Is using Kiva really “Giving”?

Experiment: Writing about personal conundrums.

I have been involved with Kiva for several years. Look! I’ve made a huge difference:

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Wow! So much giving, with so little money! I’m in the 94th percentile of donors! Doesn’t that sound amazing?!  I feel good giving with Kiva. I can see the people I have helped and I haven’t noticed any issues. Unfortunately, as of recently, I’m not so sure that I’ve actually contributed anything positive. I truly hope that someone can convince me otherwise.

There are several news articles that have come out recently referring to issues with the micro-finance model. It seems logically feasible that some borrowers are not able to meet their goals with the money that they have received. Sometimes plans don’t work out. Maybe they can’t pay the loan back. For me, I don’t have to worry about it. I was expecting to loan the money out again and I don’t tend to pay attention to when it re-enters my account. But for someone on the edge of destitution, the repayment of the loan is likely to be a huge worry. The stories describe fierce banks that demand repayment on the loans with possible severe consequences on the borrowers. I have become a greedy, cut-throat banker, just with an invisible proxy, whether I feel like it or not.

Perhaps I have become complicit in the same system I was hoping to subvert. I wanted people in poverty to have access, power, and resources. But it seems just as possible that I am helping to create the conditions where people are seeing their access, power, and resources stripped in the name of the ‘free market’. Instead of working against the oligarchy, I am increasing its stronghold. Instead of speaking out against the system, I am resigning myself to working within it.

I am second guessing my hopes and dreams for micro-finance. Maybe it would have been better to just give away the money and never see it back. I didn’t need it anyway. And maybe free money would actually make a positive difference. Maybe real giving is giving without expecting anything in return. Isn’t that the definition of giving? Letting money go away for a little while and waiting for it to come back isn’t giving! What is Kiva? And do I still want to be involved?

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