Welcome Bob Harris (BobHarris.com) (Kiva Lending Team) (Twitter) and Host Holly Mosher (Director – Bonsai People) (Trailer)

The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time

We all want to make the world a better place, right? But it’s too complicated, takes too much time, or we don’t know what we, as lone human beings, can do. The International Bank of Bob will change your mind and show you how making a $25 microcredit loan through Kiva, you – collectively with other individuals just like you – will have a major impact on the recipient of that loan.

The beauty of a book like Bob Harris’ is that it takes the reader on a journey through the eyes of the author and takes us to places we could/would never go on our own. I love how he literally takes us around the globe and shares both fascinating news of what is happening in over a dozen countries, but also how he helps us feel like we’ve met the people on his journey.

In doing so, he opens our hearts and minds to the injustice that people, who are really just like us – but seem so foreign by their different religions and exotic locales – are suffering from a lack of access to financial services. In particular, I appreciated the journey through countries that have just recovered from war and have had to rebuild their lives from the rubble.

He does a beautiful job portraying how we have more in common with these strangers than we’d ever imagine. By spending a day with or sharing a meal together, he quickly pulls out our universal commonalities as humans. And by doing that, we share in the struggle that these people, who happen to be living in poverty at the moment, have in putting food on the table or paying rent. He shows if they have some support, like we had in our lives, that they too will have the chance to make decent lives for themselves.

The great thing is that he is taking us on this journey through poverty with a simple solution in hand – microcredit. He shows us both the good and the bad of microcredit, and more importantly he shows that microcredit really is hard work. The people he introduces us to: from the Kiva fellows and the microcredit loan officers to the loan recipients, all work extremely hard to make this system work so that it can really be a hand-up in life.

The amazing thing about The International Bank of Bob is that you learn so much without it feeling like a lesson in world affairs. And this is the only book where I anticipated having to look for the asterisk to read his fun and informative footnotes that you won’t want to miss.

He also adeptly takes us through a wonderful journey of his personal life that is as fascinating as the people he introduces us to.

As Arianna Huffington says

“Surprising in so many ways: a travelogue that makes the people in exotic locales as accessible as your next-door neighbors; a book about poverty alleviation that often makes you laugh out loud (or cry, sometimes on the same page); and a portrayal of loving families in challenging environments that leaves you feeling stronger, more connected to the world, and full of hope. In short: joyous, humane, and inspiring.”

After reading the book you may want to join the International Bank of Bob lending team, which has 1,311 team members who have loaned $3,433,075 via 121,912 loans.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

91 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Bob Harris, The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time”

BevW June 15th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Bob, Holly, Welcome back to the Lake.

Holly, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I want to welcome everyone to our discussion today. I’m very excited to have an interesting conversation with our guest author Bob Harris. Bob, I really love the story about how you were inspired to write this book. Can you tell us a bit about the moment of inspiration and the journey you were on at the time?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 1:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi Bev, hi Holly!

It’s a total pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for setting this up!

dakine01 June 15th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Bob and Holly and welcome back to Firedoglake this afternoon.

Bob, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but were you aware of Kiva and microloans before you started your journey? Have you had an opportunity to meet Dr Yunus (Dr Yunus was here for an FDL Book Salon back in January of ’08 so folks here already have some understanding of the concepts of microlending) :})

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Moment of inspiration… well, I’m not sure there really was just one, since we sort of make decisions and then look back and figure it out. But the most vivid moments for sure were in Dubai and Singapore, as I describe in the book… (more)

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I loved how you were able to relate so many people’s journeys to your family’s history. Can you share why so many loan recipients reminded you of what your parents went through and how the microcredit story is one of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I was writing for Forbes Traveler, doing all these reviews of super-luxury hotels, which are fairly ridiculous after a point. And right outside, in Dubai at least, there were workers who are the modern equivalent of indentured servants outside, worked to the point of dropping. And I just didn’t see how I could pocket the money I was making from reviewing hotels I was getting paid to sleep in, the insides of which would never even be seen by the men who had built them.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 7

I actually had a similar source of inspiration open my eyes to poverty. My family always deeply valued travel. When they took us to South America while I was in high school, I couldn’t help but notice the slums next to every hotel and the levels of poverty. I would never have my eyes closed to the suffering of those around us again.

