A loan program that offers small, short-term loans to help people become self-employed. Also: micro-credit, micro credit.
Microcredit got its start in Bangladesh in 1976, when Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor, gave a $27 loan to a small group of women in a local village without demanding collateral. The women defied expectations by repaying the loan, developing a sustainable business, starting savings accounts, and helping this simple economic model expand to millions of borrowers worldwide.
Renee Loth, "Women Entrepreneurs," The Boston Globe, July 2, 2002
Then Villalobos stumbled onto an age-old lending practice that first took root in the Third World and is now spreading to the First World: microcredit.
With microcredit, small loans of seed money to launch a new venture are made based on an assessment of the borrower‘s character, not his or her collateral.
For people who have little or nothing to their names, microcredit has unlocked the vault to new opportunities.
—Gilbert Le Gras, “Small credit reaps big rewards,” Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), August 10, 1998
Foreigners promoting development in their homelands expressed support Monday for legislation that would provide small loans up to about $300 for poor people working to improve their lot. . . . The so-called "micro-credit" legislation, which is backed by a slew of private development agencies, would not increase the money under the control of the Agency for International Development.
—"Foreigners Express Support for Bills Providing Small Loans to Poor People," The Associated Press, September 14, 1987
The first example citation mentions that the microcredit idea begans in the 1970s. However, the west didn't pick up on it until well into the 80s, as shown by the earliest citation.