Magazine article New York Times Upfront

You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor: Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof on Fighting Poverty in the Developing World with a Click of Your Mouse

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor: Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof on Fighting Poverty in the Developing World with a Click of Your Mouse

Article excerpt

One of the most popular ideas in the war against

poverty is microlending-making small loans to poor people to start businesses and build a better life.

That's what I did recently. From my laptop in New York, I lent $25 each to a TV repairman and a baker in Afghanistan, and to a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic.

I did this at Kiva.org, which provides information about entrepreneurs in poor countries--their photos, loan proposals, and credit history--and allows people to make direct loans to them.

You can browse, find a borrower who interests you, and then make a loan of $25 or more. These small loans are almost always repaid.

I recently visited two of my new business partners in Afghanistan.

On a muddy street in the capital of Kabul, Abdul Satar, a bushy-bearded man of 64, sat in the window of his bakery selling loaves of bread for 12 cents each. He was astonished when I introduced myself as his banker. He then paid me "interest" in the form of bread. It was delicious.

Abdul Satar borrowed $425 from a variety of Lenders on Kiva, who besides me included Nathan in San Francisco; Cindy in Houston, and "Emily's family" in Santa Barbara, Calif.

With the loan, he opened a second bakery nearby, with four employees. Now, when Abdul Satar buys flour and firewood, he benefits from economies of scale. (As production increases, the cost of producing each Loaf of bread falls. …

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