I just realised that Kiva wasn't among my blog tags. It should be. It's a US-based organisation that allows you to contribute to small loans made by microcredit institutions across the world. It allows people who don't normally have access to credit to develop businesses or personal opportunities that can change their lives.
Some people are worried by microcredit because the institutions that arrange loans and collect the repayments make a profit from doing so. To me, so long as the lending terms are fair and not usurious, I have no problem with that at all. It's all part of the development of an entrepreneurial business culture, and I think it should be applauded.
The process is fairly simple. The lending screens enable you to see the headlines of (usually) the thousand or so loans that are currently fund-raising, and filter them or order them by country, duration, purpose, male/female, individual or group, and so on. Then click through to see full details and make a loan. You can fund your account through PayPal which in turn can be funded from a debit or credit card, or a bank account. The minimum loan amount is USD 25.00, about GBP 15.77 at current rates, less than a few beers at my local pub.
When you make a loan, the process allows you to make a donation to Kiva's running costs. This is deductible in some way that I don't understand for US taxpayers, but there's no Gift Aid deduction for UK taxpayers and so I decline the opportunity. When I eventually stop doing this, I'll simply donate my whole balance instead.
My experience has been pretty good. Two loans out of 79 so far have ended with a loss, one of USD8.70 when the borrower defaulted, and the other a currency exchange loss of USD0.10. Two more are delinquent, very late with payments but both have paid back more than 80% of their loans.
I don't know of any equivalent that's Gift Aid-efficient in the UK, but I'd recommend this as a relatively low cost way to make a real difference to people that are doing their best to improve their lives and the prospects for their families. Here's a personal invitation link.