Microcredit is the newest silver bullet for alleviating poverty. Wealthy philanthropists such as financier George Soros and eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar are pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to the microcredit movement. Global commercial banks, such as Citigroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, are establishing microfinance funds. Even people with just a few dollars to spare are going to microcredit Web sites and, with a click of the mouse, lending money to rice farmers in Ecuador and auto mechanics in Togo.
Wealthy philanthropists, banks, and online donors aren’t the only ones fascinated with microcredit. The United Nations designated 2005 as the International Year of Microcredit, explaining on its Web site that microentrepreneurs can use their small loans to “grow thriving business and, in turn, provide for their families, leading to strong and flourishing local economies.” The Nobel Committee awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, declaring that microcredit is “an ever more important instrument in the fight against poverty.”