Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New eBay site helps finance poor

Ebay, the world's largest online auctioneer, has launched a website that allows people to invest in loans that lift people out of poverty.
The website, called MicroPlace, acts as a broker between ordinary investors and microfinance organisations.
For as little as $100, US investors will be able to help entrepreneurs in poor countries, be they coffee sellers in Cambodia or hairdressers in Ghana.
The investments last between two and four years and offer a small return.
"We really wanted to make it accessible for small everyday investors," said Tracey Pettengill Turner, the founder and general manager of MicroPlace.

"You can earn a return on your investment and help the world's working poor," she said.

Business not charity

Microfinance is the supply of small, usually unsecured loans to poor households and small businesses in developing countries.

The rates of interest are usually quite high but allow access to credit in places where people cannot readily obtain bank loans.

Its role in helping people out of poverty was highlighted when microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel peace prize in 2006.

Ms Turner said MicroPlace vets the loan providers that appear on the site and said issuers have good track records and few defaults.

She said that microfinance honoured the hard-working nature of many poor people and borrowers preferred loans to donations.

"It puts them on an equal footing with business people not charity cases," she said.

The investments available offer investors a return of 1.5% to 3.0% a year

Ebay said it would reinvest any profits back in its own social initiatives.

For the time being, Ms Turner said only US residents will be able to make investments on the site via eBay's paypal service or through a regular bank account.

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