Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank has made its first loans in New York in an attempt to bring its pioneering microfinance techniques to the tens of millions of people in the world’s richest country who have no bank account.
It's not that far-fetched. Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his innovative micro-financing in the third world. Basically his Grameen Bank makes incredibly small loans, mostly to poor women. I think that changing someone's life for the better by loaning them twelve bucks is absolutely amazing, but that's about what happens - if you need $12 worth of capital equipment to start something like a brick-making business so you can support your family, there was hitherto no place to get it, so you stayed poor.
Try borrowing twelve bucks from a conventional bank if you don't have twelve bucks worth of collateral. They don't want to screw around with chump change like that anyway. They're in business to make money by the carload, not the pocket full, and they're certainly not in business to help the little guy improve his (or more likely her) life. They're more likely to loan a company $100,000,000 if the CEO has shown a good regard for the bottom line by laying off a thousand workers.
I think microcredit has a good shot at helping folks here too. Twelve bucks won't get you off the block here, but a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to someone with ideas but no chance of obtaining a conventional loan could make all the difference in the world.