Kiva: Peer-to-peer micro-lending
Kiva is a remarkable application of the peer-to-peer possibilities of the internet. If you've paid attention to the Democratic presidential primaries this season or the last, you know that the big shift in campaign financing is the enormous about of money raised from small donors via the internet. That technique allowed Howard Dean to threaten the party establishment a little last time around, and it has allowed Barack Obama to wage an unprecedented campaign against a candidate considered a sure bet in the early days of the race.
Now, this was interesting, and some would argue will have a positive influence on American democracy as we know it. Maybe so. What I find far more interesting though is the revealed power of pooling together meaningful sums of money from anywhere and doing anything with it. If we can give an insurgent candidate a winning campaign war chest, then we can equally well give fledgling entrepreneurs start-up capital, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In certain ways, this is more radical than anything we'd see in an American election cycle. We're not just creating decentralized revenue stream. We're cutting out banks from the lending equation. We could slowly replace global lenders governed by entrenched elites with a million small investors, each giving $25 or $50 or $100 at a time for small loans across the globe.
Kiva is officially nonprofit, registered in California as a 501c3, and no lender can make a profit from their loans. Kiva itself is funded by voluntary donations made in addition to the micro-loans. There has been some good criticism of the micro-lending approach to development, but I think it's worth considering as an easy option for truly helping people across the world.