There won’t be any more happy Kiva borrower posts for the foreseeable future. Kiva has been adopting new policies that I’ve become leery of (such as asking lenders to assume part of the risk of currency devaluation without giving any idea of how often or how seriously this is likely to affect one’s portfolio — see http://www.kivafriends.org for an obsessively-detailed discussion of this and more)…at first, I kept re-lending repaid loans because none of the changes affected the fact that I loan money and it gets to the borrowers, who can make very good use of it. And that still hasn’t changed. But now they’ve decided to “test” putting up some loans in the original language untranslated, because it’s more “efficient”. (For these languages, they’ve always included the original French/Spanish/Russian along with the translation, so this still doesn’t help native speakers of those languages, who are going to have to deal with the nuts and bolts of the site being in English anyway).
Kiva’s business plan is inherently inefficient. That’s kind of the point. There are ways they can streamline it somewhat, and I’ll happily applaud anything that actually results in a win-win situation for Kiva, the borrowers, and the lenders. But their whole gimick is that they are a person-to-person lending platform where someone has to put in a lot of time and resources tracking down borrowers in rural Peru to ask them their life story and business plan and take their picture, and then other people (including a lot of volunteer effort) have to translate and post the profiles and check to make sure the borrower in the picture is probably the borrower in the profile and make sure there’s a note if it’s another family member instead (which is allowed). There’s only so much you can streamline this model before it stops actually being the model Kiva promises.
If they’ve decided that they have reached a threshhold of popularity where they can ask borrowers to accept a less personalized lending platform in exchange for being able to reach a wider number of borrowers at less cost, great. I’d be totally willing to do that. I’d also be willing to be required to donate some percentage of the amount loaned to Kiva for administrative expenses, or pay a yearly membership fee, or participate in a fundraising drive, or something like that if they find that they’re not taking in enough donations to expand the way they want to. But Kiva now seems to want to have their cake and eat it to…they’re steadily taking away my connection to the individual borrowers, and making the “loans at no interest” look an awful lot more like “donations” given that it’s less and less likely that I’ll get all of it back. And they’ve done all this without changing their terms of service, mission statement, or cute little “how it works” diagrams. That is not ok by me. I’ll be active to some degree on Kiva for at least another year until my loans are paid off, and the KivaFriends site is a really great community, so I’ll stick around until I run out of loans in the hopes that they get their act together. Kiva staff seem to genuinely be a smart and well-meaning group of people, and they’re actively soliciting opinions from the KivaFriends community, but then they seem not to understand why everyone’s upset. I hope things turn around.
And meanwhile, microfinance is a steadily growing industry, so there are plenty of places for me to test out my newly-repaid Kiva credits in:
Microplace: I actually already put a good bit of money here last month after withdrawing Kiva credit, since they’re a well-established organization. Microplace works on a “save the world while investing money” tagline rather than the “reusable donation” message of Kiva and some similar organizations. You loan to an MFI (or sometimes several MFIs in an umbrella organization) rather than to a specific borrower. At first I was leery of the being-paid-interest thing, as I don’t want to be a further drain on the borrowers’ bank accounts, but the interest paid to lenders is generally 1-2% (though sometimes as much as 6%), and discussions comparing it to the Kiva model estimate that between the increased expense of creating borrower profiles and the increased expense of paying interest to lenders, it’s probably actually about a wash. And I intend to recycle the interest right back into more lending anyway.
Wokai: A “Kiva clone” focusing on lending to China. They balance the expense of creating profiles by making loans explicitly donations — you can recycle your loans through three repayment cycles, then they go into a general loan pool controlled by Wokai that loans straight to the MFIs. This also means that donations to Wokai are tax-deductable since you don’t get them back. They’re quite young, so I wouldn’t donate very much until I got a feel for whether they were likely to stick around and Not Be Evil(TM).
United Prosperity: another startup, this one still in beta-testing. They loan to India, which has all sorts of complicated financial restrictions on international lending that I don’t really understand, which is why Kiva hasn’t been able to lend there. But there are much looser restrictions on putting up collateral for a loan, which is what UP does. You finance the collateral, not the loan itself (which comes from other funding sources available to the MFI), and get it back when the loan is repaid. UP allows the smallest amount to be lent at a time of any of these organizations; I’ll probably put a small amount on several loans and see if they get off the ground.
Whoops — forgot one that I’d meant to add!
Lend For Peace: Another Kiva-type startup, this joint Jewish-Palestinian effort aims to promote peace in the West Bank through microlending with two Palestinian MFIs. They have an impressive lineup of advisors and grants, and their very localized focus makes me think that they’re unlikely to bite off more than they can chew. You have the option to either get your money back once the entrepreneur repays or to lend as a donation to their “revolving” lending pool.