Lately, I’ve been playing computer games with my 7-year-old daughter that are designed to teach kids financial responsibility. The two games we’ve played so far – Planet Orange and The Great Piggy Bank Adventure – do a good job of teaching kids about the importance of personal savings and investing, but they don’t do an adequate job of explaining the value of charitable donations, which are really a way of investing in the long-term general welfare of the planet.
I sat Jane down with me and fired up Kiva.org, a foundation that makes it easy (and fun) to lend money in $25 increments to third world entrepreneurs who are starting up or maintaining small business. A visit to the site shows photos of hundreds and hundreds of different business owners living in developing nations, along with descriptions of the businesses they hope to grow. By looking at the photos and descriptions on the site, Jane was able to get a glimpse of life in other countries, and to find out how people earned their livings in many parts of the world: raising small herds of cattle, weaving rugs, growing crops, sewing clothes, and so on. She wanted to hand out $25 loans to everyone. In the end, we picked out four individuals from Africa and the Middle East.
Once the people we invested in pay back their loans (and my experience with Kiva.org has shown that they always do) we can re-lend that money out to a new group of entrepreneurs.
Also consider giving your kids (and others) a kiva.org gift card, which they can use to lend money to an ambitious third world business person. You’ll enjoy giving it, your child will enjoy lending the money, and the recipient will put that $25 to work in ways that will amaze everyone.