Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kiva Lender Bob Harris makes his 1,050th loan!

Bob Harris, a writer from Los Angeles, became a Kiva lender in January 2009 and just made his 1,050th loan. We were honored to interview Bob to learn more about why he joined Kiva and what he enjoys most about the lending experience.

1. How did you hear about Kiva?

I first heard about Kiva after hearing Premal Shah (President of Kiva) speak at the Tides convention in San Francisco in 2008. At the time, I had just been hired by a luxury travel website to visit and write about some of the wealthiest hotels and restaurants all over the world. But in visiting a place like Dubai, for instance, it was extremely hard to enjoy what I was doing. During Ramadan, I saw a new 5-star hotel being built and the workers were in 100-degree+ temperatures with no food or water. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing about these working conditions and I thought a lot about what I could do to help — not just a bit of aid to the people nearby, but to address poverty at its roots — if the South Asian villages these workers mainly came from had stronger economies, for example, they probably wouldn't have been stuck in near-slavery.

I remembered Premal’s talk and realized that joining Kiva would be a sustainable way for me to help. So I'm taking every dime I made working for the luxury travel website and investing it in helping people build their local economies. Maybe if local entrepreneurs develop their own businesses, some people can avoid working conditions like the ones I saw.

2. How long have you been a Kiva lender?

I made my first loan in January 2009 and my goal is to make 1,000 loans per year.

3. Why did you start a lending team and how have you promoted it?

I actually did not start my lending team, but a fellow Kiva lender and a fan of my writing started it. He asked me if I wanted to take it over, so I did. I post invitations on Facebook, Twitter and my website once or so a month and currently my lending team has about 35 members.

4. It's amazing that you have made 1,050 loans! What do you look for in an entrepreneur each time you make a loan?

Reading each entrepreneur's story is my favorite part of the process. Often you feel a connection, or if nothing else, it helps put your own problems into perspective. I'm drawn to things that feel familiar to me — my grandpa was an Appalachian dairy farmer, for example, so dairies are a soft spot — or the tremendous creativity a lot of entrepreneurs show, or sometimes a part of the world I've been to and feel a connection to.

Bob is currently writing “The First International Bank of Bob” (Bloomsbury, 2011), an upcoming book about his experiences traveling the world and learning about microfinance, hoping to provide readers with a vicarious, first-hand sense of how microloans are changing lives worldwide.