If you believe that capitalism is the big bad bogey man then this next bit isn’t for you, because this is a story about everyday people become micro lenders–essentially international financiers–to the third world.
Do much research at all on US foreign aid and you’ll find that many experts consider it worse than a waste. Not only does it not help people who need it, frequently it’s one of the very pillars of oppression. Even in cases where the US government ships non-military supplies to an impoverished country, we’ve been loathe to set up systems that might compete with our own multinational corporations. We’d much rather give people the fish than teach them to catch it for themselves.
Kiva.org may be one answer in changing all that. Through its partner organizations on the ground in developing nations it vets potential borrowers and allows ordinary folks like you and me to fund their aspirations.
Here’s a real world example:
Mr. Kouma Akpodoku is 22, single, and a carpenter by training. He does not have his own workshop and thus has to go to those of his carpenter colleagues in order to fulfill his customers’ orders. This is very difficult for him, and he is slowly losing customers. To stop this from happening, he is requesting financial assistance in the form of a loan of $1000 to satisfy his customers by opening his own workshop before they start turning elsewhere.
In essence, Kiva is allowing people to seed capitalist endeavors and raise the standard of living for individuals and ultimately their communities.
As enthusiastic as I am about this, to my mind Kiva suffers from two flaws. First, lenders put the entirety of the their principal at risk with zero return. Kiva has a delinquency rate under 1 percent, but you could lose everything you invest and, regardless, you earn no interest whatsoever on the money you loan. You best find altruism its own reward.
Second, Kiva has so far funded roughly $13 million in loans from 135,000 people. Although there is certainly a value to wide-spread engagement and participation in charitable endeavors (something I tend to discount), one rich fellow like George Soros, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could pay for all of this out his pocket change. In fact, it seems to me that would almost be a better solution rather than engaging in all this rigamarole.
Nonetheless, for the joyous of heart and generous of pursestrings, neither objection should prove fatal. If you’ve not looked into it, Kiva.org may prove well worth your while.