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Do the borrowers find out about the program by word of mouth from their communities?

dakine01 June 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 5

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing Reply will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being relied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note, some browsers do not like to let the Reply function properly if it is pressed after a hard page refresh but before the page completes loading

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 6

As to the loan recipients and my parents… my folks both grew up in a small town in the Appalachian mountains, a little place near the western tip of Virginia that still suffers from serious poverty issues. And they had no electricity, water from a well, all that. When we’d visit my dad’s dad on this hill in the middle of nowhere, it was still practically a 19th century standard of living there. So I knew sort of in my bones that poverty can be at least as much a function of where and when you’re born as anything else.

It was hard not to see that everywhere. Of course.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 9

And can you also share a bit about how the Kiva loans work?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 8

Btw, to everyone reading this — thank you so much for being here! I very much appreciate it. And I wish I could type fast enough to answer every question. I’m not sure once we really get going that I’ll even see them all, since my eyes are on my own typing window while I’m replying. My apologies in advance if I miss your question. Thanks!

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 13

Don’t worry Bob. We’ll be patiently awaiting any replies you can give. And maybe you can share where people can follow up with you further at the end of this interview. The FDL crowd is a really wonderful group. :)

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 8

I think yours and mine are familiar stories to a lot of Americans who get interested in poverty alleviation. It’s simple, really. You see it, you identify with the humanity of others, you want to help. It’s really the normal, sane, humane response.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

When I interviewed Jessica Jackley, who was a big part of the founding of Kiva, she had a similar story — if I remember correctly, she was a student from central Pennsylvania, did some volunteer work in Haiti, and then returned home to her prom realizing that something had changed inside of her from what she had seen and felt. Normal. Human.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

You traveled to so many locations during the course of this book. Is there a location and group of people that you feel most connected to and why?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 9

As to how borrowers find out about loans, it varies. Depends where you are. In some places where microfinance is new, it’s very much word-of-mouth. In others like Peru or Cambodia or the Philippines where such things have been around for almost a generation, there’s a general level of awareness, and when someone wants to pursue a business, they sort of know where to go.

I should add that clients are just going to their local lender, not to any big sign that says “Kiva.” Kiva partners with local lenders and helps finance the loans. The clients learn about Kiva, as far as I’ve seen at least, when they do the paperwork and pose for a pic and describe their business so that the local partner can upload the info to the site.

When clients are aware that people from other countries have invested in their loans, btw — and this doesn’t always stay front-of-mind; they have a ton of work and family stuff to juggle, of course — but when they get it, it seems to feel about as cool as you’d expect.

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

So many of us are frustrated by our inability to change what is going on in our culture. Micro loans seem like a simple idea that work well and provide good results. Can you tell us about some changes you saw that resulted from the loans? I am sure it is in the book.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 12

How Kiva loans work, a thumbnail… or wait, better, let me just give you the link on their site — that will be faster and clearer than I can type it.


Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

When you went online to Kiva.org, can you tell us how you went about deciding who to give your loans to? And what was your favorite usage of a microcredit loan?

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Now that the book is out, is there a story that just didn’t make it in, that you really wish you’d found room for?

BevW June 15th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Holly, following on bgrothus’s comment –

Can you tell us about some changes you saw that resulted from the loans?

Can you tell our readers about the people in your film and the changes you saw.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 17

It was actually amazing to me how rarely I didn’t feel connected to people in some way. Almost never, in fact.

In western Kenya, the rolling hills and the dairy businesses and the small town felt a lot like visiting my Appalachian grandparents in my childhood. Only with mobile phones in people’s hands.

In Peru, as I mention in the book, the little macaroni face on the paper plate and the linoleum kitchen floor where I visited the first group of clients I ever met in the field — it felt so much like my mom’s own kitchen.

I could go on.

I’ve thought a lot about it. How much was I just imposing what I wanted to see on my experiences? How much was just selectively seeing sameness, somehow? And for the life of me, I just have to say — when you see people in terms of just trying to put food on the table and give their kids a better life, it’s just impossible not to connect on some level.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:24 pm
In response to BevW @ 23

Yes, Holly — please, do share your own experiences here.

For anybody not familiar with Holly’s work, my respect for her is off the charts. She went to Bangladesh and followed the diverse activities of Grameen all over the country, making an amazing documentary called Bonsai People. She knows at least as much about any of this as I do, and with no humility I would say probably a great deal more.

