People often refer to the academic study of politics as if it is somehow not the "real world." Maybe, although most academics would argue that the theoretical issues and policy applications we study are critical for actually making policy.
But the Politics and Government Department here at the University of Puget Sound is doing its best to keep our study of politics connected to the real world. To that end, we have begun working with Kiva. Kiva is a microcredit organization that matches up individual donors with people in the developing world who need small amounts of cash to start their own businesses. Several donors contribute to make up one loan package, typically amounting to around $1000, which the recipients pay back over time on a manageable schedule. The interest charged goes to maintain the program, and the donors get their original seed money back, which can then be reinvested. To date, Kiva boasts a repayment rate of over 99%. My department is currently contributing to Sorn Sophea in Cambodia who got $1000 to open her own tailoring business.
A quick peek at Kiva's business-in-need page reveals an interesting mix: Lots of women, lots of Iraqis...lots of people trying to get up on their own feet and provide for their families. Microcredit is one of the best ideas in development, as evidenced by the last Nobel Peace Prize going to Muhammed Yunis and the Grameen Bank, one of the pioneers in microcredit lending who has probably done more to end poverty and encourage development than all the government organizations combined.
I would encourage any of Security Dilemmas readers to get involved with Kiva. Make a loan, change someone's life!!!
UPDATE: I decided to take it one step farther, and became a Kiva lender on my own. I lent $25 to Dung Truong Thi of Ham Thuan Nam, Viet Nam so she can expand her pig business to care for her family. It looks like Dung is now fully funded, so let's hope her business flourishes!!