Once in a while the internet really does challenge our view of the world, becoming something more than just of way of looking up old friends from high school, checking the weather, and ordering things we don't really need. (Just this morning, I bought online two books, a collar for my cat, and a pet fountain for the water-deprived little princess as well.)
A few months ago, the NY Times did a story about a website called kiva.org that arranges interest-free microloans to entrepreneurs and small businesses around the world, many in countries that don't have institutionalized and supportive lending practices. What this means is that ordinary people with a bit of disposable income can make loans to people anywhere in the world, allowing impoverished people who otherwise would not be able to start or sustain their business access to non-predatory credit. Ordinary citizens can now band together by loaning often trivial amounts of money and help somebody in Sierra Leonne who wishes to invest in his small pharmacy and thus bring needed medicine to his community, or a Bolivian father of three wishing to start an auto-repair business to support his family. Over the course of the loan, you can track the recipient's progress and once the loans are repaid (they have a very high repayment rate), you are notified by Kiva and can either withdraw your money or redistribute it to others in need.
Beyond charitable-gift giving, Kiva offers a vision, one of ordinary citizens bucking the monetary systems of the globe and lending one another a hand, with very little organizational overhead. Part of the reason we live in a world of such horrible inequities of wealth is due to corruption and corporate control of the marketplace, which puts emphasis on quantity and global markets over community. Kiva and the micro-lending movement that the internet is now making possible has the potential to impact this.