Dearie June 15th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Personal recollections are so powerful…..especially for those of us who have hear of/read something about Kiva but have no experience with it. I look forward to some brief personal recollections to bring me into the experience.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to BevW @ 23

Thank you Bev and Bob. Since I was able to follow Grameen Bank microcredit recipients for a longer period of time, I can speak to the changes that I was able to witness. The first year, you see simple things: they are able to finally have 3 meals a day, get a pit latrine and what I was most surprised by was how they said they learned to keep their houses clean. Then in the second year they are able to start improving their homes and have a little bit of free time. When they’ve borrowed for a long time, over 5 years, is when you really see them pulling themselves above the poverty line (at least in Bangladesh where they start out with so little).
You also see that they are able to keep their kids in school for much longer. So I think we will really see the greatest benefit with the next generation, with the borrowers’ children.

Dearie June 15th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Thanks, Holly, for sharing that.

maadcet June 15th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 15

One thing on “poverty alleviation” subject is not to contribute my money to any church,or any organizations. Instead, use the money to get a water well dug up in the third world countries. It does not cost that much and the labor is free (neighborhood volunteers).

Suzanne June 15th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

welcome and thanks for writing this book. what a treat! to be honest, i was expecting a dry book about banking filled with banking terms and numbers. instead i found a wonderful book filled with people and places i want to visit and help.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

You’ve told me that the guy in Lebanon who told you, “you love more, you win” were the most important words you’ve heard. Can you share how those five words affected you and why?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 19

As to changes that resulted from the loans, again, case by case, no one simple answer. But there were a lot of success stories, more than I expected, honestly.

In Kenya, a lender called Juhudi Kilimo (Swahili for something very mundane — “agricultural enterprise,” if I recall) has come up with a very effective means of financing dairy cows, allowing farmers to pay off the loans with the milk in the first year, then profit from their new assets every year thereafter, free and clear. I met a lot of farmers who found it very effective.

In Rwanda, I met a single mother of three who had started trading in bulk produce, using the loans to finance the purchases and then selling off smaller quantities at a markup, basically a convenience model like 7-Eleven, and she’d completely transformed her family’s lives. Much better and safer home, stable business, knowledge of future income.

Not every loan was successful, of course, and some wound up being used for income smoothing, the same way we juggle credit cards here sometimes when things don’t go our way. But there was often a very clear impact.

I could go on, but yes, it’s in the book.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to maadcet @ 29

One thing I learned from following the work of Muhammad Yunus, is that the poor lack access to so many things. With microcredit you tackle the lack to financial access, but with social business Yunus is able to tackle their lack of access to so many services that we take for granted: clean water, mosquito nets, sanitation, health, food, etc.

There are so many ways people can come together to fix the world’s problems. Microcredit is certainly just one piece of the pie. People need to find out which way they are most passionate about helping and find the groups that they want to support who are doing their best to solve that problem that you care most about.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 30

Hi — Thanks very much!

I actually find a lot of the words in finance completely eye-glazing. And I think “microfinance” is one of the worst. That’s why it’s not on the cover, in the table of contents, in any chapter heading — I used it as little as I possibly could. It’s a meaningless word, really, lumping together everything from big IPO-driven corporations to small non-profits financed out of somebody’s pocket. It’s one of the sloppiest, least exact words I’ve ever encountered, no exaggeration. Nobody uses the same word to describe Walmart and a small local charity. But that’s what people do in this field every day.

I’d seriously like to see people at big conferences start having discussions about how to change the verbiage to something much clearer and more exact.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 32

Bob, I’m happy to hear that most of the stories you saw were a success. But let’s also take a minute to talk about when microcredit goes awry. Can you share a bit about how it can be abused, and about what went wrong with the group you visited that now is not a Kiva approved organization?

And I love the point you just made about the term microfinance. You are so right about that. We definitely need better terms.

Dearie June 15th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Please help me to understand how a $25 investment actually works.

Dearie June 15th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

And, yes, I’m sure it is in the book, but I’m trying to assess whether or not I want to buy the book. I think that’s fair.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 31

“You love more, you win”…

I didn’t expect to hear those words in Beirut.

I grew up in Ohio in the 1960s and 70s, and the first I ever heard of Beirut really was in all the kidnappings and violence of the 1980s. The Marine barracks being blown up, all that. For a while in the ’90s I dated a woman in L.A. who was from Beirut and had fled the civil war in the 70s, and she was deeply affected by it in ways that I don’t think she has still dealt with, to be honest. So Beirut was a place I was a little scared to visit, to be honest.

