About a year ago, Mie and I watched an excellent PBS documentary series called The New Americans. It followed the lives of immigrants who came to America to try to build a better life for themselves and their families. We were touched by their struggles and strength and it made us want to find a way to financially help people like this, because it is often a relatively small lack of money that holds these families down. Mie found a way to do this in a way within her own social network which has resulted in some nice Pay it Forward action, but it wasn't really the sort of situation we had envisioned.
I had previously ran across the website of Kiva.org, an organization that accepts loans over the Internet on behalf of small businesses in developing countries. This is similar in concept to the microfinancing of the Grameen Foundation which made headlines with their Cellphone program in Bangladesh. The foundation delivered loans of a few hundred dollars to women in Bangladesh who used it to purchase cellphones and service plans. These entrepeneurs then created a sustainable business based on charging their neighbors per phone call. The payback rate on these loans was outstanding. "Grameen borrowers have [repaid] their loans at a rate of 99 percent, which is higher than credit cards, student loans, or home mortgages."
Kiva allows Joe Internet to participate in microfinancing by vetting loan applications and then collecting the loan principal via paypal. Unfortunately, when I first stumbled across Kiva they had already collected all of the money they needed to meet their approved loan applications, so I couldn't participate. Recently they approved a new batch from small businessmen in Honduras, Nicaragua and Palestine so today I donated $100 towards the Kiva loan for Ziyad Grocery in Gaza, Palestine.
Kiva will provide me with email updates throughout the term of the loan and I can also check an online journal for this loan account. When Ziyad al Kafarneh pays off his loan in 12-16 months, I will get my $100 back. I can then loan it out again or withdraw it. I'm excited about this system! As of this morning, Ziyad Grocery is still a few hundred short from the total $800 loan amount. Perhaps you'd like to join me in this venture? I believe the funding level can be as low as $25.