Last May, I loaned four women $25 each through Kiva, a peer-to-peer (through intermediaries) microlending nonprofit. Though batched loans -- in the hundreds of dollars; none huge by Western standards -- these entrepreneurs were able to develop their businesses, improving their own lot and their communities.
In the meantime, Oprah and other celebs found out about Kiva and made it huge. Indeed, at points there were more lenders than borrowers. But I cared more about the little messages noting the borrowers were repaying their loans, suggesting at the very least they weren't faltering. (More forthright status updates weren't part of the bargain.)
The borrowers repaid their loans at different rates, releasing my capitol for reinvestment, which I did. (Or I could have withdrawn it.)
The milestone, reached over the weekend, is the last of my four original borrowers retired her loan. So the next group are working on their businesses and I don't see a reason -- apart from massive defaults -- this cannot continue.
In the future, it is conceivable persons in the developing world could themselves be lenders to others in distant countries. And of course, the current work only touches a tiny sliver of the people who could benefit from peer-to-peer help.
But I think it terribly encouraging what a relatively decentralized group of people can do for one another. A lesson, perhaps above all others, about what is possible today.