It was one of my favorite places, surprisingly. Not because it’s all that peaceful-feeling—hell no. I saw bullet holes and concertina wire and men with rifles and even a tank parked in the street, all while walking to the local Kiva partner. But the people there who are working for peace and trying to live it — my gods, they were so cool and strong. I admire the people at Al-Majmoua, the partner I visited there, so very much.

And one of their loan officers and I were driving one day, and he’d lost everything in the 2006 war with Israel. This wasn’t a political guy, mind you — think of the way a lot of people anywhere just try to go about their lives, raise their kids, play nice, etc. He had a restaurant and raised two teenagers and had a beautiful wife. Then Hezbollah and Israel get into it, something he had nothing to do with, and a rocket hit his restaurant. Blew up a livelihood he’d built his whole life. His family was okay, fortunately.

I asked if he was angry — at Hezbollah, Israel, Allah, whoever — and he had the greatest, simplest, most enlightened answer I ever heard. “You love more, you win.”

This wasn’t something that came easily. He was talking about a choice, a daily struggle, a way of deciding to be in the world. A hard one. Love from strength.

And these weren’t empty words from a Berkeley yoga class or some philosophical discussion between undergrads somewhere. This was the real deal. Beirut, boom, smoke rising, find a way to go on.

“You love more, you win.”

I mean, holy crap.

Let that sink in.

I’ve thought of those words every day since. They mean more every time.

I’ll never live up to them. I know that. But if it’s good enough for Ahmed in Beirut, I can try.

maadcet June 15th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 33

In my circles I come across with people who want to contribute money to poverty related causes but dont know how to go about it. It would be most appropriate to have some system where people could directly link with people in other parts of the world to contribute expertise, money, and other resources (we send all kind of books to 3rd world countries instead of throwing them away) and collectively manage simple projects (clean water etc).
A sad example! My younger brother passed away a few months ago. I tried to donate his books (hundred of dollars) to a library in Queens NY. No taker. They refused to take a single engineering book.

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I can understand if folks were still enthralled with microcredit back in 1998. But in 2013? Really? Get a library card folks. Or at least start here:


Microcredit is libertarian enlightened shopping social justice for the whole foods crowd. It is micro-politics (can it be any less effective?), its micro-justice for a world that has given up on the idea of either democracy or economic development in the periphery of the world economy. Dollar for dollar the efficacy of microcredit pales in comparison to the real gains you can make with an old fashion Keynesian, import substituing, state-led economic development model.
It is a question of Chavez/Morales/Correa/Kirchner versus Yunis/Harris/John Mackey (the libertarian who owns whole foods). The choice is pretty clear. Whose afraid of using the state for economoic development?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to Dearie @ 36

Your $25 is pooled with other $25 chunks to make an average loan size of about $400, Kiva-wide. In a country like Ghana or Rwanda, that’s enough to start or sustain a small enterprise. (In Rwanda, the mother of three I mentioned above got started with the equivalent of about $140, if I remember.)

Sometimes the money is used for a seasonal purchase, as in farming, or for capital equipment, as in an urban storefront or a Kenyan dairy farm (where the cow is capital equipment!).

Like any business loan, they repay out of (hopefully) increased revenue. You get repaid about 99 percent of the time, and then you can take the money back out (via PayPal) or reinvest it.

Hope this helps!

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
In response to maadcet @ 39

Kiva is definitely an easy way for people to go about linking with others when they want to contribute money.
That is a sad story that they wouldn’t take the books.

It would be great if other people are inspired to start similar websites that also connect people for other goods.

Bob can probably answer this, but I think that Kiva is looking into connecting people around mobile and solar technology and maybe even water as well. Bob?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to maadcet @ 39

I love this idea!

You mean, sort of the way Kiva allows people to pool money to support overseas projects, there should be an online platform that allows people to share expertise?

That’s such a good idea it’s hard to imagine people aren’t already doing it somewhere.

CTuttle June 15th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 38

Amen, Bob…! *g*

Dearie June 15th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Bob@40… yes, thank you, that helps a lot! Very interesting. Also makes me interested in learning more from your book! :-)

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 38

Thanks for sharing this moving story. It is very beautiful. What are the other lessons you’ve learned along this journey?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 42

Yes, Kiva is very aggressively looking at ways to broaden the platform to help fund solar, water, education, and so on.

