A couple of weeks ago, I flew via Southwest Airlines to Dallas for a job interview with a charitable foundation. It was my first trip on Southwest and I liked it. One thing I noticed was that there wasn't the sense of stress and anxiety at the Southwest gate that I typically associate with air travel. People were pretty relaxed, even friendly (looking you in the eye, making little jokes, discussing how the three lines for boarding work). On board, an unusually extroverted flight attendant gave a very enthusiastic rendition of the safety features. The oxygen masks that deploy if the cabin loses pressure were said to be "never anticipated but always appreciated," which I found funny.
I did not get the job, but I had a nice time talking with the people at this foundation about new strategies for nonprofit and philanthropic agencies. One thing we talked about was international microfinance. A website called Kiva.Org is doing something really interesting.
Kiva is an American nonprofit agency that arranges loans to small business entrepreneurs in developing countries. Rather than donate to an aid organization, you loan money to an individual business person. For instance, you can give to a Mexican woman who will use the money to buy supplies for her cosmetics and perfumes business. You can also invest in a grocery store belonging to a man in Azerbaijan.
Money given through Kiva.org are not donations; they're loans made with an expectation of repayment. Kiva's Field Partners vet the loan applications and report on repayment rates. I think there's also some kind of communication between the loan recipient and the lender.