By Maren Miller, student writer
Bob Harris had the gig of a lifetime. Forbes Traveler sent him all over the world to stay in the most lavish hotels in the world and document his travels. While the hotels he stayed at were gorgeous, he couldn’t help but see there was poverty all around the edges of his view. Seeing such a contrast inspired him to use the money he made from his trips to start changing lives through microfinance.
His experience led to a book, The International Bank of Bob. Harris will share his story at the Union College Leadership Symposium on October 24 at 10:30 a.m. in the sanctuary of the College View Adventist Church and again at 7:00 p.m. in Heartland Hall at the College View church.
“A lot of charity is driven on pity,” Harris told Forbes magazine in 2013. “No one needs pity. A lot of people only need access to affordable capital to start or sustain businesses to support their families and their communities. And when I looked closely, the projects I lent money to through Kiva all made practical business sense.”
He decided to partner with Kiva to loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in developing nations around the world—and hopefully help those like the people he had seen in his world travels. He appreciated the way Kiva created personal connections with the loan beneficiaries and that he was able to see exactly where his money went.
Kiva, an online not-for-profit lending platform that connects online lenders to entrepreneurs, allows people to lend money in amounts of $25 or more to low income students or entrepreneurs, who then use the money for their project or schooling and repay it when they can. Lenders can choose to lend it again, donate or withdraw their contribution.
Once Harris started making microloans, he traveled the world to visit the people he had helped. His book drew many of his readers to Kiva to lend, creating a lending community called “Friends of Bob Harris” with more than 2,000 members. Together, they’ve donated more than $8 million to various projects.
Even before his book, Harris was no stranger to show business. He has been on Jeopardy 14 times and won more than $150,000. He was also featured on Greed, and was a lifeline call for a friend who ended up giving an answer worth $250,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He’s written for network TV shows, including CSI and Bones, and done voice-over work on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The Leadership Symposium is part of the Union College Leadership Program, which allows students to earn a leadership minor with almost any major. Students involved in this program participate in peer mentoring, leadership classes and weekly meetings to develop leadership skills.
“We want to make sure all students have a chance to exercise their abilities and to connect and learn from other leaders before they graduate,” said Linda Becker, director of the program. This program provides an opportunity for students to grow themselves and connect to internships and mentors to better their understanding of what it means to be a leader.
The College View Seventh-day Adventist Church is located at the corner of 48th Street and Prescott Avenue on the campus of Union College. Both the 10:30 and 7:00 presentations are free and open to the public.
To learn more about Bob Harris, visit BobHarris.com