In a poor Kenyan neighborhood, Samuel Muregi Wanjiku can buy more maize meal for his retailing operation today, thanks to a senior-class project at Wheaton Academy in Wheaton, Ill.

During the 2009 spring semester, a student leadership group organized a "Badminton for Kenya" tournament and other fundraisers. They netted over $14,000 for loans to Wanjiku and dozens of other African entrepreneurs.

The Christian school donated the funds through OptINnow, a micro-lending site started last year by Opportunity International (OI). The Christian non-profit specializes in small loans (average for first-time borrowers: $181) to business owners in 28 nations.

OptINnow's existence demonstrates the "Kiva effect"—the impact created by Kiva.org, the four-year-old, Internet-based lender.

Kiva, established in 2005, has democratized microfinance with credit-card-fueled donations of $25 to $200. The San Francisco-based organization popularized the concept of peer-to-peer loans by posting stories of entrepreneurs, a high-tech version of child sponsorship first used by Save the Children.

Founded by Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery, Kiva took off after a 2007 endorsement from former President Bill Clinton on Oprah. By the end of 2009, Kiva expects to have loaned a total of $110 million through field partners in 49 countries.

Though Kiva is not a Christian-based organization, Flannery said his faith and childhood experiences of service had a major impact on his desire to start the project. Flannery and Jackley met at the 2000 National Prayer Breakfast and coordinated their first loans through a pastor in Uganda. (Jackley now sits on OI's board of directors.)

Not only did Kiva stimulate OptINnow but also a site recently launched by World Vision. ...

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