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How to make a difference with your festive shopping.

Don't just give any old thing to your friends, family or loved ones this year - give them a gift that will support organisations that are truly making a difference in South Africa, and the world.

Here are five ways you can give the gift of giving back using your smartphone. It's quick, simple, doesn't cost the Earth, and will leave you and the recipient with the warm feeling of having done something good. Choose the one that helps a cause closest to your or your recipient's heart.

Support entrepreneurs

Kiva is an organisation that gives you the chance to make a loan to entrepreneurs in 80 countries around the world. Your loan could help a farmer buy seed, an artisan to source supplies, or a student to continue their studies - and in doing so, your donation will help them improve their own lives and that of their families. For gift-giving, they offer a virtual Kiva Card, in increments of $25 (about R340 at the time of writing), which your recipient can use to support anyone whose story speaks to them. All the beneficiaries' stories are on the website, all the donating is done online, and, perhaps best of all, once your loan has been paid back by the beneficiary (as they always are), your recipient can go back onto the site to use the card to give a loan to somebody else.

The Kiva Card really is the gift that keeps giving back.

Help a child learn to read

Give the gift of making a difference to the life - and future - of a South African child by sponsoring them in the Shine Centre programme. For just R85 per month, one child will receive a placement in this Cape Town-based NGO's literacy programme, which aims to improve outcomes for children from underprivileged areas with low levels of literacy. 

The eight Shine Centres in SA give individualised reading support to children in Grades 2 and 3, and the organisation also runs Family Literacy Workshops. Can you imagine how far you would have got in life without being able to read? No? Well, that's why the gift of sponsoring a child through the Shine Centre is one of the most rewarding ones to give.

You can sponsor a child by donating through Givengain, and it's all done online.

Save an endangered animal

If you're looking for a gift for a little one, this could be the winner. Though the World Wildlife Foundation has plenty of gift options, from plush toys to buckets, the one option that is truly virtual is their Gift Adoption Cards. For $55 (about R750 at the time of writing), you'll get to choose a card featuring the endangered species of your choice - polar bear, tiger or giant panda, all big hits with kids - which you can then email to your recipient. You could also print it out if you'll be seeing them in person. Your gift will support the conservation work the WWF does in 100 countries worldwide, and your recipient will be thrilled to be part of the action.

Improve the lives of zoo animals

If your recipient lives in Johannesburg and is a regular visitor to the Joburg Zoo, they'll love the opportunity to 'adopt' their favourite animal at the zoo. 

All you have to do is give a minimum contribution of R300 and fill in the form to apply for animal adoption. Your donation will go towards the housing, feeding and wellbeing of the animals at the zoo.

Give a child a smile

The Smile Foundation helps underprivileged children with facial abnormalities (such as cleft lips and palates) to undergo corrective surgery. You can help by giving the gift of a personalised eCard to friends and family abroad or at home for a minimum donation of R25 per card. There are 10 different festive cards to choose from, and, with every one you send, you'll be taking a child one step closer to a smile.

Before you can give to others, you need to make sure that you've got enough data on your smartphone so that you don't run into out-of-bundle rates. You can buy data bundles quickly, easily and affordably on the My Vodacom App » 

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