My personal favorite, although I haven’t seen it in the field yet, so please take this as just from reading, not first-hand experience yet, is the partnership with Barefoot Power, an Australian company active in about a dozen African countries (I’d have to check), bringing stand-alone clean solar power to villages, replacing kerosene, which is nasty about a dozen ways. Some of their Tanzanian projects are funded through Kiva here:


Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Dearie @ 45

Dearie, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It really is a page turner.

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 33

“but with social business Yunus is able to tackle their lack of access to so many services that we take for granted: clean water, mosquito nets, sanitation, health, food, etc.”

And these needs have been met far more effectively in literally dozens of cases across decades via the Post ww2 post-colonial Keynesian, import substitution policies. Why settle for microcredit’s micro results when you can actually make real gains by using the state to socialize long-term fixed costs (like the costs associated with real infrastructure and not just porta-potties and generators). Power grids, water system, railroads, that is the real basis for industrial development reequire large-scale and long-term investment and (gasp) planning. At best microcredit is a wee tiny band aid on a serious wound. At worst it is a libertarian ideological distraction. If libertarians like Yunus and Mackey love microcredit, shouldn’t the interviewers here offer even a bit of critical thinking on the topic?

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 41

yes. $400 is enough to start a small enterprise. What about Ghana’s needs for serious infrastructure? The best infrastructure in the country was built by Nkrumah using that boring old un-sexy, un-libertarian state to make the necessary large-scale and long-term investments that provide a real foundation for economoic growth, and not just the feel good charity (posing as development policy) of privileged elites in the core of the world economy.

maadcet June 15th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 43

IT volunteers could be a start to set up the links between countries and communities.
I am passionate about solar community kitchen projects in third world. I have been looking into the safety aspects of the system because the users in poor countries are generally non-educated simple folks. organizations on both side of the world could be very helpful to bring expertise and money to make the idea come true.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 49

Of course if governments were able to effectively do their jobs around the globe, then maybe we wouldn’t need these solutions, but unfortunately that is not the reality.

And I want to point out that Yunus’ results are quite impressive and have made a huge dent in past 30 years. They are on track to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals unlike neighboring (and far richer) India, because the work of Yunus and other groups like BRAC are focusing on the poorest of the poor and lifting them up several levels.

Grameen’s microcredit loans are now reaching 8 million people (more than 1 out of every 1,000 people on earth). Their microcredit recipients are twice as likely to use family planning as non-recipients because a lot of what they do is educate their borrowers about a wide variety of things beyond their loan.

Also with their solar company, they have already installed 1 million solar homes, as of last October, when their company only started in 1996. They will have installed 2 million solar homes in the next 3 years. Again, when they started only 30% of Bangladesh had access to electricity. So in a lot of places because the government is not doing an adequate job, this is a fantastic solution.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 49

Another thing I love about Yunus’ energy company Grameen Shakti, is that it puts people’s energy needs in their own hands and not dependent on the state, which can raise prices whenever they want. Also there are people who have one of their bio-gas systems – taking manure and turning it into both fuel and fertilizer. There are even people who don’t own any animals, but they are entrepreneurial enough to provide manure removal from neighboring farms and process the manure and then sell the gas and fertilizer as their business. I would love to see farmers here in the US also creating their own fuel and fertilizer with this model.

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 52

“Of course if governments were able to effectively do their jobs around the globe, then maybe we wouldn’t need these solutions, but unfortunately that is not the reality.”

But you’ve given up fighting for them.

“And I want to point out that Yunus’ results are quite impressive and have made a huge dent in past 30 years. They are on track to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals unlike neighboring (and far richer) India, because the work of Yunus and other groups like BRAC are focusing on the poorest of the poor and lifting them up several levels.”

And Chavez/Morales/Correa/Kirchner have accomplished more in Latin America. Seriously, The Pink turn in Latin America has lifted more people out of absolute poverty that Yunus.

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 52

I think there is also the benefit of having people invested in the solutions to problems they face. It is empowering to have a hand in change, and I think most of us have about had it with the top down solutions and grifting that is too often part and parcel of what governments do.

Yeah, we believed in government once, but that dream seems over and done.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Bob, I also grew up in the midwest, so I was very aware of Second City in Chicago. I loved hearing that you went through their program, which has graduated a lot of Saturday Night Live comics. Can you tell us a bit about Del Close and the Yes, and method?

