What follows is a guest post by a woman named Heather over in Australia. She is involved in something called microfinance through an organisation called Kiva. Kiva is something I got involved in since one of the Skepticule podcast hosts mentioned it in a discussion on morality following one of my Pearced Off segments.
As you will read, microfinance is way of doing charity through loaning out to worthy causes and then receiving the money back to loan out again. This empowers those borrowing to better their lives off their own backs (more so than a simple handout, the loans mainly administered by non-profits), and gives them the leg up they often need.
But rather than me explain it all, let me give you over to Heather, who is also a member of the “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” lending team which is historically the biggest lending team on there, though we are being caught up by the Kiva Christian team, so we need your help! Please join it here. This really does showcase the idea that people are good without God:
WHY I LOVE KIVA
I am an almost-retired teacher in Melbourne, Australia, and have always donated to causes such as Oxfam and UNICEF. In recent years I have more consciously aimed to do my bit to alleviate poverty, with a deeper understanding of the impact donations can have depending on the organization (the Effective Altruism movement, inspired by philosopher/writer Peter Singer). My aim now is ‘doing good better’! I had also been looking for a way to contribute to microfinance and eventually found my way to Kiva. It’s a website that allows people anywhere in the world to lend $25 amounts to borrowers (the working poor) in dozens of countries, then have it repaid back into your account. Connections to the world, and giving people a hand up, all from your home computer!
This interest has become a large part of my life in the last few years. Some years back I joined FairShare International, which advocated sharing wealth, supporting the environment and so on with a plan that included donating 5% to those less fortunate. Then I read Jeffrey Sachs’ book The End of Poverty which I found quite inspiring – that we have it within our means to eliminate extreme poverty within a few decades. (Already it has been halved in the last 20 years.) The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations are a really impressive way to measure how the world is doing. Once I’d read Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save I decided to donate 10% of my income to poverty alleviation and the defeat of hunger around the world, and also to let others know what I was doing rather than just doing it privately. In Australia the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and natural reticence about appearing to boast prevents many people doing this, but I know it stimulates my activity to hear what others are doing so have started telling people. As an atheist, DOING GOOD WITHOUT GOD has now become a big part of my life.
LENDING PASSION: www.kiva.org
Since I found the Kiva microfinance website in 2009 it has become an increasingly major part of my life, financially and socially. And with Kiva, you don’t even have to give your money away! There’s a nearly 99% repayment rate. One of my early loans was to an older woman in Kenya to buy dried fish for re-sale – she needed just $125, and was funded by me and four other lenders from around the world. I love that you get to lend to Mongolian cobblers, women who grow peaches in Tajikistan, Bolivian coffee growers, someone in the Philippines who needs a better fishing boat, villages in Kenya who need solar lighting, and impressive big groups of women farmers in Senegal. The many loans to cheerful, colourfully-dressed groups of healthy-looking women in Guatemala and Ghana are a great antidote to the grim news about Africa and poorer countries that we regularly see on our TV news. There is clearly a lot of good stuff going on, and Kiva loans give many people new possibilities in their lives.
Loans vary in their repayment times, which are spelt out in the information that comes with each loan photograph – from 5 months to 10 years for some very long terms for tree planting or university fees. The information about loans, about Kiva in general, and about your own personal ‘Portfolio’ of loans is extremely detailed. So I can expect, through the chart of Estimated Repayments in my own account, to be receiving repayments for many years – in fact one loan will still owe me $1 in 2024! Each month on the same day (currently 17th) repayments come into your account, and most people then lend them out again. It feels like Christmas every month – a surprising thrill to get funds back in and get to choose more people to lend it out again!
Of course you can choose to take the repaid funds out again if you need to. But many of us are ‘Kivaholics’, addicted to lending and try to avoid that.
I decided a couple of years ago to use Kiva as my default for any spare money/retirement savings – after all, there is a very good chance of getting it back, and in the meantime rather than sitting in a bank or superannuation account it can be lent over and over again till I need it. I am at almost $20,000 in my Kiva account now – but I’ve lent $86,000 in loans through re-lending. I may not get any actual bank interest on this money, but the odds are good enough for me, and the HUMAN INTEREST I gain is incalculable.
