Kiva (via The Sharpener) is a nice little idea. It’s a microcredit brokering site, which allows anyone in the developed world to make small-scale loans to those in the developing world. Thanks to the Internet and PayPal, you’re able to make small loans in the tens or hundreds of dollars to people who want them. Though touted as peer-to-peer it’s not strictly thus (Kiva acts as a central clearing house), and no doubt you could waffle on about flat earth and the long tail and all the other buzzwords of late, but too much theoretical window-dressing would obscure the good idea that operates behind it.
There’s still the odd wrinkle, with no collateral it’s not clear exactly how loans are guaranteed (interesting aside – “on the ground” microcredit firms use social capital as collateral) and as the volume of traffic increases, it is hard to see if they can keep up the same level of scrutiny (especially after the Daily Kos mentioned them). I hope they have plans for how to maintain the long-term viability of the project. But still, it’s not a simple anonymous handout that passes through levels of bureaucracy. With it being a loan that has to be repaid, but on more generous terms than banks or local loan sharks offer, it encourages work and entrepreneurial spirit without bleeding peoply dry. The personal connection between lender and borrower adds a nice human dimension and an incentive for the lender to take a long-term interest in the welfare of their debtors. If it’s managed well, it could be the start of something big.