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Kiva Microfunds (commonly known by its domain name, Kiva.org) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to low-income entrepreneurs and students in over 80 countries. Kiva's mission is “to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.”
Since 2005, Kiva has crowd-funded more than a million loans, totaling over $1 billion, with a repayment rate of between 98 and 99 percent. As of November 2013, Kiva was raising about $1 million every three days. The Kiva platform has attracted a community of well over a million lenders from around the world.
Kiva operates two models—Kiva.org and KivaZip.org. The former model relies on a network of field partners to administer the loans on the ground. These field partners can be microfinance institutions, social businesses, schools or non-profit organizations. KivaZip.org facilitates loans at 0% directly to entrepreneurs via mobile payments and PayPal. In both Kiva.org and KivaZip.org, Kiva includes personal stories of each person who needs a loan because they want their lenders to connect with their entrepreneurs on a human level.
Kiva itself does not collect any interest on the loans it facilitates and Kiva lenders do not make interest on loans. Kiva is purely supported by grants, loans, and donations from its users, corporations, and national institutions. Kiva is headquartered in San Francisco, California.
Kiva allows microfinance institutions, social businesses, schools and non-profit organizations around the world, called "Field Partners", to post profiles of qualified local entrepreneurs on its website. Lenders browse and choose an entrepreneur they wish to fund. The lenders transfer their funds to Kiva through PayPal, which waives its transaction fee in these cases. It is possible to pay by credit card through PayPal's website, even without a PayPal account, but a PayPal account is needed to withdraw funds. After receiving a user's money, Kiva aggregates loan capital from individual lenders and transfers it to the appropriate Field Partners, who then disburse the loan to the entrepreneur chosen by the lender. Even though Kiva itself does not charge interest on the loans, the Field Partners charge relatively high interest rates. Interest is typically higher on loans from microfinance institutions in developing countries than interest rates on larger loans in developed countries because of the administrative costs of overseeing many tiny loans, and the increased risk. As the entrepreneurs repay their loans with interest, the Field Partners remit funds back to Kiva. As the loan is repaid, the Kiva lenders can withdraw their principal or re-lend it to another entrepreneur.
Kiva was founded in October 2005 by Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley. The couple's initial interest in microfinance was inspired by a 2003 lecture given by Grameen Bank's Muhammad Yunus at Stanford Business School. Jessica Jackley, worked at the school and invited Matt Flannery to attend the presentation; this was the first time Flannery had heard of microfinance, but it served as a "call to action" for Jackley. Soon after, Jackley began working as a consultant for the nonprofit Village Enterprise, which worked to help start small businesses in East Africa. While visiting Jackley in Africa, Flannery and Jackley spent time interviewing entrepreneurs about the problems they faced in starting ventures and found the lack of access to start-up capital was a common theme. After returning from Africa, they began developing their plan for a microfinance project that would grow into Kiva, which means "unity" in Swahili. In April 2005, Kiva's first seven loans were funded, totaling $3,500, and the original entrepreneurs were subsequently deemed the "Dream Team." By September 2005, the entrepreneurs repaid the entirety of their original loans, and the founders realized they had developed a sustainable microcredit concept. After the success of Kiva's initial stage, Flannery and Jackley founded Kiva as a non-profit. In 2006, notable entrepreneurs and businessmen joined Kiva's staff, including Premal Shah from PayPal and Reid Hoffman CEO and founder of Linkedin. Shortly after its first anniversary in October 2006, Kiva reached $1 million in facilitated loans and acquired its twentieth field partner. To the present day, Kiva has continued to grow and expand its field partners while acquiring support from the media and the public.
As of March 15, 2016, Kiva has distributed $827,356,850 in loans from 1,394,336 lenders to 1,928,760 borrowers. A total of 1,036,558 loans have been funded through Kiva. The average loan size is $411.26, and the average Kiva user has made 10.17 loans. Kiva's current repayment rate for all its partners is 97.1%. According to Alexa: The Web Information Company, Kiva's website ranks in the top 15,000 of all websites worldwide and ranks in the top 5,000 for the United States.
