Since writing, I’ve tried out the lending scheme, and am blown away with the ability to make a difference to places where it’s seriously needed. Not only has Kiva created an infrastructure for microlending which makes it incredibly easy to lend small amounts to entrepreneurs in developing countries, but it makes use of the very nature of the Web in connecting you with people all over the world.
The idea of ‘sponsorship’ isn’t really stressed. This isn’t a: “For pennies a day, you could clean this water…” It’s much more of a chance to invest directly into the lives of people who need it, and have a chance to pull themselves up.
My primary worry, when lending (giving) is that I’ll be made to feel like a vouyer in some way. Instead of concern, I worry that I will be made to focus on fascination or curiosity. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Kiva. Although it doesn’t feel like a standard business transaction, it does present enough facts in a straight-forward way. There is not over-blown language, but clear presentation of cases.
I also feel more comfortable lending directly to “partners” in developing nations. I feel this is much more efficient, and more in the spirit of a digital age. Why would I want to pay the salary of a well-meaning (and not, in any way exploitative) but still Western individual with my giving, when I can invest directly in people already poised to make a difference?
Finally, and possibly most importantly: Kiva doesn’t take any cut of the loans they provide. Instead, they ask for a separate donation (without any nag or detriment to the service). They don’t make a big deal of this (rightly), but I feel I should mention it. These people are providing a world-changing service, with few resources, without charging anything for ‘upkeep’. Not only that, but they only ask after you’ve chosen an amount and a project to support, making it less likely for you to lower your loan amount at that stage to compensate the infrastructure.
To my mind, this is the future of peer-to-peer investment and development. Now, we just need a way to send other resources in a similar infrastructure (education, information, digital resources, experience, and design).