You’ve probably noticed the big Kiva thingy on the right side of the page.
Click it and you’ll find yourself at Kiva.org, which is the coolest, fastest, easiest, cheapest way of doing good on for strangers on the other side of the planet I’ve yet seen.
I visit the site almost every day now, and I’m enjoying the process immensely. I’ve made 241 Kiva loans into 41 countries so far this year, and I can’t imagine stopping. Here’s a map generated by Kiva’s site — imagine reaching around the world this easily without even leaving your desk:
Kiva acts as basically an eBay for doing good — a clearinghouse for making microloans worldwide. You browse, you find somebody in the developing world you want to help, you click and send them $25 or $50 or whatever, and they get a loan at a substantially lower interest rate than they could get on the informal market at home. Anybody who has ever tried to pay off a credit card understands what a difference this can make to people working to climb out of poverty. You don’t keep any of the vig — the middlemen all get a teeny piece — but you do get repaid in full more than 98 percent of the time. (Not one borrower on my account has missed a even single payment so far.)
This isn’t giving someone a fish, and it isn’t even teaching them to fish — this is helping people who have been fishing for years to buy themselves a new boat. Plus, you get paid back, after which, you either pocket the money or just keep re-loaning it out.
Since a lot of these loans help whole families or even finance things like clinics that help entire communities, Kiva has made it possible for me to help literally thousands of people on five continents — at near-zero long-term cost.
How frakking cool is that?
It really does work, and in a lot of developing-world situations, it’s arguably better than simple donations, which can cause unexpected economic dislocations. Hand a kid in some countries $25, and you’ve probably bought him a bunch of meals — but you may have also taught him not to be a doctor, if doctors aren’t making a living. But if you and a thousand other people loan the doctor $25 each to open a clinic, the entire village may have a completely different future.
The guy who pioneered the idea, Muhammad Yunus, won a Nobel Peace Prize. Damn straight. The folks at Kiva deserve some kind of medal, too.
Click on over. Give it a try.