For the fiscal year of 2012, Kiva made $15,632,786 in total revenue and had $12,482,528 in total expenses, leaving $3,150,258 to invest. The organization's net assets in 2012 totaled $16,248,638. Kiva itself does not charge interest rates on its loans; they supply capital to microfinancing institutions for free. These microfinancing institutions then lend out money with high interest compared to bank finance in mature markets, averaging a portfolio yield of over 30%. The organization's main sources of funding are grants, financial backing, and discounted services from many major national corporations and institutions. Chevron Corporation, Visa Inc., and Skoll Foundation awarded Kiva a two-year $1 million grant, $1.5 million grant, and $1 million grant respectively. Kiva also won a $1 million grant in Sam's Club's "Giving Made Simple" campaign and $500,000 in American Express's “Take Part” competition. Additionally, Omidyar Network awarded Kiva a $5 million grant over 5 years to help Kiva expand its field partners and support due diligence.
In 2015, the non-profit employed seventeen persons with salaries more than $100,000. The average salary at Kiva is $80,768. President Premil Shah had total compensation of $314,917 in 2015.
Areas of work and impact
As of April 1, 2012, 80.46% of Kiva’s loans have been made to female entrepreneurs. Kiva emphasizes supporting women because women can gain the most from microcredit. Patriarchy and a strict division of labor still dominate the societies of many developing countries, and women often suffer the most from poverty because scarce resources are often allocated to a family's males, rather than its females. In their non-fiction book Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tell stories of women whose lives were transformed through the microfinance institutions Kiva sponsors. With microloans, women gain spending power and spend less on instant gratification vices like alcohol, prostitution, and drugs. With extra income, they are able to educate their children, renovate their residences, or buy modern technologies and medicines. Along with economic power, a woman with a microloan often gains more independence and respect from her husband. Kristof and WuDunn write “microfinance has done more to bolster the status of women, and to protect them from abuse, than any laws could accomplish.”
In 2011, Kiva added a new category of loans to help borrowers move to cleaner and safer forms of energy, green agriculture, transport and recycling. Green Kiva loans help fund solar panels, organic fertilizers, high-efficiency stoves, drip irrigation systems, and biofuels. As of December 2013, Kiva lenders had crowd-funded 4,600 green loans.
Access to clean cook stoves is an environmental issue and a global health concern because 4 million people die each year from indoor pollution from burning wood, coal or animal waste to cook and warm their homes.
Solar lamps replace kerosene and candles used for light. The solar lamps cost about $20 and can last several years. About 1.3 billion people on the planet have no access to electricity, and indoor use of kerosene lamps can result in respiratory illness.
Support for higher education
Getting access to university and graduate level education is extremely difficult for poor students in developing countries. Outside of the United States and a few other wealthy industrialized countries, student loans are rare, leaving families without substantial savings with few options. In low income countries, only 7% of the population received university or graduate level education, as of 2007.
Higher education has been shown to play a significant role in development in a country, and UNESCO reports that "higher education makes a signifcant contribution to reduction in absolute as well as relative poverty," in a country.
In 2010, Kiva began a Student Microloans program that allowed lenders to help support students seeking access to higher education. Student loans are funded with the same crowd-funding approach, and typically students have 1–3 years to pay back their loans.
In 2014, the education offerings on Kiva expanded greatly when the organization began a deeper partnership with Vittana. Vittana works on the ground in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, developing loan alternatives for low-income students. Through the partnership, all loans sourced by Vittana now appear on Kiva for funding and the dual partnership could reach 20,000 students.
Support for refugees
In July 2017, Kiva launched a World Refugee Fund, a $250,000 matching fund to provide support to refugees and host communities in countries including Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. As refugees repay the loans, they will build a track record in their new locations. The fund is to be followed by a rotating fund of up to $9M in loan capital.
