22The Kiva Controversy (Cambodia, 2017): The problem with microlending / Meeting Kiva borrowers / Giving fads

THE HELMET WAS TOO SMALL FOR my swollen American melon, my butt too big for the scooter's narrow seat. I thought back to my six hours of meditation in Burma and tried to notice the pain away, but all I could notice was my fear that we were going to crash.

Bunthoeurn, the owner and operator of the scooter, accelerated randomly and so fast that I had to hang on or risk falling off the back. We were the fastest-moving vehicle in all of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was sure of it. We were on a mission.

I had given a loan to a group of pig farmers south of the city through Kiva.org, an international nonprofit that connects people through lending to alleviate poverty. Kiva envisions a world “where all people hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.” The organization does that by offering microcredit to individuals and groups in poor communities, who would typically not have access to credit.

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladesh economist, is often credited with the idea of microcredit. In 1976 he lent $27 of his own money to 42 women in a village to make bamboo furniture. Banks weren't interested in lending to the poor, so the only loans they could get before were offered at high interest from loan sharks. Eventually he scaled this practice, formed the Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and even made an appearance on The Simpsons.

While visiting the ...

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