I got interested in participating in Kiva.org, an umbrella group for microlending, a year or so ago. The way Kiva works is this. There are a lot of groups out there right now offering loans to some of the poorest people of the world. The loans are small (from our perspective) and through Kiva, you can support them for very little. You pick a person or a group who you'd like to support and shell up a whopping 25 dollars. That's it. (Well, there is a small administrative fee, but you can opt out of that if you want.) Grouped together with a lot of other people with similar intention, suddenly a small loan of a few thousand dollars becomes a possibility to people who would never have a chance with the traditional lending mechanisms.
Once the loan is paid back, the money is yours again. You can reinvest it in a new loan, or take it back.
You can choose the type of group you want to support, the kind of risk you want to take, and so on.
In recent weeks, I've gotten involved with one of the Kiva teams, which I learned about through the Kiva newsletter. Basically, this group emphasizes funding the loans which are about to expire soon, which means they reach the end of a thirty day period without being fully funded. Most of the time, the loans have been predispersed, so it's not like these individual borrowers won't get the loans, but it does nothing good for the viability of the field partners who broker these loans.
And the reason the loans aren't the most popular has nothing to do with whether they're good enough. It's that they aren't 'sexy' enough. The collectives, and particularly collectives of women get funded pretty sharpish. Nothing against that, of course. But men, and particularly lone men in the Middle East, don't. So lately, most of my loans have gone to small shopkeepers and the like in Lebanon. A fellow team member reminded us that twenty years ago, Beirut, the 'Paris of the East' was in ruins after the war, and urged us to help those who lost everything and had to start from scratch. She included a link to this You Tube by the Lebanese singer Fayrous, which shows pictures of Beirut today. The one that came up after, at least for me, has the same song, but shows what the place was like after all the bombing. The lyrics follow.
A greeting from my heart to Beirut
kisses to the sea and to the houses
to a rock, which is like an old sailors face
She is made from the peoples soul..from wine
She is from his sweata bread and Jasmins
So how does her taste become? A taste of fire and smoke
Glory from the ashes to Beirut
My city has turned out her lamp
From the blood of a child carried upon her hand
She shut her door, and became alone in the sky
Alone with the night
You are mine, you are mine
Ah Hug me you are mine
You are my flag, tomorrow stone
And a travels waves
The wounds of my people have blossomed
And mothers tear
You are mine, you are mine
Ah hug me
But you can fund whoever you want. Lately, Kiva is starting to get involved in funding small borrowers in the U.S. as well. Anyway, check it out. What's the worst that can happen?