Kiva launched Kiva Zip, a 0% interest peer-to-peer lending pilot program, in late 2011 as part of efforts to "cut lending costs through technology." Zip operates in the U.S. and Kenya, and lenders can contribute as little as $5 to a loan. The loans posted to Kiva Zip are often from borrowers who have been rejected for loans by traditional banking institutions, but on Kiva Zip they don't need to be able to produce high credit scores or collateral. Zip uses a system of trustees, who vouch for the borrowers. Zip trustees can be local non-profits, service organizations, businesses, faith organizations or community leaders.
The average loan size on Zip is $5,000 and borrowers and lenders can communicate on the platform, which is not the case on Kiva. Each borrower profile on Zip includes a private area for conversation and messages between borrowers and lenders, which sometimes evolves into lenders becoming customers or even brand ambassadors that encourage other members of the community to support a business. Zip borrowers average about two years to repay loans.
Google awarded a $3 million Global Impact Award to Kiva in 2013 to fund the Kiva Labs project, which looks for ways to increase the flexibility and impact of microfinance. Labs initiatives include lowering interest rates, providing more flexible repayment terms that accommodate issues like seasonal profits in farming, and offering longer-term loans for investments like education. Labs also focuses on providing access to clean energy technology and using mobile technology in ways that will bridge the knowledge gap. At the time of the labs launch, Kiva lenders had crowdfunded "132,000 agricultural loans; 4,600 green loans, and 670 mobile tech loans."
Kiva U is Kiva's education initiative to reach students and teachers. It was named a Forbes "World's Best Sustainability Idea" in 2014. The program provides ways for teachers to integrate microfinance and the topic of financial inclusion into the classroom or into clubs, including a full K-12 curriculum.
Kiva City program
Kiva City provides local business owners and entrepreneurs in economically hard-hit U.S. cities with the opportunity to crowdsource loans. It was launched by Kiva and Former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference in Chicago in 2011. Kiva City locations include: Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Newark, NJ, Richmond, Va, Little Rock, Ark., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Louisville, San Francisco, New York City, and Oakland, CA.
In less than a year, the Kiva City programs in Richmond, Va., helped fund more than $100,000 in loans to local businesses.
Some people, including microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, argue that the interest rates of many microcredit institutions are unreasonably high. In his latest book he argues that microfinance institutions that charge more than 15% above their long-term operating costs should face penalties.
According to its web site, Kiva quotes interest rates as the "self reported average rate charged by the Field Partner to the entrepreneur." As of January 7, 2010, 35.21% is the Average Interest Rate and Fees Borrowers Pay (Portfolio Yield) to All Kiva Field Partners.
For example, in 2009 micro-loans from Kiva partners in Guatemala averaged 23.16% for the equivalent of US$430 lent on average, comparable to the commercial BanRural rate of 24.5% for a loan of US$635. (For reference, the inflation rate for Guatemala typically varies between 5 and 10% and was just 0.62% in 2009).
Kiva does not publish the interest rates charged for the individual loans funded through its website. However, it does publish the average "Portfolio Yield" of each of its field partners, as a way for prospective lenders to estimate the cost to the borrower of the loans they consider funding. The "Portfolio Yield" measures the average income earned from the field partner's outstanding loan portfolio. Some observers have pointed out that the "Portfolio Yield" measure is unreliable, and does not directly reflect the actual price that borrowers are paying for the loans.
Kiva defends the interest rates of its field partners, however, saying its field partners provide much better rates than local alternatives, but must charge what they do because "the costs of making a micro-loan in the developing world are higher versus larger loans in the West." Kiva itself does not keep any of the interest collected, but operates instead exclusively on donations.
The high interest rates inherent in the Kiva model has inspired several other online microlending services, which aim to reduce the cost to borrowers. One example, United Prosperity, uses lender funds as security to leverage matching loan amounts from local banks, at lower interest rates than would otherwise be available to the borrowers. United Prosperity works with field partners in India and Sri Lanka.
