99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
Disclaimer: I am a HUGE fan of Kiva and have lent over $30k in the past 5 years and am on track to reach $35k by the end of this year (my hero is kiva lender "Good Dogg" who has lent over $2 million!!!). I think it's just about the best thing to happen to those of us who love giving and those who need funds! While Bob and many others have lent a whole lot more, it's about doing what you can, and hopefully loving it as you do. I do not know Bob or anyone else associated with Kiva. The other two reviews on amazon.com at this time cover the contents of the book so I'm going to focus on it's impact in my life.
I am so glad to see someone write a book about Kiva. While Bob may not be an ordinary lender in that he has a) travelled the world as a paid writer (unique gifts that allow him to have a terrific view of microfinance, kiva, lenders and borrowers) and b) had the gift of spending a lot of time with a wide variety of people involved in all aspects of the above--Bob still remains a regular guy.
I LOVED Bob's conversational writing style. As a fan of footnotes, this book is a dream! There are footnotes on almost every page. Some informative, some just plain entertaining. Whether you are reading this book to learn more about microfinance in general, Kiva specifically or because you're a giver who loves reading about other givers--this is a fabulous book.
While this book is definitely a fact-filled, informative source of the successes, failures and challenges of microfinance and it's role in eliminating poverty around the globe, it is also an entertaining, moving, and encouraging book. I particularly enjoyed getting answers to some of the questions I would ask borrowers: is the interest charged by the MFI's an undue burden (NO), has this loan really changed your life for the better (YES). It also answered questions I had about whether MFIs help borrowers in areas of financial mgmt, education, etc (YES).
Throughout the book Bob connects his parents and their own roots in Appalachian poverty (and their hard work to make that poverty a distant memory for Bob as he grows up) with just about everyone he meets. He has the gift of seeing his parents and their dreams everywhere he goes and in all manner of people who are using microfinance loans to change their lives. He frequently reminds us that the "birth lottery" drives a whole lot of our lives--the opportunities (or lack thereof) that we each have are in fact heavily dependent on what culture, region, socio-economic class, wealth, education, values, and even geography we are born into. I was glad to see him focus on this reality as I am extremely aware of this truth when I travel to developing areas.
I appreciate the hard facts and realities in this book (Bob visits Bosnia and Rwanda and other places devastated by wars and genocide where hard, painful, ugly truths abound) being tempered with plenty of glimpses of hope and healing and humor. While he frequently thinks/asks "how are you not insane" as he sees and hears the horrors, he inevitably winds up back at love:
"anything we do gets its meaning from the reason we do it--usually, the people we do it for. The part of ourselves that we give to to others in our efforts--that's where we find our own value"
"maybe life takes on meaning to the degree that our efforts and love are connected"
"maybe the world has at least this much fairness: as long as a person can love, their life matters"
"you love more, you win"
This book captures the excitement of reading the bios of borrowers and deciding to invest in their future and, for Bob, seeing how that plays out. Above all, I would call it a relational book...knitting the world a little bit closer together, one word at a time. If I had to pick two of those words that would best sum up the overall tone of this book they would be love and hope. How often does a book dealing with finance get summed up that way?
* I became interested in microfinance when Yunus/Grameen hit the world stage with the Nobel Peace prize. I did a bit of research at the time and thought it was a brilliant idea. Enter Kiva not long after offering regular folks an opportunity to lend to other regular folks...25 lifechanging dollars at a time. People pooling together their small resources to effect big changes all around the globe. I keep some of my long-term savings "invested" in my kiva account and it pays me better "dividends" than anything else I own. I hope this book encourages others to participate in being a part of someone elses dreams.
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Bob Harris was a writer on assignment for a luxury travel website, on a whirlwind tour to test-drive the most expensive hotels around the world, when he had an epiphany: Most of the world doesn't live like this!
In Dubai, he stays in a hotel offering $1,500-a-night rooms and $7,500 cocktails served in glasses made of gold, but he discovers that pleasure palaces like these are being built by homeless, emigrant construction workers who labor for $6 to $8 a day. This jarring imbalance causes a seismic shift in the way Bob Harris views the world. He realizes that he has "won the birth lottery," and he wants to help others who didn't. But he doesn't just want to give money to charity. He becomes convinced that people know best what they need and therefore, they should be the ones to decide how to employ resources. "My role would be just to get connected, pitch in, and get out of the way," he says.
In time, Mr. Harris stumbles across Kiva, an online microlender that provides small loans to people who wouldn't otherwise qualify, mostly in the developing world. People -- ordinary people like you and me -- can browse the business ideas that need financing, whether a motorcycle repair shop in Morocco or a convenience store in Rwanda, and with a click or two contribute as little as $25, which is pooled together with other people's funds to make the loans. The loans' repayment rate is impressively close to 100 percent.
Mr. Harris makes thousands of loans, using the money he earned on the luxury hotel tour. Eventually, he decides to make another tour of the world, this time to meet some of the people whose loans he has contributed to and see how they're making out. Out of this tour arises his book.
