Kiva Is Not Quite What It Seems

Interesting critique of microfinance charity Kiva’s representation of itself, by David Roodman on his Microfinance Open Book Blog.

Our sensitivity to stories and faces distorts how we give, thus what charities do and how they sell themselves. What if the best way to help in some places is to support communities rather than individuals? To make roads rather than make loans? To contribute to a disaster preparedness fund rather than just respond to the latest earthquake? And how far should nonprofits go in misrepresenting what they do in order to fund it? It is not an easy question: what if honesty reduces funding?

Good intentions are not enough

I was referred to the site Good Intentions by my friend Brian Gough who works for Task Furniture in Education in Cologne. Good Intentions houses critical articles and debates about the effectiveness of aid projects, aiming ‘to provide donors with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed funding decisions’. From her experiences in Thailand working on post-Tsunami aid programmes, founder Saundra Schimmelpfennig observed that:

It quickly became apparent that many poor aid practices were a result of charities trying to attract or keep donors. The donors themselves were unaware of the many misconceptions they held about aid. These misconceptions combined with the lack of easily accessible information made it almost impossible for donors to give in ways that matched their good intentions.

I’m interested in that first statement, describing charities ‘trying to keep or attract donors’ – chimes in with my own analysis of the relationship of design for development projects to first world audiences, sometimes to the detriment of users.