If you haven't yet heard about Kiva, it's an organization that facilitates micro-loans, loans of relatively small amounts of money for entrepreneurs and business owners in developing countries to start or improve their businesses. Kiva acts as a sort of middleman in the loan process by 1) providing a website for investors/donors to contribute online, 2) coordinating with over a hundred "field partners" around the world, and 3) vetting the potential loan recipients through the Kiva Fellows Program. The field partners are microfinance institutions, essentially local banks that lend money to the working poor, and Kiva Fellows are people who volunteer to work with these institutions to verify information on potential loan recipients, "facilitate connections between Kiva's borrowers and lenders," and blog about their experiences.
Here's a neat video that walks you through the Kiva loan process from beginning to end.
Back in December I signed up for a Kiva account and loaned $25 to five women in the Dominican Republic who run a beauty parlor out of their home. They needed $600 to purchase supplies, and will pay it back over six months (the first payment is due on February 15, 2009.) There's no interest charged, and after my loan is repaid I can either withdraw the money or re-loan it to someone else. I can also keep up with how they're doing in the My Portfolio section of my account on kiva.org, which tracks all of the people or groups I've loaned money to (currently just one).
It's a pretty neat setup, and Kiva has gotten rave reviews from a ton of publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, and CNN. Not bad for 25 bucks.