Loans that change lives

Numerous things to write about – Christmas Day on the Cornish cliffs with Beloved Other Half, dashing across Heathrow Airport in the rain to meet Ali before her flight to LA, good books by Gordon Ramsay and Monty Don to review – but they can wait for another day.

Instead, here's a really easy way to make a difference to the lives of people in developing countries. It's not charity – all being well, you get your money back – and you can cough up as little as $25, which is not much more than a tenner for those of us on this side of the pond.

I came across Kiva on Heck's Kitchen, where Jenny Miller and her housemates have evidently been spreading their dollars around to good effect. What Kiva does is simple: it acts as one central partner for a whole raft of microfinance organisations around the globe, making it easy for the likes of you and me to send small sums of money via PayPal to help fund small businesses in cash-poor parts of the world.

You can choose to send your $25 (or more – I've loaned $300) to Ugandan seamstresses, Azeri taxi drivers, Ecuadorean farmers or electricians in the Gaza Strip. Other people around the world also chip in, and when the requested sum is raised the money is passed to the borrower. The microfinance organisation supervises the repayments. You don't get interest, but you do get a warm rosy glow.

I've split my fee for a day's work, more or less, between three African businesses:

  • Justina Azamachi in Ghana sells frozen food to an established customer base, but lacks storage facilities to expand.
  • Joseph Onyango in Kenya is a dressmaker with a large family, including a badly disabled son, to support. He has a full order book, but needs to invest in stock and equipment.
  • Denise Tidatoa in Togo supports her family selling basic goods such as canned food and soap. She plans to lease a shop and increase her stock.

They seem such small ambitions when you look at the details – help with buying a sewing machine, a deep freezer, or some pasta – but at the same time they're huge. They represent an income, schooling or medical treatment for a family, independence.

They also represent an investment in the future of the countries involved. Bulgaria joined the EU a few days ago and the newspapers over here were full of dire predictions about how the UK would be swamped by swarthy economic migrants. Well, through Kiva, you can finance Bulgarian shopkeepers, printers, tradesmen and farmers who are trying to make a go of it in their home country. Repayments from businesses in Gaza have been a bit erratic recently, for obvious reasons, but surely the future in that troubled part of the world must in part depend on the establishment of a viable economy? And so it goes on, around the globe.

As schemes go, this one strikes me as a really good investment – of time (it's quick and easy) and of money too.