The Web personalizes microfinance... is that a good thing?
An interesting meditation from Salon's very cool Andrew Leonard on e-microfinance website Kiva.org. As Leonard aptly analogizes, it's like online dating meets investment banking for the poor: You choose someone from a long list of profiles, ranging from widows in Togo to small businessmen in Ecuador, to give a tiny loan to.
Leonard draws out a beautiful, and revolutionary, picture of women in Bangaldesh trouping to the Internet cafe to tweak their profiles to best attract some California yuppie who frequents the site. But he's bothered by the fact that only the most interesting (or datable) poor might get his money. It's true that one of the benefits of capitalism is that you don't have to like the person who bakes your bread, just the bread itself.
But it's also true that salesmanship (the baker with the slickest marketing campaign, say, or the most beautiful shop) gets rewarded. So is it so terrible that the savviest poor might get a few extra dollars? Perhaps not -- so long as the un-savvy are also getting help. That's the real point of all this, isn't it?
www.kiva.org works wonders, I've tried it for at least a year. Very satisfying to loan someone 25 bucks and have them email you a note as to how they are doing, and repay you.
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