STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And here's a development, or a banking innovation anyway, for the developing world that's now catching on in the United States. It's a micro-financing Web site called Kiva.org. It let's Americans make loans to struggling entrepreneurs across the globe.
Recently the Web site extended its service to American small businesses who've been having a hard time getting credit.
NPR's Charla Bear reports on one of those businesses.
CHARLA BEAR: Tannis Lee Harrison stands on her tip toes to reach the top shelf of a client's laundry closet.
(Soundbite of splashing water)
BEAR: She's ready to scour filthy corners with her homemade cleaning solution and acrylic nails. Yet even after three years of owning a housekeeping business, she wasn't prepared for this mess.
Ms. TANNIS LEE HARRISON (Housekeeper): Oh my god. Oh my god. This is not - this isn't even funny.
BEAR: Harrison never thought she'd be a cleaner. The 47-year-old was desperate when her husband's notary work dried up. Her family of three was barely getting by in East Palo Alto, California.
Ms. HARRISON: That's when I called a friend of mine and said, do you know anyone who needs anything done, because I really need to - we're going to lose the house.
So she said, well, my mom - my mom's in Stockton, if you don't mind going there. And I said, sure. Found out later Stockton's like three hours away.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BEAR: Harrison says the work poured in. She had to hire an employee, buy heavy duty vacuums, and find extra storage. But she couldn't get a loan or even a credit card. She'd emigrated from Canada and didn't have a credit history in the U.S.
Ms. HARRISON: I did try to get credit through places like Wal-Mart or something like that. I didn't get it from there, I didn't get it from the bank because my Social Security number is so young. I have no credit, there's nothing there.
BEAR: Then she heard about loans on the Kiva Web site. The site connects small business owners who need cash with Internet users who want to open their wallets. The potential investor can loan as little as $25. Within a single day, nearly 80 people fulfilled Harrison's $2,000 request.
Ms. HARRISON: It's another growth spurt for me — a very personal thing to me. I think I'm going to tear up.
BEAR: Micro-loans typically have low interest rates and easy payback terms. Harrison will pay hers off in $100 monthly installments. Kiva just recently made these loans an option for U.S. borrowers. The San Francisco-based organization thought it might help the economy in its own backyard.
Mr. PREMAL SHAH (President, Kiva): We know that small businesses are kind of the cornerstone of the economy. It's a real growth driver of the U.S.
BEAR: That's Premal Shah. He's the president of Kiva.
Mr. SHAH: Even before the credit crunch, small business loans were hard. Post credit crunch, it's really, really hard. Kiva really started thinking about, wow, you know, we're allowing people in the developing world to be able to request loans, why not un-crunch America and, you know, let people here in the U.S. request loans and see if the Internet community wants to fund them on Kiva.
BEAR: A small number of lenders protested the decision. Tom Behan was one of them. He says Kiva's mission is to alleviate poverty, so it should disregard the U.S., since it's the richest country in the world.
Mr. TOM BEHAN: There are over two billion people in the world who live in extreme poverty. Poverty is, as defined by the U.N., trying to get by on less than $2 a day. And it also means they don't have access to basic necessities that we do here in the U.S., like free education, free health care if you need it, and the services of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of social and religious and nonprofit groups that are dealing with every kind of need.
BEAR: Behan and other unhappy lenders are switching to a different organization. That won't change Kiva's course. According to Premal Shah, Kiva has attracted more money since U.S. loans began, and he says that's good for entrepreneurs all over the world.
Charla Bear, NPR News.
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