loans being handled via religious MFIs!

  2. Thanks Jejune, that's the very reason I've posted this on my blog. Some people on the Kiva forums get perturbed that I even bring it up, but I think it's a very valid issue that needs to be resolved.

    I've personally made a loan through a religious MFI. I didn't know until I received the loan confirmation email. Why won't Kiva simply disclose this to us first!? It's ridiculous.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Thank you for your post. I have written to Kiva requesting a secular/religious indicator for their MFIs. After more than 160 loans, I have threatened to withdraw my funds if they do not make the change soon. If the organization does not comply, I really will withdraw my funds as the loans expire and give the money to secular competitor organizations.

  4. Very interesting, like others I did not realize that and am disappointed that Kiva is not disclosing this info.

    Here's what I wrote to them, anyone who wants to can copy the wording/parts of it to contact Kiva.
    "I am concerned that the interest made off of the money I lent is going toward funding religious/missionary goals. Please disclose the full business objectives of the field partner (i.e. if they also run a mission and are trying to actively convert people) because I do not agree with the aims of many of these groups and do not want to support them. I want to support individual people/groups in third world countries to help them achieve their goals, that's the reason I joined Kiva."

  5. P and Alina, I'm glad that you found this information useful. I too have asked Kiva to disclose this information, and they could do it very simply by adding a checkbox attribute for each MFI which lists them simply as "Secular". This would avoid labeling them as "Religious", as that might offend people (which I can understand).

    Having this simple checkbox format would, at a minimum, make potential lenders aware that this is a criteria to be aware of when deciding on a loan.

    P, the policy I've taken towards Kiva is to stop giving them any percentage of my loan as a donation. If they don't want to fix this issue, then I will not pay them. However, I'm still making loans since I don't want to hurt those borrowers who still need loans. Just my two cents on potential courses of action to get this fixed.

    Thank you both for letting Kiva know, and for posting here! The more people become involved in this issue, the more likely Kiva will fix it!

  6. Daniel,

    The reason I threatened to withdraw my funds was because funding loans through Kiva still helps advertize Kiva. Moreover, I do not want to have to investigate the MFIs. I will not be hurting potential borrowers by withdrawing, because I would donate the withdrawn money to other microfinance organizations like unitus, accion international, etc. With these other organizations, one donates rather than loans, but I just keep reloaning my money on Kiva anyhow rather than ever withdrawing it.

    P.S. Thank you for your blog.

  7. My Letter to Kiva:

    I started Kiva today and made 3 loans worth $100.

    I was pleased and also please to see the "communities" groups.

    Reading through some comments on Atheists/Humanists, the group I joined, I was shocked to learn that some MFIs are religious groups.

    I would like to be able to select out these MFIs. How do I do this? I am not keen on supporting groups that will take my involvement for a religious benefit. Who is to ensure the loan applicants are not be being discriminated against or coerced? I want a secular label on the loans.

    Let me know what the action plan is.

    Will T

  8. Sounds fair enough P. I had a lot of fire for Kiva when I first joined, but it has diminished a lot after learning about this situation. I haven't pulled my money out, but I can't say I won't get to that point. Thank you for your 'thanks' ;)

    Thanks Will for your comments, and thank you for sending an email to Kiva.

    When I get some more time, I'm going to send them another email informing them about my blog, and the activity it is generating. Perhaps when they learn that people are taking this outside of the Kiva forums and do the internet in general, they'll realize that it is an issue that needs fixing before they start getting bad press.

  9. Thanks for this information. This is the exact concern I had when looking for an MFI to donate to. I appreciate your investigation and reporting of this and I have contacted Kiva to let them know.

  10. No problem, glad I could help. I notice that Kiva now adds a $5 donation on top of all loans by default. The lender has to change that to $0 if they don't want to give Kiva a markup.

    I've recently made my 42nd loan on Kiva, but I still refuse to give them a donation. They aren't providing total MFI transparency to the lenders, and people like you and I are still being duped into giving our loan capital to religious orgs so they can teach poor people that abortion is a sin and suffering is the path to heaven.

    I used to periodically inform the Kiva atheist's group know about this issue, but I got burned out on it about a year ago. Feel free to grab the baton if you'd like ;)

    Thanks for your comment.

  11. My letter to Kiva:

    I am a relatively new lender, and have made 10 loans through Kiva so far, giving Kiva the default 15% tip each time.
    However I will stop giving Kiva the 15% until you do one simple thing.
    On the main lending page for each loan, indicate whether the MFI is religious or not. Yes, I know you indicate it on the MFI page, but I am not going to visit the MFI page every time I am thinking of making a loan. It has to be on the loan page itself.
    I intend to continue making loans for many years. I am part of the largest group on Kiva, the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious, and we are aware that you have so far been reluctant to disclose in an easily accessible place the religious nature of MFIs, as you feel that shouldn't be the focus. We have no problem with Kiva dealing with them, we just don't personally want to. Many of us will not be financing you until you make this change. Its your choice. Continue to hide this simple piece of information, and continue to forego our contributions. Or do what Kiva Christians would also like to see (as they would probably prefer to lend via religious MFIs) - a simple checkbox next to the MFI name on the loan page.

  12. Right on dude, this is the kind of stuff that Kiva needs hear. Thanks for taking time out to send them an email, a couple years ago I used to hit the Kiva boards every month or so to remind and/or inform people. It really bothers me that new Kiva lenders are not aware of this stuff. What if an MFI's stated goal was to support a specific political candidate, would Kiva still not care to make this info transparent? I think they'd quickly disclose something like that, but for religion they're playing a double-standard and giving it a pass. That's not right, very troubling.