How did I not know about this? This is the very idea that won the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years ago and now its gone viral on the intertubes. Apparently the payback rate on these loans is over 95% - maybe Citibank and Bank of America need to take some lessons.
Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.
Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.
The people you see on Kiva's site are real individuals in need of funding - not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs' profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.
The website lets you loan as little as $25, bundling it into a larger loan. Kiva lets you form or join groups and tracks which groups contribute the most. It should surprise no one that the second largest contributing group are the "Kiva Christians" -- the largest being "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious."
I'll be looking for a suitable borrower on the site and posting info here for anyone else who wants to help out.