Mr. Harris is companionable and funny, informative and earnest. He is open to every experience that confronts him -- he tastes charcoal-flavored yogurt in Kenya and submits to a shave from a barber in Beirut -- and revels in the stories of the people he meets. In his concluding remarks, he says without a trace of irony, "Letting love guide your work really may be the best way to happiness."
In fact, Mr. Harris says so many memorable things that I could go on and on. Instead, I think you should pick up this book and read them yourself. This is one of those books that you'll be sorry to see end. I was delighted to see that he has written other books, including Prisoner of Trebekistan, about his experiences as a contestant on the TV show Jeopardy. I know what I'll be reading next!
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
The world is a horrible place; poverty and tragedy are never in short supply. Injustice is right up there too. Bob Harris is very aware of this, perhaps far more than most people. A question he keeps asking in his travels is "How do you keep from going insane?" And yet this is very much a tale of hope amidst the horror, small victories at a one to one level that are making a difference.
Several years ago Harris landed a writing assignment for Forbes Traveler: go to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, and detail the experience for their readers with the latest information. Nice work if you can get it, and as a free lance writer of semi-irregular income, Harris was properly appreciative. However, he found himself using his observational skills to compare and contrast. Side by side with some of the most incredible luxury on the planet is often horrendous poverty. Harris couldn't help but look at his own life and make connections.
His own family two generations back was living in poverty in America; a move by his father to a city where factory work could provide a start on a decent living for his family made all the difference. Harris, simply by being born when and where he was, in Ohio, had won the birth lottery that put him in a position to build on his family's hard work. Seeing men who had left their homelands, their families, to work in slave labor conditions in hopes of making things better for their loved ones was something Harris could understand at a gut level.
Harris was moved by a desire to do something - but what? This book is the story of the answer he came across: micro finance. All around the world there are people who could begin to change their lives with a small loan and some assistance. They understand their problems and their opportunities. The micro finance movement is all about connecting them with people in other countries who are willing to loan them the tiny but critical amount of money needed to get started. Note: it's a loan, not charity. It's up to the borrowers to repay the loan if they can demonstrate first that they have the potential to do so. And thanks to the safeguards and experience that has been built up by the organizations involved in this, they almost always do.
Harris works largely through Kiva.org, a leading portal to connect potential lenders to micro finance institutions around the world. This book grew out of the realization that his talents could help explain and spread the word of how micro finance is "Connecting our worlds one $25 loan at a time." The International Bank of Bob is an inspiring collection of stories from around the world, gathered by Harris in his travels to connect with the people on the other end of the loans, and those who make it all possible.
It's not a perfect solution. Harris is up front about the limitations of the model of micro finance, and the several examples where it has gone off the rails. It's vulnerable to local conditions, unstable governments, economic disruptions, and human frailties. But, as he documents with copious citations, footnotes, and links to information on the internet, when it succeeds it is a powerfully inspiring tool for making the world a better place. You can see how it works in places like Beirut, Nepal, Fiji, India, Bosnia, Rwanda, and yes America as Harris gets to know the people and their dreams they're working to make real.
There's no happy ending, because there's still so much to do. But there is happy. As Harris states in the "Home" chapter at the end where he finds he's come full circle back to his own roots, "We win just by starting. This world has great problems to solve. This world has great opportunities for happiness."
Anyone who is looking for a way to make the world a better place, one person, one loan at a time could do far worse than thumb through this book and follow up on the links there. (You can find more at bobharris.com)
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2013
I'm clearly in the minority here, but I thought this book jumped around far too much for its own good.
Harris -- who apparently has made multiple appearances on "Jeopardy!" -- clearly has a fecund mind. And I enjoyed some of the side trips, especially the concise histories of some of the places he visited. But often these were inserted immediately after introducing yet another loan recipient, making them mere stepping stones to a bigger story.
My biggest complaint, however, was that the discussion of Kiva (full disclosure: I'm a contributor) was extremely shallow. Harris asks recipients if the loans help, they say yes, the story moves on. But I struggle to believe it's all that simple. Even in "developed" countries (Harris hates that term) many small businesses fail -- due to poor strategies, emerging competition, regulatory issues, an undifferentiated or inferior product, etc. etc. etc. Although many of the in-country micro finance companies provide training in this area, it would be nothing short of a miracle if they were able to produce a winner every time. Yet there is no mention of failure, or -- for that matter -- struggle.
Moreover, as Harris points out, as micro finance grows, it increasingly puts new loan recipients into direct competition with existing ones. How is that playing out in the real world? Is Kiva trying to manage the process -- and the market -- by choosing its recipients? The book doesn't say.
I have personal experience with a woman who was bought out from sexual slavery and given a small shop by donors hoping to keep her out of the trade. Her relatives assumed that whatever she had was theirs, and raided the shelves regularly. Two months after she opened, the store had no money and nothing to sell. I'm sure that sort of thing is not unusual, yet nowhere does this sort of issue appear in Harris's feel-good book.
