July 15, 2013

Dear Fellow Kiva Lending Team,

In June, Kiva posted twenty-five loans to fund tuition for the students of Strathmore University. Several members of the "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" team (or "the A+ team", for short), oppose these loans, for the following reasons:

1) The loans to Strathmore University students are on terms that are both detrimental to the students' financial future and hostile to the Kiva ecosystem. At $10,000 to $18,000 apiece, the loans amount to 6 to 13 times the annual income of the average Kenyan. The burden is equal in scale to a student in the US graduating with up to $558,000 in student loans. It would take every dollar the student's parents earned in the last decade to repay these loans; most graduates would have to leave Kenya to find a job that pays enough to service the debt.

Additionally, the loans have terms stretching over 11 years. Each $25 contributed to a Strathmore loan is held for five years without repayment, then slowly returns to the lender between September 2018 and August 2023. In most other loans on Kiva, this $25 would be returned in about a year, and recycled into another loan. Thus, each $25 trapped in a Strathmore loan could have funded $275 in traditional Kiva loans ($25 recycled annually for 11 years) to entrepreneurs around the world. In short, the hundreds of thousands of dollars loaned to Strathmore University could be doing an order of magnitude more good in the rest of the world.

2) Strathmore University actively opposes gay rights. Strathmore University is affiliated with Opus Dei, an ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church. According to Strathmore's website:

"Strathmore University is a Corporate Undertaking of Opus Dei. [...] Opus Dei provides spiritual and doctrinal orientation for the University. Opus Dei, is an institution erected by Pope John Paul II as the first personal Prelature in the catholic Church. It therefore, ensures that the ethical teachings on human dignity and social justice help give a Christian focus to the whole variety of opinions and points of view to be found in the world of business and information technology. It does this by including courses of ethics in the curricula of all Strathmore's training programmes. It also provides Strathmore with a chaplain who gives spiritual counselling to anyone who may wish to receive it."

The chaplain of Strathmore University opened his editorial in the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation with "Sodomy is a sin", and goes on to equate homosexuality with stealing, adultery, and incest:

"Are homosexual acts good or evil? Isn’t sodomy evil for the same reason that adultery, fornication, incest and pornography are evil? The answer is obvious to all who appreciate the harm done by any kind of promiscuous behaviour. [...] Worse still, we are headed towards a society that reduces sex to a form of breathing. Anyone who objects to adultery, pornography or homosexuality will be treated the way you would treat a man trying to suffocate his neighbour."

Following this "spiritual orientation", Strathmore blacklists organizations who support gay rights, and punishes students who work with them. On page 34 of "The Outlawed Amongst Us", a report by the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), a Strathmore student describes their attempt to volunteer for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK):

"I am a student in Strathmore University. My course has internship requirements. I volunteered as an intern with GALCK but our placements office refused to allot my marks stating that GALCK is blacklisted by the university because they practice ungodly acts of sodomy.……, 20 gay. [Footnote 46: KHRC has also been blacklisted by Strathmore University (a catholic founded university) as an internship centre because KHRC supports gay rights. This information is from students currently studying from this school who have lost marks for engaging with GALCK and KHRC in internships.]"

3) Kiva advertises these loans with a guilt-driven marketing strategy: if you do not loan to Strathmore students, you are kicking them out of school and ruining their lives forever. Kiva compelled Google+ users to lend in a recent post:

"Right now, 12 students in Kenya are sitting in classes at Strathmore University, but they may not be there for long if their loans don't get funded on Kiva before July 20. These students will not be able to pay tuition if their loans expire. They'll have to return to their home villages, and won't get to go to college after working so hard to get there."

We think this strategy is antithetical to why many people lend on Kiva: we loan to provide opportunity, and specifically to oppose this sort of human extortion and greed. It is also disingenuous: Strathmore, backed by a Catholic Church with billions of dollars in assets, could backstop these loans with pocket change and keep these students in school, if it wished to.

We ask you to start a conversation with your team members about withholding support for these loans. We hope that you will join the A+ team in not advertising the loans within your team, and not including them in "last-minute" funding drives, focusing attention and funds instead on the thousands of other great loans on Kiva.

Members of the Kiva A+ Team