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?