More than a month ago there was an article posted at On Philanthropy about the possibility of social networks changing the face of philanthropy. While the piece discussed a number of new websites and technologies it was readily apparent that one of them, Kiva.org, offers some significant potential for supporting rural entrepreneurship here in the United States.
The purpose of Kiva.org is to connect investors all over the world with entrepreneurs in developing countries that need capital to finance their operations. Kiva.org views investors from the viewpoint of micro-finance -- these are not investment capital groups and bankers, Kiva.org is looking for average folks with a credit card and an interest in helping others. This sort of financing from halfway around the world requires a great deal of trust but the website helps investors maintain faith in their investment by having entrepreneurs post regular updates about the progress of their venture. Not a perfect system to be sure but one that opens the doors to possibility to new businesses everywhere.
What micro-finance groups like Kiva.org (Unitus.com is another such organization) are doing is generating a revolution for entrepreneurs worldwide by creating a marketplace for their ideas and ventures. It seems that something like this could certainly be possible for projects developed here in the United States, it could be a whole new way of generating new possibilities for communities that otherwise might have limited options.
To get a better idea of how micro-financiers like Kiva work here are a few stories about people who have invested through them. Will Nathan of Charlotte, NC has invested widely despite being only 23 years of age, Carol Pucci of the Seattle Times loaned money to gypsies before traveling to Eastern Europe, and Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times invested in a venture in Afghanistan. Reading about each of their experiences will give you a better idea of what's involved in investing and how the process benefits the recipients.