Wow, I just found the coolest web site. It's Kiva.org, and it is a micro-credit organization that partners entrepreneurs in developing countries with lenders all over the world.
If you've never heard of micro-credit before, please read this story about Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, as told in The 8th Habit, by Stephen R. Covey. It is a GREAT story!!
"It all started twenty-five years ago. I was teaching economics at a university in Bangladesh. The country was in the middle of a famine. I felt terrible. Here I was, teaching the elegant theories of economics in the classroom with all the enthusiasm of a brand-new Ph.D. from the United States. But I would walk out of the classroom and see skeletons all around me, people waiting to die.
I felt that whatever I had learned, whatever I was teaching, was all make-believe stories, with no meaning for people's lives. So I started tyring to find out how people lived in the village next door to the university campus. I awn ted to find out whether there was anything I could do as a human being to delay or stop the death, even for one single person. I abandoned the bird's-eye view that lets you see everything from above, from the sky. I assumed a worm's-eye view, trying to find whatever comes right in front of you--smell it, touch it, see if you can do something about it.
One particular incident took me in a new direction. I met a woman who was making bamboo stools. After a long discussion, I found out that she made only two U.S. pennies each day. I couldn't believe anybody could work so hard and make such beautiful bamboo stools yet make such a tiny amount of profit. She explained to me that because she didn't have the money to buy the bamboo to make the stools, she had to borrow from the trader--and the trader imposed the condition that she had to sell the product to him alone, at a price that he decided.
And that explains the two pennies--she was virtually in bonded labor to this person. And how much did the bamboo cost? She said, "Oh, about twenty cents. For a very good one twenty-five cents." I thought, "People suffer for twenty cents and there is nothing anyone can do about it?" I debated whether I should give her twenty cents, but then I came up with another idea--let me make a list of people who needed that kind of money. I took a student of mine and we went around the village for several days and came up with a list of fort-two such people. When I added up the total amount they needed, I got the biggest shock of my life: It added up to twenty-seven dollars! I felt ashamed of myself for being part of a society which could not provide even twenty-seven dollars to forty-two hard-working, skilled human beings.
To escape the shame, I took the money out of my pocket and gave it to my students. I said, "You take this money and give it to those forty-two people that we met and tell them this is a loan, but they can pay me back whenever they are able to. In the meantime, they can sell their products wherever they can get a good price."
After receiving the money, they were very excited. And seeing that excitement made me think, "What do I do now?" I thought of the bank branch which was located on the campus of the university, and I went to the manager and suggested that he lend money to the poor people that I had met in the village. He fell from the sky! He said, "You are crazy. It's impossible. How could we lend money to poor people? They are not creditworthy." I pleaded with him and said, "At least give it a try, find out--it's only a small amount of money." He said, "No. Our rules don't permit it. They cannot offer collateral, and such a tiny amount is not worth lending." He suggested that I see the high officials in the banking hierarchy in Bangladesh.
I took his advice and went to the people who matter in the banking section. Everybody told me the same thing. Finally, after several days of running around, I offered myself as a guarantor. "I'll guarantee the loan, I'll sign whatever they want me to sign, and they can give me the money and I'll give it to the people that I want to."
So that was the beginning. They warned me repeatedly that the poor people who receive the money will never pay it back. I said, "I'll take a chance." And the surprising thing was, they repaid me every penny. I got very excited and came to the manager and said, "Look, they pay back, there's no problem." But he said, "Oh, no, they're just fooling you. Soon they will take more money and never pay you back." So I gave them more money, and they paid me back. I told this to him, but he said, "Well, maybe you can do it in one village, but if you do it in two villages it won't work." And I hurriedly did it in two villages--and it worked.
So it became a kind of struggle between me and the bank manager and his colleagues in the highest positions. They kept saying that a larger number, five villages probably, will show it. So I did it in five villages, and it only showed that everybody paid back. Still they didn't give up. They said, "Ten villages. Fifty villages. One hundred villages. " And so it became a kind of contest between them and me. I came up with results they could not deny because it was their money I was giving, but they would not accept it because they are trained to believe that poor people are not reliable. Luckily, I was not trained that way, so I could believe whatever I was seeing, as it revealed itself. But the bankers' minds, their eyes were blinded by the knowledge they had.
Finally, I had the thought, Why am I trying to convince them? I am totally convinced that poor people can take money and pay it back. Why don't we set up a separate bank? That excited me, and I wrote down the proposal and went to the government to get the permission to set up a bank. It took me two years to convince the government. On October 2nd 1983, we became a bank--a formal, independent bank. And what excitement for all of us, now that we had our own bank and we could expand as we wished. And expand we did."
Grameen Bank now works in more than 46,000 villages in Bangladesh, through 1,2267 branches and over 12,000 staff members. They have lent more than $4.5 billion, in loans of twelve to fifteen dollars, averaging under $200. Each year they lend about half a billion dollars. They even lend to beggars to help them come out of begging and start selling. (The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey, pages 6-9, font color added).
Isn't that an amazing story? That's where micro-credit originated, and now it is practiced on a large scale with more and more institutions world-wide. This particular one, Kiva.org, just seems to have a really smooth set-up with a user-friendly interface that makes you feel connected to the entrepreneurs, and the lenders also, which I really like!
You can lend as little as $25! Yesterday when I was looking at this, I bemoaned the fact that I only have $15 personal money right now, and I don't have enough to do this. Joseph said, "I do." So we set him up, and he lent the $25 to a Bolivian woman by the last name of Mamani (as common in La Paz as Smith in the U.S.A.) so she could buy stucco and seed for her business.
Today when I looked on the website again, the second Entrepreneur that I looked at was this group of cholitas from El Alto, the first area I served in on my mission (pictured above in the right-hand column). I literally had to stop and put my face in my hands for a few minutes and weep, I was so overcome with emotion. I love these people. I don't even know who they are, except that they are from El Alto and have names like Mamani and Quispe, and need a loan to run their business. And I can help them, in partnership with people from all over the world, for as little as $25, which I am most likely to get back!
Man, I just can't hardly stand it, I'm so excited about this. There is also a "Lending Team" on this website that is Kiva Mormons. Check it out!!