The £15 gift voucher that can lend a hand

Simon Read looks at an alternative Christmas gift that could help a small business abroad

A loan to an entrepreneur in the developing world could make an ideal alternative gift this Christmas, according to The Co-operative and Care International UK. Not only does the recipient get the thrill of choosing who they want to help, they can also get their money back to keep or lend to another small business overseas.

The concept is simple. Visitors to lendwithcare.org can view the profiles of entrepreneurs from Togo, Benin, the Philippines Cambodia and Bosnia, and choose which business they'd like to support.

They can invest towards the total needed, lending from £15 up to the full amount, and will be able to follow the progress of the entrepreneur's growing business, to see how their new source of income is helping to improve many aspects of their lives. The loan is repaid to the lender over an agreed repayment schedule (usually a period of six to 12 months) and when the repaid loan is credited to the lender's account, they can choose to withdraw the money, donate it to Care, or put it into another loan.

The loans can be given as a £15 gift voucher to a friend or loved one, who can choose for themselves which entrepreneur they would like to support.

Thousands of loans have already been made via the website and The Co-operative and Care have set a joint target to leverage £1.5m of loans by the end of 2012.

It may be a farmer in Cambodia who is seeking a loan to buy seeds, or a shopkeeper in Togo looking for funds to buy new supplies – enabling them to trade their own way out of poverty.

The scheme has recently been extended to include Bosnia, where it is helping many women affected by war to make a living for themselves.

Paul Monaghan, head of social goals at The Co-operative, said: "The idea of giving gifts that benefit the developing world is now well established, but the big advantage of this scheme is that the loan is eventually repaid so the recipient can still get the money."

Monaghan adds: "Around three-quarters of the entrepreneurs receiving loans are women and so we think these loan vouchers will prove to be a popular gift for female relatives and friends."

Head of Lend With Care, Tracey Horner, said: "We're so pleased to offer people the chance to give the gift of opportunity this Christmas.

"For less than the cost of a Christmas jumper, it is possible to change a life. We think that is the best value gift that's available."

The gift vouchers are available in a range of designs which can be sent through email or downloaded and printed and handed over to the recipient, and start from £15.

They can be bought at www.lendwithcare.org/gift_vouchers

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