Last year I lent $25 to a woman in Peru so that she could buy a cow. Cows, of course, cost a lot more than that but I wasn’t the only one contributing—Alex from New York pitched in, as did Ivan from Zagreb, along with 16 other people. None of us have ever met; we all heard about the cow and lent the money through the website Kiva.
Kiva, which is four years old today, bills itself as “the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website.” In partnership with existing microcredit institutions, it posts profiles of people in the developing world seeking small loans. Anyone can browse the profiles, narrowing them down by country, gender, business sector and so on, and then choose an amount of money to lend. Photos of the borrowers—Kiva calls them all entrepreneurs—give the process a