Aug 15, 2013
Imagine a bank that operates in 67 countries around the world, has one employee, has made thousands of loans with an average value of $25 a pop and is committed to never making a profit but believes it can help eradicate poverty through capitalism. You just imagined The International Bank of Bob. And Bob Harris thinks what he's done is so easy and so rewarding that it won't be long before you decide to set up The International Bank of "Your Name Here".While jet setting around the world as a writer for Forbes Traveller, Bob Harris found himself wondering when luxury moves from being fun to just being a waste of money. Is it when the hotel you're staying in offers a $7438 "cocktail" that is really just a shot of whiskey in a golden take-out cup? Or is it when you charge a small fortune for a cup of coffee because it has been pooped out of the ass of a rare Indonesian cat which you claim releases the subtle flavors of the beans? (It's called Kopi Luwak.) Or maybe it's when you spend billions of dollars building islands in the shape of a world map which then get washed away? Bob wasn't sure when luxury became stupidity but he was definitely sure there was a point where it did and so, in his own small way, he decided to find a way to take half his salary and put it towards eliminating poverty. Frequently disappointed by the results of charity, he was looking for something different. And that's how he found his way to micro finance and Kiva.org.Micro finance began in 1976 when Muhammad Yunus was visiting one of the poorest parts of his home country, Bangladesh. While there, Yunus was struck by the inability of the poor to get competitive loans for their entrepreneurial projects. Because banks would not lend to them, the poorest people were forced to go to loan sharks who charged back-breaking interest rates. The result was a cycle of poverty that was difficult to escape. And that's when Yunus decided that breaking the solution to poverty might not be charity; it might be banking. By giving out small loans to the country's poorest citizens, Grameen Bank, which Yunus founded, has helped drastically improve the lives of millions by empowering the poor to help themselves. With micro finance institutions in over 100 developing countries, it's no wonder that Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.So awesome is the power of micro finance to break the cycle of poverty that in 2004, Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley set out to find a way to make it easier for people in the developed world to participate in these programs: the result was Kiva.org. Kiva.org allows you to log on and see people all over the developing world who are applying for loans and contribute to them. You can log on and see a photo of Martin who runs a convenience store and wants a loan of a few hundred dollars to buy a machine to process electronic payments or Rosalina in Honduras who wants a $1500 loan to buy fertilizer for her coffee crop. You can track the individual's loan history, their repayment rate and see how far they are to repaying their current loan. In short, Kiva is a far cry from the mega charities, we have become familiar with because it allows us to see on a personal and individual level how we are making a difference one individual at a time. Best of all, Kiva loans have a repayment rate of 99%, meaning that the same money can be reinvested again and again into helping new groups of people all over the world. As Bob made more and more loans, he developed a desire to meet the people he had sponsored and so he set out to visit bicycle repairmen in Morocco, the guy in Sarajevo who built a sports bar and a woman in Rwanda who in a year and a half used a series of micro finance loans to build a business that moved her and her children from living on a mat to having a proper house.The result is a deeply personal and very funny book that sets out to chronicle the stories of micro finance, but ends up leaving the reader with a sense of the universality of human intelligence, work ethic and a desire to provide a better life for our kids. In this episode of the show, Bob, Bryan and Hunter discuss the power of micro finance and the ability of tiny choices to radically change the lives of thousands. It's really moving and heartfelt…in a way that sometimes made us feel awkward...and that's why the conversation occasionally deviated into talking about strippers Bryan has micro financed and the fact that Bob won Jeopardy a bunch of times then wrote an awesome book about it called The Prisoner of Trebekistan. Bob Harris is the author of four books: The International Bank of Bob: Connecting our Worlds one $25 Loan at a Time, Prisoner of Trebekistan, Who Hates Whom, a pocket guide to global conflict; Beyond Caprica, a mock travel guide to the 12 colonies of the Caprica/Battlestar Galactica universe.If you'd like to try micro finance, Kiva is offering people the chance to invest $25 of a rich dude's money and see what the experience is like. If you're interested visit www.kiva.org/bankofbob. You can read more about Bob Harris at bobharris.com.