Just saw a riveting BBC report called Beyond a Dollar a Day. It showed the importance of supporting entrepreneurship in developing countries if they are ever to climb out of the bottomless chasm of poverty. It referred to aid as "pain relief" but not a cure, and showed how micro loans can truly make a difference in people's lives.
This spoke to my heart. I discovered micro loaning a few years back when I became a loaner to Kiva.org. It allows you to contribute money to an account and then lend it out in $25 increments to the person/group of your choice. The website is fantastic - and pulls you into the lives of people all over the globe who are trying to make a living and a life for themselves and their families. The loans are interest-free and there is no financial benefit to the loaner (i.e. tax write offs), however the benefits are immeasurable. The first thing that strikes you is how much more powerful a dollar is in the developing world than our own. My coffee allowance for three weeks can help complete a loan and instantly transform some one's life with possibility. It doesn't get better than that!
I have been giving electronic gift certificates to friends for birthdays that allow them to establish their own account. You can withdraw any/all unused and repaid funds at any time so it is definitely not a donation, nor is it charity. It is empowerment. Offering optimism and realizing potential where otherwise it may not be.
I find myself loaning mainly to women ... however I recently gave myself a shake and balanced my account with more loans to men - fathers and sons who also are trying to sustain their families.
An interesting note - in these tough economic times one would expect that the loans distributed to people in war torn, decimated countries (Sierra Leone, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq etc) would have a high default rate. That has not been my experience. To date, I have not had one default and curiously enough -- right now all six of my loans are repaying ahead of schedule. It's the way to go - lending a hand up (in addition to a hand out when needed).
Can you image what a billion dollar bail out could do??
Photo courtesy of Kiva.org