Another example, Zidisha, reduces the cost to the borrowers by eliminating local field partners completely, facilitating direct interaction between the lenders and computer-literate borrowers, a model enabled by the rapid spread of internet access among the poor of developing countries in recent years. Zidisha borrowers do not pay interest. Instead, they make a deposit into a reserve fund upon joining Zidisha, and thereafter pay a flat 5% fee for each loan to cover money transfer costs. The reserve fund compensates lenders if the borrower does not repay on time. Zidisha offers loans in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Niger, Senegal and Zambia. There are no intermediaries between the borrower and the lender, and borrowers write their own profiles and share updates and photos directly with lenders.
Kiva itself launched a more direct peer-to-peer microlending platform, called Kiva Zip, in 2012. Kiva Zip transfers funds directly to borrowers without outsourcing disbursements and repayment collection to field partners. Instead, Kiva Zip partners with local institutions called Trustees, who vet loan applicants, provide mentorship, and may post profiles and updates on their behalf. Currently, Kiva Zip borrowers do not pay any interest or fees. Lenders are protected from currency risk but do not earn interest. Kiva Zip is considered an experimental platform, and offers loans in the United States and in Kenya. In the future, it hopes to expand to other locations. Kiva Zip's repayment rate is 89.4%.
Current interest rate statistics
As of April 2012, there are a total of 188 field partners listed on the Kiva website and their status is as follows: 105 Active, 11 Paused, 30 Pilot and 42 Closed. The following table shows the "Portfolio Yield"of a sampling of field partners. "Portfolio Yield" figures are calculated by dividing all interest and fees paid by borrowers to the field partner by the average loan portfolio of the field partner that given year. The figure provides a more accurate insight into the costs of borrowing because it includes fees associated with borrowing.
Pre-disbursement of funds
When Kiva began, borrowers had to wait until their loans were funded on the Kiva website to receive the funds. Since then, the system has changed, so that loans are disbursed to borrowers before their stories are posted to Kiva's website. Disbursing loans sooner has a positive impact on the borrowers, who no longer need to wait weeks to receive their funding and can thus take advantage of time-sensitive business opportunities. This is disclosed on Kiva's site; each loan proposal states whether funds were pre-disbursed. Thus, lenders' loan funds are likely to go to borrowers other than those chosen by the lenders. However, since the pay-back behaviour of the specific borrower chosen by the lender does influence whether or not the lender gets their funds back (except when an MFI has chosen to cover for borrower defaults), there is at least some connection between the lender and the specific borrower. Whether lenders' preferences are used for lender preference trend analysis by any field partners or Kiva is not stated. Kiva's response has been to keep pre-disbursing but be clearer about the process.
Field Partner institutional weakness
Kiva works with more than 240 field partners. In an article for the journal innovations, Matt Flannery identified six microfinance institutions (MFIs) that he saw as involved in "serious fraud". These are the six that he identifies:
- Women’s Economic Empowerment Consort (WEEC) -- When Jedidah Waigwa, the woman who started this MFI died, her husband took over and WEEC became disorganised. Money that was intended for entrepreneurs was used to pay WEEC debts.
- Supporting Enterprises for Economic Development (SEED) -- In this instance Kiva pursued a legal case, however, it had not made much progress as of April 2008.
- Women's Initiative to Eradicate Poverty (WITEP) -- Flannery was personally involved in this investigation as discussed in the article that he wrote for innovations. Moses Onyango, a former friend of Matt and Jessica Flannery, was involved in creating a shell MFI to funnel money to himself.
- Rural Agency for Development (RAFODE) -- Flannery writes that this MFI embezzled funds away from borrowers who "never saw a penny."
- Afrique Emergence & Investissements (AE&I) -- A Kiva fellow was requested by AE&I to help get operations back to normal after severe computer problems. She notified the central office of irregularities and after an investigation, Kiva closed the partnership. (AE&I paid back all outstanding loans to Kiva). However, the MFI has published a rebuttal and other partners of AE&I including AfriCap Microfinance Investment Company, and OIKOCREDIT stood by it. AE&I has now been picked up by another online microfinance platform called MyC4.
- MIFEX—Flannery writes that the loan sizes were inflated by 30 percent, and the excess was used to pay operational costs.