It seems that all of the Kiva loans carry interest (for the recipient; the donor makes no money). In a few places Harris says he asks about this, and the recipients say it's fine. But I would like to have learned more about how these interest rates are set, how much of the money thus generated is used by the micro finance firms to cover their own expenses, and how Kiva keeps a lid on things.
Perhaps I'm asking too much of a single volume. But the subtitle promises a story this book doesn't really deliver. I suspect it would have been better if Harris gave in to his impulses and wrote an informed travel book, with Kiva serving as the link between all the places he goes and people he meets -- and not as the theme.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
I almost didn't select this book but having been a bit curious about Kiva and other such organizations, decided to give it a go. Like many others, I've heard about micro-lending sites and have even browsed through a few from time to time but never participated in large part due to the negative publicity, potential for mis-use etc...
In any case, I thought this book might provide information to fill in the gaps of my own knowledge regarding the issue. Frankly, I figured this would be one of those books that gets set aside "until I get around to it". I ordered a few other books at the same time and when the delivery of book arrived, started my typical "quick browse" through each. Once I picked up this book, I literally couldn't put it down!
The author is a good writer...first and foremost he makes what could have been a dull topic absolutely enjoyable from start to finish. He's funny at times (such as his description of eating charcoal flavored yogurt) but also has the ability to become downright philosophical (the interrelationship between our ability to love and productivity in life). Now, it should be said that perhaps this book struck more of a chord with me due to the fact that we share several commonalities; the author was from modest beginnings and later exposed to vast wealth in life. While I've not had the experience of traveling the world to reside in the most luxurious hotels in the world, my first introduction to "real wealth" was still quite an eye opener. I felt and grappled with many of the same issues the author brings up. I've found myself wondering if there wasn't "more" to it...the authors conclusions seem as good as any I've ever encountered and better than most.
But this book goes beyond even that. He does a terrific job describing historical events right along with current events, personal experiences combine with community and cultural exchange...in short, this is a journey of its very own. It's fun, insightful and even educational at times.
I had the pleasure to review an advance reading copy which had no photographs/other...hopefully those will be included in the final release. I found myself wanting to see the places, people and events being described. Aside from that, the book has oodles of citations and extra resources for those curious types. Wonderful and delightful book!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
We've all heard the old adage "give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he has food for life." The author, a writer on overseas assignment, was struck by the disparity between the opulence of the hotels he was reviewing and the squalor of the living conditions of the workers who built them. Determined to make a difference he becomes involved in the world of kiva, or microloans. He takes the opportunity to make small loans to people all over the world and then travels to see the results firsthand.
This is an enjoyable book. It is easy to be overwhelmed by poverty and frustrated with governmental/charity responses which usually involve dumping large sums of money without proper oversight. And handouts, even assuming they wind up in the right hands, tend to make the recipients resentful. Kiva loans provide away for regular folk to invest in other people. Like everything else in this world it is not perfect, subject to the vagaries of politics,weather, natural disasters and human nature. The author is as honest about the failures and problems as he is about the successes. He makes his point without preaching. This book delivers more than information and entertainment. It provides affirmation that one man can indeed make a difference and hope that many are still willing to do so. Recommended.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I'm afraid this will be seen as a niche book for activists or people interested in microloans or...whatever, instead of the wonderful mass appeal book it really is.
Harris has written a moving, hilarious and highly unusual "travelogue" that starts with him experiencing the most extravagant luxury known to humanity (as a travel writer reviewing luxury hotels and resorts) and finds him connecting with the world in all its diversity. Yes, it's a wonderful promotion for Kiva and microloans in general, but this isn't a propaganda piece - it's a terrific form of autobiography about seeing yourself as part of the world.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
On the Internet there are some very, very bad things. And then there are some, well, miraculously good things. This is one of those.
The Kiva loan program is something many more people need to know about. It is wonderful that this book has been written, and let's hope that many people read it. It is a way of providing support to others far from us on this earth, and making a huge difference--in their lives and the lives of those they love, and many lives around them.
In this book you get a glimpse of how people can connect. You get a good look at how you can help, really help, not by giving money, but by lending it in a good way.
Lots of people have to borrow money. Loan sharks are doing something horrible to people. The Kiva loan program is the opposite.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2013
This book covers many of the "wonderings" I have had as a Kiva lender. Warning: this book may make you more compassionate. It may even cause you to become a micro-banker through Kiva or other associations. Hold on to your money, folks. No--- I mean, don't hold on. Reach out.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
Bob's book is unstoppably great with wonderfully, hysterically funny -- and always poignant -- stories and footnotes. This book has surprisingly more heart amd soul than anything you are likely to have read in quite awhile, and while teaching us all about the ins and outs of micro finance, we are reminded that the world is indeed a fragile, beautiful, small, revolving ball in time and space, and as humans, no matter where we live, the things that we share in common far outway our differences. The International Bank of Bob, as much as anything else, is a prayer for peace; a resounding testament to the indominability of the human spirit.