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 54

Yes, it is good to see some of this come to pass. But to denigrate what others have done on the individual level is really not helpful.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 54

How can you assume that I’ve given up on them? I think we all have to find our own ways of helping make the world a better place within our means, and applaud those who are also doing what they can within their means – whether it is a government or an individual, we all need to find better answers together.

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 53

Do you live with your energy needs being met by this method. Or you live on a conventional power grid? The arrogance of first world people is astonishing. Again, Yunus is a libertarian. John Mackey, the Whole Foods guy, is a libertarian. Yunus and Mackey love microcredit. Shouldn’t FDLer’s be more critical of this stuff. Respond to the Bond article. He is a real economist, not just some huckster.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 35

As to where microfinance can go wrong, the ways would be pretty obvious to anybody familiar with the ways human beings screw up.

(Billboarding something important, btw: Kiva has worked very hard on its due diligence. They’ve been very open about some early mistakes, which I discuss in the book, and which their CEO has no problem bringing up. So when Kiva partners with somebody, the stuff I’m about to describe is pretty unlikely. The universe of microlenders is very large — thousands of organizations — and Kiva partners with a couple hundred who jump through sufficient hoops to be trustworthy, discontinuing partnerships if there’s any ongoing trouble. So the below is *not* about Kiva partners, generally. I’ve got more than $20K of my own money in the Kiva system and do not worry about it for a second.)

In some places, things just haven’t been organized. Sometimes without a strong enough central government (think postwar environments, for example) or banking regulations, or where there’s no central credit reporting bureau, clients have been encouraged to overborrow, qualifying for loans they simply shouldn’t be given. Think of the mortgage debacle here in the US and there are some similarities.

There have been cases of outright fraud, too. We’ve had that in the US banking system many times, too. Microfinance is in no way unique here.

Some lenders have let the profit motive drive their actions, with results that harm clients. Personally, I don’t see how anybody can sleep at night when their fancy house was paid for by making loans to people making two bucks a day. Something is very wrong with that picture. In India, at least one famous lender actually incentivized their loan officers to maximize their loan volume, almost regardless of the clients’ well-being. I don’t have words strong enough to condemn this.

In some cases, political grandstanding has shaken whole systems. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega caused a real mess with the whole “no pago” movement (you can Google that). In India, the measures the government took to fix the mess created by the profit motive arguably made things worse by making life difficult even for good lenders.

On and on. Human systems, human mistakes. Only worse because the people who are hurt are already so vulnerable.

The one Kiva partner I visited that really messed up was in Tanzania. It’s in the book, but the woman running it, who had been feted and saluted by heads of state for her work for the poor, and whom I sat with for a couple of hours and felt was genuinely sincere, managed to overexpand her lender so fast that she couldn’t finance the bank’s own infrastructure. House of cards. American businesses overexpand, too.

Hope this helps explain how it screws up.

sn1789 June 15th, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 57

Seriously? You mean we can’t have a discussion about one set of policies being more effective and another set of policies being less effective? So, middle class table manners trumps the need to critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of different policies in addressing the very pressing problems of lack of development in the periphery?

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 59

Most of the people I spent 2 years filming in Bangladesh did not have electricity in their homes. When I saw people getting access to solar energy and bio-gas, it literally changed their lives. I am happy that they were getting access to energy so that they could improve their lives. Again, if the government could get their act together and provide for all these people’s needs, that would be great. But they had a very tall order when the country started just 40 years ago and they have 160 million people to serve. We have to encourage the many answers to solutions. And with the weather problems in Bangladesh – solar is probably a better answer because their infrastructure is continually washed away by the flooding and cyclones they face. You have to look at the different problems each location faces and their starting point to see what are best solutions. There is no one best answer for the world, which is why I applaud many solutions that work. I am a fan of what Chavez has done in Venezuela and I am a fan of several things Castro did in Cuba, but they are also not perfect solutions for every country. We can certainly have this discussion. Nobody here is saying we can’t talk about different options. But we are here to discuss Bob’s wonderful book and what he saw in his journey through the lives of Kiva recipients.

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 61

That is not the point. Sure, go ahead and continue to beat your drum.

dakine01 June 15th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 61

It is not an either/or only one way to do things. Different approaches can be and are more and less effective than others. We should not isolate and hope for the perfect approach when even less effective paths are still better than the status quo

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 60

Thanks Bob. I really appreciate your willingness to open up as to when things do go wrong. It is sad that human greed can take over anything that is started to do good things.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:25 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 46

In some ways the book isn’t even about microfinance — these are very human, common stories, and I think seeing them in all these different parts of the world is a powerful thing.

