I wasn't going to write about this, but since it's the holiday season, I figured now would be a good time.
About a year ago, I came across Kiva.org, a microlending site. It's similar to Prosper.com in that it works by people lending money to other people. The difference is the other people are in third world countries and are taking small loans to help improve their situation by opening or expanding a business. Kiva charges no fees and 100% of the money you lend goes to the borrower. Like Prosper, you can search lists of people looking for loans and select the ones you want to lend to. But, and here's the reason I originally wasn't going to write about this, the lender (you or I) gets no interest. There is no return on investment for the lender other than the satisfaction of helping someone in another country improve their lot in life.
Kiva works by teaming with field partners in various countries who are the ones who actually fund the loans and collect payments. More information can be found here. The borrower does pay interest on the loan, but that is kept by the field partner.
As with Prosper, there are risks - namely that your loan won't be repaid. Additional risks involve currency exchange rates, political unrest, and all the other risks that come with investing in another country. But Kiva lets you start lending with as little as $25, which is what I've started with. If my loan defaults, I'm only out twenty five bucks. I can handle that. I've made one loan so far to a woman in San Salvador to expand her business of selling cosmetics and small household appliances. The loan was for 20 months and is 55% repaid. My sister-in-law has been lending through them for a couple of years and has made 3 or 4 loans so far.
If this sounds like something you are interested in, please check out Kiva.org. Have a happy holiday season!