Inspired by an article in the The San Francisco Chronicle about a former Googler and later by Bill Clinton's latest book "Giving", I came across an organization called Kiva (www.kiva.org). Based in San Francisco (of course) they use the power of the web to connect small entrepreneurs who need microloans with people around the world who want to make loans as small as $25. In their own words:
Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.
I gave it a whirl. It was a breeze and in a few minutes I felt like an International Banker having extended two tiny, tiny loans to two entrepreneurs in Cambodia and Kenya.
Meet my entrepreneurs.