Frontline's Kiva.

I just saw a 15-minute special on Frontline that blew me away. An organization, based in San Francisco, called Kiva (site is currently overloaded), had the absolutely brilliant idea of allowing individual Americans to provide micro-credit loans to individuals in developing countries who have expanding businesses.
One man who was interviewed on the program said he could, in a small way, be much like the Gates or Rockefeller Founations. If his lendees paid the money back, which they typically do, he could then reinvest the money in another business. With grantees able to reach computers in their communities, “progress reports” are more like personal correspondence as account managers on the ground handle the day-to-day administration.
I saw the effects of Grameen Bank style lending when I was in South Africa ten years ago when i worked at the Rockefeller Foundation. (Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi that founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 just won the Nobel Peace Prize.) The country was just about 4/5 of the way through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and blacks had finally, finally won some freedoms after apartheid; mostly, those freedoms were political – rarely economic. We visited a slum in Johannesburg that was filled with people, all working away at whatever they could – selling sodas, fixing tires, building houses. One business was raising chickens to provide eggs to the town and there was a largish building housing thousands of chicks; the building was paid for, in part, by micro-credit. I saw, with my own eyes, the power of micro-lending: people gained financial leverage, social clout, self-confidence, better cash flow, and technical skills to manage their funds (all of which, interestingly, I could myself use).
I wish I had invented Kiva. Congratulations, Kiva.