Nearly all of American TV news and much of print has become remarkably insular, trivial, and disconnected from cause and effect, even by the standards of just 20 years ago. With so many news organizations closing down their overseas bureaus, it’s way too possible for sincere Americans to get the false impression that the rest of the world looks like the violent images we see on TV. And that’s deeply corrosive.

It was hard for me personally to overcome some of that, even already knowing what I knew after traveling to more than 50 countries before this project even began. But overcoming that sense of difference is one of the most important things we can do.

At the beginning of this chat, we talked about what got us motivated in the first place — and it was seeing others in ourselves and vice versa. The news and political culture of this country does a great job of getting in the way of that, of making that more difficult. In some ways, that’s what they’re for — too often, that’s what gets ratings and votes.

The details of how microfinance is done will change as the technology changes. Hearts won’t. So it’s the sense of connection — that’s what else I got out of this, and what I hope most that readers will get out of it as well.

CTuttle June 15th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 60

I’ve got more than $20K of my own money in the Kiva system and do not worry about it for a second.

*wow* You really put your money where your mouth is. Bob…! ;-)

Where is your favorite region/country to invest/visit…?

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 66

I have to say that this is one of the things you did most effectively in the book, and why I love it so much. You showed how these people you met are just like us. The same struggles, the same joys, a similar history. I really wish our media would see that people love these stories of commonality as much as they love the ones of divisiveness.

BevW June 15th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Bob, did you take the pictures in the book? They are great, everyday scenes, and many smiling, happy faces. Especially like the sign at Gatwick Airport – “Changed Priorities Ahead”

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 56

Del Close and “yes, and”…? I could write about this for days. Thanks for asking!

Del is one of the great unsung heroes of American arts. Anyone who has laughed in this country in the last 50 years owes him one. He was one of the original Compass Players along with Nichols and May. This led to Second City in Chicago, which in turn led to SNL, the Groundlings, and generations of not just humor, but drama (Alan Arkin is a Second City alum, for example) and the use of both for social comment, trying to put total honesty on stage and let it lead organically to the laughter of recognition.

Almost anybody you can name — Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, on and on — you can trace a direct lineage from their work back to Del’s, and they’d wholeheartedly agree. (There are a lot of independent stand-ups for whom that’s not true. But you can often still see clear influence.)

Del taught total agreement on stage. Before Del and the Compass Players, there was a dominant idea that conflict was the only thing that could drive drama. But with Del and the improv that followed, if we’re doing a scene and you tell me we’re in Spain, I instantly build on that by, I dunno, fighting a bull (“yes”) and telling you I want a divorce (“and”). To which you can instantly demand custody of the kids (both a “yes” and an “and”). And onward, instant theater, often incredibly creative.

As I mention in the book, Del’s stuff comes directly in turn out of Jane Addams’s Hull House, which is worth a Google to anyone not familiar with it. The best of what America can be.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 70

Wow, we only have 30 minutes left. This is moving so quickly. One thing I want to ask you about is the power of your art to impact others, just as here you are sharing how Del Close has impacted these great comedians. Since the book has come out I’m wondering how many people have been moved to action, whether it is to give Kiva loans or do more. Have you had any memorable feedback from readers that really made you see that you’ve moved them in powerful ways?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 67


I’m not sure I have a favorite, exactly. When I go to Kiva now, I will say that it’s really fun when I see loans from Arariwa in Peru or Juhudi in Kenya or BPW in Nepal or Al Majmoua in Lebanon and so on, having been to their offices and now knowing some of their staff. I guess those are my favorites, if I have any.

Favorite country to visit, straight out, microfinance aside: Australia. I feel more comfortable there than anywhere in the world. Long list of reasons, not worth going into, you can guess them all pretty easily.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Traveling through so many places, one is going to have some interesting food related experiences. For those who haven’t read the book, I loved the charcoal yogurt story – although I’m sure you didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Can you share both your worst food experience (for those who haven’t read the book yet) and your most memorable meal?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:44 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 71

Seeing the book lead to action is kind of the best part. Lots of examples.

There are free trial loans linked to the book at http://kiva.org/bankofbob. So far, something like 15,000 people have signed up this way. So that’s apparently 15,000 people right there who are now going to spend a little more of their lives looking outward. That’s pretty cool to think about.

