Kiva.org looks like a wonderful idea: a microcredit site where members can make $25 loans to the borrowers of their choice in dozens of countries all over the world. According to Kiva.org:
Since Kiva was founded in 2005:
980,682 Kiva lenders
$466,939,050 in loans
99.01% Repayment rate
We work with:
217 Field Partners
450 volunteers around the world
72 different countries
But all is not well in this microcredit paradise. Follow me below the golden noodle for the story.
I've been a member of Kiva since 2009. Since you can relend your $25 when it is repaid, I've been able to make dozens of loans during the last 4 1/2 years, although my income is quite low by US standards. Browsing Kiva often reminds me of how much that $25 is worth to someone who has less than I do. My lending portfolio at Kiva is filled with the faces of farmers and shopkeepers, taxi drivers and street vendors.
I told other people about Kiva. I gave gift cards for Kiva loans. I joined lending teams, enjoyed the camaraderie on the team message boards with other lenders around the world who might be chipping in to the same loans I was supporting. "How many rainbow flags can we put on this loan?" we'd ask each other on the team for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Kivans & Friends. "Who wants to join me on this one?" Look, an organic coffee farmer- a seamstress who makes traditional costumes for village celebrations - a widow with children to support - an HIV-positive business owner - a transgender borrower running a beauty salon - we were all over it. "I'm in!" "Me too!"
A couple of months ago, a new batch of Strathmore University loans were posted. These loans stretched the concept of microcredit: they were for amounts from $10,000 to $18,000, for 4 years of tuition at Strathmore University in Kenya. Unlike the average Kiva loan which pays back in full in 6-24 months, these loans would not begin to pay the lenders back until after the students graduated.
Also unlike the average Kiva loan, these loans were post-disbursed, meaning the students would not get the loan unless Kiva lenders funded them by the deadline. And the deadline at the beginning of July was coming up fast as soon as the loans were posted in June: lenders got emails from Kiva with photos of students, saying: this wonderful student is enrolled but will not get to go to school unless YOU help! Kiva went all out to get these loans funded, arguably at the expense of what had been the usual Kiva loan recipients: a lot of smaller loans expired while Kiva was in the push to get the Strathmore loans funded. And a lot of Kiva members loaned without really looking at the terms of the loan, not realizing that their $25 (or more) was now going to be unavailable for any other loans for a number of years.
So that was the original source of the discontent on several lending teams I belong to: why was Kiva pushing these loans, which took up money, over time, with which the average lender would have funded 10-20 average Kiva loans? Why was the tuition so high, why was the loan immediately for all 4 years - then we became aware that Kiva's partnership with Strathmore was not like those with usual field partners. Kiva has an office at Strathmore University and publicly touts its special partnership with Strathmore.
Then we became aware of this: "Strathmore University is a Corporate Undertaking of Opus Dei."
Then we started looking into Opus Dei.
Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei (Latin: Praelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei), is an institution of the Roman Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity....Founded in Spain in 1928 by the Catholic priest St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was given final Catholic Church approval in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. In 1982, by decision of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church made it into a personal prelature—that is, the jurisdiction of its own bishop covers the persons in Opus Dei wherever they are, rather than geographical dioceses.
As of 2010, members of the Prelature numbered 90,260. ..Opus Dei has been described as the most controversial force within the Catholic Church...
Criticism of Opus Dei has centered on allegations of secretiveness, controversial recruiting methods, strict rules governing members, elitism and misogyny, and support of or participation in authoritarian or right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978...[Wikipedia, linked above]
Other sources report that Opus Dei members participated in the murderous Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Opus Dei, perhaps predictably, denies such allegations.
There is no denying, however, that Strathmore University aligns itself with repressive and anti-equality forces. There is plenty of evidence that Opus Dei does not support equal rights or freedom of choice for women, and there appears to be no tolerance for GLBT activism on campus. A report from Kenyan Human Rights Commission titled "The Outlawed amongst Us" states that students who sought to fulfill internship requirements were disallowed credit for internships served with Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and KHRC.
"I am a student in Strathmore University. My course has internship
requirements. I volunteered as an intern with GALCK but our placements office refused to allot my marks stating that GALCK is blacklisted by the university because they practice ungodly acts of sodomy.."
The more we read about Opus Dei's philosophy and activites, the more some of us came to feel that Opus Dei was the antithesis of everything we had come to Kiva hoping to support. Members of the "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" team (or "the A+ team", for short) posted this open letter to other teams on Kiva.
Dear Fellow Kiva Lending Team,
In June, Kiva posted twenty-five loans to fund tuition for the students of Strathmore University. Several members of the "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" team (or "the A+ team", for short), oppose these loans, for the following reasons:
1) The loans to Strathmore University students are on terms that are both detrimental to the students' financial future and hostile to the Kiva ecosystem.....[here follows a more detailed inventory of the impact of the loans]
2) Strathmore University actively opposes gay rights. Strathmore University is affiliated with Opus Dei, an ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church. According to Strathmore's website:
"Strathmore University is a Corporate Undertaking of Opus Dei. [...] Opus Dei provides spiritual and doctrinal orientation for the University. ..It does this by including courses of ethics in the curricula of all Strathmore's training programmes. It also provides Strathmore with a chaplain who gives spiritual counselling to anyone who may wish to receive it."
The chaplain of Strathmore University opened his editorial in the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation with "Sodomy is a sin", and goes on to equate homosexuality with stealing, adultery, and incest:
"Are homosexual acts good or evil? Isn’t sodomy evil for the same reason that adultery, fornication, incest and pornography are evil? The answer is obvious to all who appreciate the harm done by any kind of promiscuous behaviour. [...] Worse still, we are headed towards a society that reduces sex to a form of breathing. Anyone who objects to adultery, pornography or homosexuality will be treated the way you would treat a man trying to suffocate his neighbour.".....
If you want to know more, the whole letter I have excerpted above and the other articles I have linked to here are well worth reading.
Alas, so far neither this letter nor many others that have been sent to Kiva by disgruntled members have brought forth any more than polite brushoffs from representatives of Kiva. In response, many lenders have suspended loaning through Kiva, and more have decided not to donate to Kiva when they do loan.
Thus we have reached the time where it makes sense to publicize this unfortunate situation: the largest microlending website in the world consorts with an organization which at the very least works against women's rights and against GLBT equality.
Another writer has published an informative article on this subject here: Gay Lenders Quit Kiva Over Partnership With Anti-Gay Opus Dei
Kiva says "At Kiva, the community isn't separate from the organization. The community is the organization."
This situation, unfortunately, makes a mockery of that claim.