It's Kiva, a site that provides loans to the working poor. Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. Kiva is a Swahili word meaning "unity."
You can choose someone who is requesting a loan on Kiva.org and "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor reach for economic independence.
The loans run about 6-12 months and you can receive email updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.
I don't know if this is a good project for a class or school group to do, but it's an interesting economics and flat world model to at least explore with a class. It's "microfinance" and I know there are other examples online of providing financial services to the poor in developing countries. Your small, short-term "microloans" goes to poor entrepreneurs who don't otherwise have access to capital. Maybe a student council or student government association could enroll.
Kiva follows the principal that teaching a man to fish is better than simply giving him fish. Recipients "already know how to fish, they just need a loan so they can buy a net," says Fiona Ramsey, spokeswoman for microloan facilitator Kiva. Through Kiva, people can loan sums as small as $25 to individual entrepreneurs they select on kiva.org. Kiva works with local microfinance institutions that screen all applicants and it says the default rate has been only 0.2%. Interest goes to support those microfinance groups rather than to the lenders.
Here's a sample from their site: Name: Santa Javier Doñe, Location: Sabana Grande de Boya Community of Yamasa, Dominican Republic Primary Activity: Clothing Sales; Loan Requested: $300 Repayment Term: 6 months - repaid monthly Loan Use: Purchase of new clothing products in bulk Posted: Nov 21, 2007 "Santa is twenty-eight years old, and she and her husband have two young girls, ages five and seven. Santa has recently begun selling women’s clothing and fashionable shoes to members of her community. Santa plans to use her loan to buy more clothing at bulk rates, improving her profit margin and limiting the number of trips she will have to make to purchase the clothing she sells outside of her community. Santa envisions her business becoming a “grand store” with a large selection of chic attire. She explains that the income from her business will help support her studies at the local university and help her to safeguard her children’s health."
Yo don't have to loan the entire $300 either. You can $25 dollars to the total. It's not "charity." In fact, loans made through Kiva are not tax-deductible because they aren't a charitable contribution. When a loan is repaid, the money can be either withdrawn or lent out again. You can even purchase "certifs"">gift certificates" and let others select loans. They start at $25
I know that this is the start of the season for giving and the season for people asking you to give.
I sent out my donation last week to The Smile Train. It's a charity I feel confident in because I've done some reading about them and 100% of your donation goes towards programs that help children and 0% goes to overhead.
My donation is enough to pay for a cleft surgery which is a modern-day medical miracle. It's a surgery that would probably cost at least ten times that here in the U.S. and most people I know (including me) wouldn't hesitate a second to pay for it if it was our child. I'm sure the child who ends up getting the surgery from my donation will get a new smile and possibly a new life.
I posted this on my Serendipity35 eduction+tech blog too which has a pretty good number of visitors from outside the United States who don't celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, but I'm sure you have some comparable day. I hope that you can spend it surrounded by family and loved ones.