Not too long ago, Barbara Swenson wrote a piece, Making a Difference in the World, on Kiva.org and micro-loans. This is a great program, and it is worth noting that one of the first organizations was founded by a now-Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Grameen Bank is very similar to Kiva.org in that it allows regular people to make micro-loans to the poor of the world.
In many of the poverty-stricken nations of the world, the interest rates charged are so outrageous that loans are unaffordable, even though many of the world’s poor need very little in terms of U.S. dollars to get started. Micro-loans made by you can actually help the poverty-stricken. The interest on these loans is much lower than the predatory interest charged by lenders, and the pay-back rate is very high. So, if you are looking for an investment that does some good, think about micro-loans. You’ll make money AND help someone less fortunate than yourself.