Yesterday I found a website for Kiva (www.kiva.org
) and am now telling everyone about it. Kiva partners with non-profits in the developing world who do "microcredit" (loaning small amounts of money), and provides a website profiling different entrepreneurs in these countries and allowing individuals anywhere in the world to loan them money. You can loan as little as $25, and most of the loans seem to be around $1,000. When enough small loans are raised to meet the total needed, the microcredit organization (all of these are vetted and approved by Kiva) gives the money to the local person and they are able to set up or expand their small business. The businesses include bakeries, tailor shops, refreshment stands, bicycle repair, shoe stores, etc.
Then the hard working business people set to earning money to pay back the loan, a little bit at a time. So if you give your $25, you get paid back (without interest). It's not donating, it's loaning. There's photos of all the entrepreneurs and details about the organization doing the financing, and there are journal updates posted on the person's progress. A small amount of money goes a long way in places like Samoa, Senegal, or Azerbaijan. Microlending is a huge benefit to women, especially. It's a way for them to gain some economic power, a bit of independence, and to care for their families. And microloans are almost always paid back -- I've heard there are much fewer defaults (hardly any, ever) among poor people than among more wealthy people. It's not high-risk lending.
These people know "how to fish". This is just loaning them money to buy poles and bait!
A journalist from the New York Times loaned some money and then went to Afghanistan to meet the person he loaned to, and he wrote about the experience. (Go to the website above and you'll see a link on the home page to his video clip.)
You can lend with your credit card or use PayPal to transfer the money. I'm going to set up an account and get started! I'm loaning $25 to a seamstress in Mexico.