There are many places in which to make a meaningful, positive and incremental contribution to formative economies. Here are some of my favorite end points and intermediaries
Kiva is one of the original microloan markets. For as little as $25, you can participate directly in financing a seamstress in the Ukraine or building a food stall in Uganda. I’ve loaned out almost $1,000 over the course of about two years, losing only a few dollars to default and currency translation. That’s a turnover of more than 300%, putting each of my dollars to work for more than three different recipients. Kiva does gift certificates for that kid who has everything.
The Microfinance Information Exchange is a non-profit that provides transparency into the microfinance markets from field organizations that disburse money and collect payments to the organizations that aggregate their demand. Much of their data is free, allowing you to build a better understanding of demand, supply and velocity in “unbanked” parts of the world. Disclosure: I’m a MIX Board Member, but am not compensated for my involvement with them.
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in northern Rwanda solves some of the general health issues by giving orphans of the Rwandan genocide a family life. Modeled after a system that worked in Israel to give a home life to orphans of the Holocaust and Israeli conflicts, it was started by Manhattan lawyer Anne Heyman and currently houses about 250 orphans. You can send money, or you can volunteer for a 10 day stint teaching, working in construction or helping with other infrastructure projects.
Architecture For Humanity is Cameron Sinclair’s project that combines open source architecture work, crowdsourcing and local expertise in sustainable materials. Cameron won a TED Prize in 2006 and his book Design Like You Give A Damn should be required reading. Disclaimer: I worked with Cameron while at Sun Microsystems, helping design the infrastructure for his Open Architecture Network. You can sponsor a designer, a project, or other efforts that all help alleviate those pressures forcing individuals away from economic participation.
Wikimedia Foundation Yes, Wikimedia. They play right into the education, information and access barriers to capital formation, by eliminating a digital divide of primary importance. WIkipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world, and probably number one in terms of the social good that comes from it. Disclaimer: The Wikimedia Foundation has, at various times, done business with my employer(s).
The Omidyar Network, the latest effort of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and their investment philosphies center around providing access to capital and information. They fund a variety of small and large scale projects, from the MIX to Kiva to the WIkimedia Foundation.