Although cases of fraud do exist, Kiva made the following statement on the partner page for SEED:
- "Please realise that our audit of SEED uncovered a true exception to the norm; the vast majority of our Field Partners administer your loans with the highest integrity. Kiva will continue to audit Field Partners to monitor the integrity of your loan and to make our website a model for transparency in international development."
Full-repayment frequency uncertainty
Whether defaults are extremely low has been questioned on the ground that a field partner may pay Kiva for loans defaulted to the field partner in order to maintain the field partner’s good credit with Kiva. Whether interest rates collected by field partners are enough to pay for significant defaults depends on local economic conditions for each field partner.
In 2008, Kiva featured the borrowing profile of a Peruvian woman asking for a loan to buy equipment for her cockfighting business. This sparked debate among the Kiva Lending Community about the principles of the organization, and many complained that the organization was promoting cruelty to animals. Matt Flannery responded to the debate, by providing an overview of the legal issues surrounding the debate, and took a more relativist stance. Flannery wrote on Socialedge.org- a blog site designed to connect entrepreneurs for social benefit,
"...does this somehow help Kiva achieve its mission of connecting people to alleviate poverty? It's debatable. I think that allowing our partner to decide which loans to post without much interference is a good thing. We can be paternalistic when we start imposing our moral framework upon societies half a world away. Cockfighting in Peru is legal and part of a rich cultural tradition. It may not be humane or palatable from a Western perspective, but that misses the point. Kiva, the organization, should not be making those decisions. Our lenders should be the ones voting with their dollars."
This position has caused some lenders to pull their funds (often moving them to other microfinance sites such as United Prosperity, Zidisha.org, Wokai, Energy in Common, etc.) However, some have decided to continue to lend through Kiva, but do so in the spirit of Flannery's remarks. "Kivans Against Cockfighting Loans" was created in May 2009, and has since lent $15,625 as of June 8, 2012 to different borrowers pursuing projects that do not involve the harming of animals.
Controversy regarding Strathmore University and Opus Dei
In Spring 2013, one of Kiva's field partners, Strathmore University, posted many large loans to cover full tuitions for students from low-income regions in Kenya who could not otherwise afford higher education. Kiva also established a field office on the Strathmore campus. Shortly after, many lenders raised concerns because Strathmore University is a corporate undertaking of Opus Dei. This spawned a debate in the Kiva forums, leading to an open letter from Kiva's CEO Matt Flannery addressing the issue.
Promotions and marketing strategies
In March 2012, Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s Co-Founder, lent Kiva $1 million. Kiva then allowed 40,000 people to lend $25 for “free.” Lenders still choose a borrower, but the borrower will pay back Hoffman instead of the lender who chose them. Kiva hopes that the “free” users will lend to more of their projects, and thus increase their overall user base.
In September 2007 Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, a book written by Bill Clinton Kiva.org is mentioned extensively and recommended by President Clinton regarding the good things the organization is currently doing and has done in the past to help people around the world.
The following independent entities have reviewed Kiva.
- In 2013, foundation Google.org conducted extensive due diligence on Kiva and awarded it a $3 million Global Impact Award for the creation of Kiva Labs
- In 2012, Charity evaluator Charity Navigator gave Kiva its highest 4-star rating 2 years running
- In 2012, Charity evaluator Philanthropedia awarded Kiva its Top Non-Profit Award in 2012 based on topic area expert opinions.
- In 2011, The Economist honored Kiva with its Innovation Award
- In 2010, foundation Omidyar Network conducted extensive due diligence and awarded Kiva a $5 million grant to scale its impact
- In 2010, Kiva was selected as one of Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things
- In 2009, Charity evaluator GiveWell has published a generic critique of giving marketplaces including Kiva and Global Giving and specific critiques of Kiva.
- In 2008, TIME magazine named Kiva a Top 50 website
- In 2007, foundation Skoll Foundation conducted extensive due diligence and awarded Kiva a $1 million grant as part of its recognition of the world's best social enterprises.
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