We've mentioned microlending site Kiva before as an example of the new sharing economy and how one tweet can change the world. And I'd been curious about the site's operations--just never quite curious enough to make a donation, until today.
Kiva is offering 4,000 people a "free trial," so to speak. You get $25 to donate to the Kiva recipient of your choice. Kiva makes the $25 donation, but they also get the returns when the loan is repaid. So what you're getting for free is a chance to try the system firsthand, and if Kiva is lucky, you'll be convinced to come back with your own money.
If you're not familiar with the site, Kiva lets anyone make small loans to small businesses and students around the world. The loans are conducted through microfinance partners, which it calls Field Partners, who find the people in need of loans. Kiva does not charge interest, but these Field Partners do, although Kiva insists that they be fair rates. (The definition of "fair," however, has occasionally been disputed.) Over six years, Kiva has been the middleman for more than $200 million in loans, which have a repayment rate of 98.65%.
Kiva is not without its critics, but few charities are. This is your chance to get a feel for the service and decide for yourself.
Ready to lend for free? Give it a try, and let us know how it goes. (Forgive me for the personal referral link, but there doesn't seem to be any other way to link people in to the trial other than these personally spread links.) But you'd better look quickly--it's open to only the first 4,000 new users.
Update (August 2, 2011): In response to demand generated by this offer, Kiva has made it available to 4,000 additional users.