Bob Harris wanted to help people living in poverty who had an entrepreneurial streak, so he donated $20,000 to individuals he found on the microloan financing website Kiva.org. Then he set out to meet them. Then he wrote a book about them.
Harris will talk about his philanthropy and his travels as part of the YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition Awards ceremony. The event will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, in Washington University n St. Louis’ Simon Hall, May Auditorium.
The competition is offered by the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in partnership with the YouthBridge Community Foundation. Both the lecture and a reception immediately following are free and open to the public.
In his talk, Harris will feature individuals such as Yvonne, a single mother of three living in Kigali, Rwanda. Through a neighbor, she learned to buy staples such as sweet potatoes and sorghum in bulk, then sell them in her neighborhood for a profit.
“Eighteen months before I met her, she was renting a shack for the equivalent of about US$5 per month, and she and her three children were sleeping on a mat,” said Harris in an April 2013 PBS NewsHour blog, “The Rundown.”
But by the time he journeyed to Kigali to meet her, she had moved into a small but solid dwelling and was sending her children to school.
As Harris noted, all Yvonne needed was $140 “to get off the ground.”
Her story is one of dozens featured in Harris’ book, “The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.” Kiva.org is a microfinancing loan website that lets people donate as little as $25 to would-be entrepreneurs throughout the globe. Once the loan is repaid, the donor can contribute the amount again or withdraw it.
A former stand-up comedian, TV series writer and travel writer, Harris also won a lot of money as a Jeopardy contestant. While in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to write a travel piece on its luxurious tourist offerings, Harris also saw that the luxury accommodations were being built on the backs of poverty-stricken workers struggling to survive, so he decided to put his money to good use. Through the Kiva website, he made $20,000 worth of loans.
The results were phenomenal: In December 2012, Harris wrote on his website:
“Just made my 5000th loan at Kiva.org the other day. The $20K I originally invested has now cycled through more than six times, totaling nearly $130,000 in these $25 loans to mom-and-pop businesses in 66 countries. So far, the repayment rate for my loans is just under 99.5 percent.”