In the last few days I have come across two interesting sites that use the concept of crowdsourced loans to help people.
The first was Zopa which is used by people in the UK to lend money to other people in the UK. You specify your terms (e.g. I will lend 50 pounds for 4 months at 11%), then you as a user can apply for a loan, and shop around for the amount, length and interest rate. I think you can also get a loan aggregated across multiple people, and you get the aggregate interest rate. It is a pretty cool concept, because it removes the middleman no one likes (the banks), and provides anyone with the opportunity to be a loan shark without the baseball bat, and with the profit.
The second site I came across is slanted towards development loans, Kiva which allows anyone to lend money towards a person in a developing country (to buy more stock for their shop, or to make a vegetable garden). It also cuts out the middleman ("development" banks), and the results are tangible, and you "meet" the person online. I don't know what the repayment rates are etc. I really believe development loans (in the right form) are the best way to facilitate development. For me, donations do not have enough weight to encourage a person to flourish (people flourish when constrained in some manner), and strict loans hang over people's heads like a dark cloud, forcing people to run away if their idea is not a success. I suppose they should change the name from loan to Development oriented venture capital.