Kiva is a non-profit organisation based in San Francisco that, thanks to micro financing, the internet, the global exchange rate, enables random folks across the world to loan funds directly to borrowers, to facilitate projects and alleviate poverty. Kiva collates all the loan applicants, and puts together a profile for each, so you, the donor, can pick someone out that you'd like to help. Instead of donating to a huge charitable organisation that has to funnel some of your money into bureaucracy and publicity, you can loan cash straight to someone who'll use it to improve their life.
And then they'll even pay you back.
For example, there's a dude in El Salvador who needs $400 he needs to buy two new bulls for his farm. He's got a repayment term of 14 months, the bank he's come through has a risk rating of three and a half stars, and if farming's your thing, you could add $50 to this guy's project.
If not that dude, why not the lady in Colombia who's started a shoe business, and has too many orders and not enough capital to fill them? A total loan of $575 will help her sustain her business, and you could spare $25. Or you could help a dude in Mongolia with the $1,100 he needs to finish building his house and installing a heating system.
The applicants are vetted by different financial institutions, and you can see who's repayed previous loans, and work out who you think might be a good bet. They've been sorted into categories like 'housing', 'youth', 'start-ups', etc. so you can pick out a project you're into. And then once they've repaid your loan, you can then funnel that cash back into other projects.
It's quite a different scene from the automatic-monthly-debits you sort out with other charities. I'm pretty keen to get started, though - I've got a spare $50, so I think I'll help a dude buy some bulls!