Monday, September 02, 2013

Kiva and Opus Dei

I'm a member of Kiva and have been for about five years. The idea behind Kiva is to supply what are known as micro-loans to third world individuals trying to improve their economic situation.

The total amount of the loans typically range from $500 to about $3000 with each lender contributing small amounts such as $25 or $50. The loans are interest free with repayment times typically between 9 and 36 months. Once the loan is repaid you can lend your $25 to someone else.

With each loan Kiva generally asks for an optional 10% contribution so you need to refresh the amount you're working with from time to time.

At the moment I have $45.47 out on three loans and $4.41 in my account. I've made 17 loans over the five years I've been a member for a total of $450. I made my last loan on August 8, 2013 to a gentleman named Yagoup, in Palestine, who wanted to buy a refrigerator for his grocery store. I pitched in $25 of a total $3,000. The repayment term is 26 months.

Kiva, in addition to maintaining gobs of statistics on your lending, also supports "lending teams." These are simply groups of like minded individuals lending on Kiva. Each of your loans also credits the teams to which you belong.

I belong to the A+ team (Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Free Thinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-religious) which is the largest Kiva team and makes the most loans.

Since I didn't have any cash in my account I was a little surprised to see an e-mail from Kiva in my in box. I was even more surprised when I read that it was a request to fill out a survey because I was a member of the A+ team. Then I was even more surprised to learn that the survey related to Kiva's relationship to Strathmore University in Kenya which is a corporate entity of Opus Dei.

Opus Dei is an extremely conservative organization of the Catholic Church that is rabidly anti-LGBT rights, anti-birth control, anti-choice and anti-female equality.

In the e-mail were links to an open letter from Kiva and the survey. I found the open letter short on details and long on rationalizations that left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I went to the A+ message board to get some background prior to filling out the survey.

Apparently, starting in June or July, people began to notice loan options associated with tuition at Strathmore that were significantly different from the typical Kiva loan. First, they were for a lot more money, some in the $10,000 to $12,000 range. Second, they were for much longer periods of time with some stretching out for 10 years. Third, they had to be funded in a very short period of time. Much shorter than the typical time for a Kiva loan.

The money flow also caused some concern with $10,000 to $12,000 going immediately directly to Strathmore/Opus Dei and then being parceled out over time as needed. This amounted to zero interest loans, for extended periods of time, going directly from Kiva lenders to Strathmore/Opus Dei.

Something smelled wrong here and despite denials from Kiva that Opus Dei had any influence on the operation of Strathmore, a little basic research made it obvious that this wasn't true. To make matters worse Kiva has apparently opened an office on the campus of Strathmore, a move that is unique as Kiva hasn't established such a presence with any of its other partners.

The GLBT Team was the first to raise objections to the relationship between Kiva and Strathmore/Opus Dei. They were quickly supported by the A+ team. The survey e-mail was the latest attempt by Kiva to quell the growing rebellion.

I say quell the rebellion because the number of team members that are active on the boards is very small. I wouldn't have been aware of the debate if it wasn't for the e-mail. The "survey" was clearly aimed at getting a majority of the respondents to blame the lenders rather than Kiva for the disagreement. I found it terribly biased and more than a little condescending.

So, now what?

All my Kiva Cash is lent out, and it will be a while before I get $25 in my account due to repayments, so I'll simply monitor the situation for now. I have posted on the A+ message board supporting the concerns being expressed by members of the team. I find this relationship unacceptable and I find the direction Kiva is taking with these loans troubling.

Even without the Opus Dei issue, tying up so much lender money for such long periods is causing other loan requests to go unanswered and a record number of loans seem to be expiring. Loan requests are only good for a couple of  months and then they "expire, " no loan is made and the money is returned to the lender account. I've never had a loan "expire" because prior to this year, and the advent of the Strathmore loans, it was very rare. Now it seems to be quite common.

The Kiva administration hasn't been terribly responsive to the concerns of the lenders. Basically they've taking the position that there is nothing to be concerned about and it's just a few troublemakers stirring up much ado about nothing. The survey struck me as an attempt to put together numbers to support those assertions.

It's a shame really as I felt Kiva did a lot of good, but religion poisons everything.

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