The GiveWell Blog

What’s different about Kiva

Why has Kiva been singled out for so much criticism lately (see GiveWell Board member Tim Ogden’s summary)?

Part of the answer is that Kiva has arguably been misleading donors – but that can’t be the full answer. David Roodman’s original post could never have come about without the fact, as Mr. Roodman puts it, that “the way Kiva actually works is hidden in plain sight.” And our followup analysis on repayment rates was only possible because Kiva makes all its repayment data publicly and easily available. As Elie said in that post, “Similar analysis would be impossible for nearly every other charity I can think of.”

Contrast Kiva with, for example, UNICEF. Kiva makes it possible to trace the path of your donation, to the extent that such tracing is realistic (and it largely turns out to be more along the lines of “you funded a certain MFI” rather than “you funded a certain person”). UNICEF doesn’t even seem to have a breakdown of how much money is going to each continent. We definitely can’t find information on questions like (a) What specific projects are you funding? (b) What is your role in each? (c) What new projects are planned, and where? (d) How is each project going, whom is it affecting, and how?

There are no strange patterns in UNICEF’s numbers because there are no numbers. There are no contradictions because there is no concrete information. And the intent here isn’t to single out UNICEF – it’s merely one of the vast majority of international aid organizations about which we know essentially nothing.

Giving an impression to donors that’s undermined by the facts is a minor scandal. When will complete opacity – simply sharing no information at all – be a major one?


  • Saundra on October 16, 2009 at 11:18 am said:

    Excellent point and one that more donors need to be aware of. There is extremely little transparency in the aid world and those that are transparent should be rewarded for being honest and being willing to take criticism that may come when they really open their practices to the light of day.

  • Adrian on October 21, 2009 at 7:31 pm said:

    I still don’t see how the unbundling of securitized microloans back to individual investors makes much of a difference. I’d rather be watching a single loan then just watching my money evaporate.

  • Holden on October 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm said:

    Adrian, are you saying that as a donor, you are happy to take the performance of a single loan as evidence of success, even though that loan may not be representative (see our analysis of Kiva repayment data)? If so, how is this better than simply monitoring an MFI’s repayment rate? Or have I misunderstood you?

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