There’s some academic adoption already, with the book already starting to show up in First Read/orientation reading programs at colleges and universities. That’s neat, too, just to think that some of the stuff I learned from Del and from clients and so on might reach people when they’re still figuring out what to do with their lives. I hope it’s helpful.

And I’m getting asked to speak at a bunch of places that frankly I’m surprised by. I don’t want to drop names here, but it’s good stuff, and the people I’m meeting are actually listening and staying engaged. I don’t know if it will do any good, but it can’t hurt.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I love thinking about the power of your Kiva lending team – which I mentioned in the intro has 1,311 team members who have loaned $3,433,075 via 121,912 loans as of this morning. And that’s not just 120,000 loans, that is 120,000 families. In the book I love it when you talk about the families you’ve met with. Can you share one last family story from the book?

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:47 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 73

The yogurt was definitely the worst. Maybe the worst thing I ever put in my mouth, honestly. Warm unpasteurized charcoal yogurt tastes remarkably like… warm unpasteurized charcoal yogurt. I’m almost choking just sitting here and writing about it.

I don’t really have a “best” food experience. I would *love* to be able to rhapsodize about the glorious foodstuffs along the way. And I tried a lot of local stuff, really hoping to like it, over and over. But I’m not Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, it turns out.

For me, mostly it was something to be endured, often with results that were the intestinal equivalent of an international incident.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 76


Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:51 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 76

And sorry to hear that.

CTuttle June 15th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 72

Mahalo…! In all your travels, did you ever make it to the Big Isle of Hawai’i, and, the 4&5 star resorts on Kohala’s Gold Coast…? ;-)

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to BevW @ 69

Yep, I took all the pics, with the exception of a couple that were taken by a wonderful UN photographer named Devra Berkowitz. Devra got interested in my project right about the time I started writing the manuscript, and she took her vacation that year in the Philippines and Cambodia, retracing my path and meeting with the lenders and clients I’d met. Some of her photos are amazing. If you ever see her doing a gallery show, go.

My favorite photo was actually one that she took, with a client in Cambodia. It’s not in the book. As a thank you, I often took pics of and with the clients if they wanted, then emailed them to the lender. The lender could then print them up and pass them along, and so there’d at least be a family photo or a nice memento of our meeting or something. In Cambodia, one of the clients Devra found still had a picture of the two of us. Devra took a picture of the client holding the picture as a hello back. I absolutely love that photo.

BevW June 15th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Bob, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and letting us know about Kiva and the success of micro loans.

Holly, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Bob’s website (BobHarris.com) and book (The International Bank of Bob)

Holly’s website (HollyMosher.com) and film (Bonsai People)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Phil Tiemeyer / Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants; Hosted by Janet Davis

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 79

I’ve been to the Big Island a couple of times, but never professionally. When I’m on my own dime, my lodging tastes are decidedly less upscale. :)

Love the green sand beach at the southern tip, btw.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Oh wow. That was two hours?!?!?!

Seriously? We just got started.

Thank you SO MUCH, Holly and Bev and everyone! Have a wonderful weekend!

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Thanks for writing such a wonderful book for us to talk about Bob. And thanks Bev and team for all the amazing things you do here at FDL! Enjoy your weekend as well everyone :D

dakine01 June 15th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 83

These things seem to go much faster than people anticipate they will go. Thanks for the talk today Bob and good luck.

Holly Mosher June 15th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

And Bob, I have to ask, what’s next?

CTuttle June 15th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 82

My Mom and Dad still live in Green Sands Subdivision, in Ka’u, just up the road…! ;-)

bgrothus June 15th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Appreciate the opportunity here, Bev, Holly and Bob.

Bob Harris June 15th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to Holly Mosher @ 86

What’s next? No idea.

I figure something unexpected will come along, I’ll “yes, and,” and we’ll do this all again in a couple of years. :)

Thank you again!

And everybody — go see Bonsai People! It’s the best doc about Grameen I know of.

CTuttle June 15th, 2013 at 4:01 pm
In response to Bob Harris @ 89

Mahalo Nui Loa, Bob, Holly, and Bev for another excellent book salon…!

Marion in Savannah June 16th, 2013 at 4:02 am

So sorry I missed this Book Salon. I’ve been a Kiva lender for years now, and wish I could put more money in. (I’ve got about $800 out now.) If you haven’t made a loan, please consider it.

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