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Loans to Change Lives

This morning, correspondent John Larson profiled the Web site Kiva.org, which allows everyday people to make small loans ("microloans") to entrepreneurs in developing countries. WATCH VIDEOSusan Walsh/APBill Clinton will appear on TODAY on Wednesday todiscuss his new book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, which hits bookshelves on Sept. 4.I was first compelled to visit Kiva last weeken

This morning, correspondent John Larson profiled the Web site Kiva.org, which allows everyday people to make small loans ("microloans") to entrepreneurs in developing countries. WATCH VIDEO

Susan Walsh/AP

Bill Clinton will appear on TODAY on Wednesday to

discuss his new book, Giving: How Each of Us Can

Change the World, which hits bookshelves on Sept. 4.

I was first compelled to visit Kiva last weekend, while reading President Clinton's new book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (he's going to be on TODAY on Wednesday, so I was preparing to produce the segment). I was struck by the simplicity of Kiva but also its potential to impact lives in a meaningful way.

It's pretty simple. You go to kiva.org, look through a list of prescreened entrepreneurs who explain what their business is, how much money they need in loans and how they intend to use that money. If you decide you want to contribute to a particular business, you fill out a form to loan the entrepreneur a minimum of $25 and pay by credit card.

Kiva then takes over. They tranfer your money to a local partner near your chosen business. The partner then gets the money to the entrepreneur, who invests it in their business (often to buy stock, buy supplies or expand). Over the course of the next 12 months or so, the entrepreneur pays off the loan, and you get your money back.

After reading about Kiva in President Clinton's book, I went to the site and picked a few small businesses to support, including two medical clinics in Kenya, a blacksmith in Ecuador, a flower store in Cameroon, a grocery in Ivory Coast, and a grocery in Paraguay (five of the six entrepreneurs are women). Within 24 hours, I had already received a note that the grocer in Paraguay had received the loan.

If you're at all skeptical about whether small loans like this can make a difference, I suggest you read about Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, and read his story. He won the Nobel Peace Prize last year and has helped revolutionize the use of credit in the developing world.

Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever for us to help people in parts of the world we never dreamed we'd touch. All we have to do is take the time to do it.