The $25 philanthropist: Assembly Series features ‘International Bank of Bob’ author on the joys of microloan financing


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 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.” 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 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.”

Related sites:

Join Bob’s Kiva lending team

For information on upcoming Assembly Series programs, visit the Assembly Series website or call 314-935-4620. For information concerning the Skandalaris Center, visit here.