MASSES OF ATHEISTS: KIVA TEAMS
Teams of Kiva lenders can communicate through message boards and bring satisfying connections with others of like mind or interest around the world. Kiva has over a million lenders, and the lending teams on offer number in the thousands – everything from Beer drinkers to Baha’i. On joining Kiva, I found the Atheist team at the top of the list. At the time I assumed that was because it started with ‘A’. A nice surprise to find that no, it was top of the list because its members had loaned more than any other team! Atheists are actually a generous lot, even though they don’t even do good deeds in the hope of eternal gain. Find us at www.kiva.org/team/atheists .
I love the full name of the team: it’s for “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious”. Even the acronym – AASFSHNR – has needed to be abbreviated to A+! I also love that this team brings together around 32,000 people around the world, many of whom live in the USA (infamous for the high proportion of people who still believe the world to be only 6,000 years old). After regular contributions to the message board on the A+ team, I was quite honoured to be invited to be a co-captain of the team in 2012. What a thrill to be a leader of a massive band of international atheists all helping others around the world.
Back at the start I had also joined www.kiva.org/team/paying_it_forward. The group is named from the concept of passing on to others good deeds from which we have benefitted (from the book and film, “Pay It Forward”). My son was barely recovering from grave illness when I found Kiva, and my gratitude to the modern medical science and hard-working medicos who got him on the road to recovery meant that ‘paying it forward’ was just what I needed to do. I was invited to co-captain the team when it had only a handful of members. Since then I’ve found another co-captain in Amsterdam, and the team has 360 members and is coming up to $600,000 lent. Very satisfying. Kiva is an ideal format to pay it forward for people who feel they have benefitted from the good deeds of others.
There are also teams of lenders for every possible interest, persuasion, or quirky passion, and you have the opportunity with each loan to ‘credit’ it to the team of your choosing once you have joined one or more.
In the early days I was getting involved in Kiva, there was some friendly competition between the Atheists and the Christians. Currently the Christian team is causing some consternation in the A+ team by out-lending us each month, thus gradually whittling away at our lead.
Also over the years competition has taken place between the Catholics and Baha’i teams, and between the Mormons and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (which is, in a lovely twist, actually the largest team that classifies itself as a ‘religious congregation’).
I’m also a member of teams called Fabulous Fabrics Fans, Women in Hats and Older Borrowers. There’s a team for everyone, and it makes the lending experience so much more personal to not only have information and updates from the borrowers but personal connection with other lenders.
An American travel writer, Bob Harris, has written an excellent book about his experiences visiting many Kiva borrowers around the world – “The International Bank of Bob” – and his supporters set up a team called Friends of Bob Harris to further this work and connect on the website. His writings give an insight into microfinance and the whole Kiva lending experience from the inside. Highly recommended.
A BIT ABOUT ME
I am a part-time primary classroom music teacher in Melbourne, Australia, with a big interest in community music-making as well. In 2014 I have been teaching around 360 children each week in two Melbourne government primary schools – though I’m trying to retire! I feel fortunate to have two adult children, one of whom was adopted from overseas. I love showing people – children and adults, especially those who say “Oh, I’m not musical” – that they can play music in groups and enjoy it.
In my teaching and community music work I really love marimbas – enormous home-made xylophones. They are great fun to make and ideal for playing by both experienced musicians and novices. Over the years I’ve organized various weekend camps for families and adults to play music together. I’ve also been an organiser for Community Music Victoria for some years, and enjoy playing the violin with friends and family members too.
One area into which I have put major time and effort over the last few years is organizing a series of Melbourne schools concerts which raise lots of money for Oxfam. My school children’s marimba groups perform at the Oxfam concerts, along with around 80 other groups from perhaps 40 schools. This year I’m hoping that 10 concerts will have raised around $25,000.
This volunteer work, combined with donations of 10% of my income and all the lending I do through Kiva, are a way for me to feel I am ‘doing the most good’ to share my somewhat privileged life with those who were born into more difficult circumstances. After all, I have clean water, enough food, a good education, electricity, and healthcare as needed.
GIVE IT A GO!
Making Kiva loans is an excellent antidote to so much negative news. Seeing so many happy, healthy women in large groups of farmers and market sellers in Africa and South America working to improve the lives of their families on Kiva is proof that millions of people around the world can have easier and healthier lives than their parents. The updates from loans confirm that given a hand up, many people can work to improve their situation and give their children more opportunities.
Finding an active team of other lenders on the Kiva website can open a whole new world of social contacts with like-minded people in many countries. It’s amazing how much personal connection and happiness all this lending and donating brings me. I would invite others to try it.
What will YOUR personal portfolio of loans look like?
To join the A+ team on Kiva, please follow this link.