My sources of inspiration, for this blog and everything else I write, are various. This one comes from work. I arrived at the store the other day to find my manager looking and sounding extremely pleased, because she had gotten repaid on her Kiva loan. Then she asked if I had heard of Kiva, and out of that grew a blog post.
Kiva is a non-profit organization, and a recipient of Charity Navigator's highest ranking (which means that you know they are awesome and trustworthy). The basic idea is that you, Joe or Jane Everyperson, have at least $25. You root through their listings of individuals around the world who have a specific need or plan. These are people who don't have access to regular financial institutions to fund their intentions.
To give you a few examples, just looking at the main Kiva website, I can see that I have the option of donating to, among others, a Ugandan man who needs to buy dry goods for his store; a woman in Tajikistan in dire need of household repairs; or a group of women in Yemen who want to purchase doors for the house that one of them is building. None of these applicants want massive amounts of money - I think the biggest one I saw was just over a thousand dollars.
So you, who have $25 or more to invest, select a project. Or multiple projects. You, along with other lenders, fund the project. Eventually, the borrower pays back the loan, and you get your money back. You have the option to take it back again, or to invest it in another borrower. Not able to lend money at this time? Consider investigating their volunteer opportunities and internships. Or join together in a group to raise money together, like these guys over here.
Is there a risk involved? Yeah, a small one. There's always a risk involved when there's money. But the people who run Kiva do their best to minimize your individual risk. This page explains it better than I can do.
No, you don't earn interest on the money you've loaned, but that's not really the point either. You're lending this money to the working poor so they can improve their lives. The interest you earn is goodwill and good karma. And who couldn't use more of that?