Summer of love

The six months since The International Bank of Bob was released have been a blast.  I have so many people to thank.

Since last I updated this site (in February! I suck at the Internets):

Day of release, the book shot to #3 on Amazon, mostly thanks to a ton of Kiva lenders grabbing copies all at once. The book went into its second printing in less than 24 hours. Thanks, Kiva lenders! (I’m sure Bloomsbury, my publisher, thanks you, too.)

There was a lot of nice press, too—the New York TimesSan Francisco ChronicleUSA TodayBoston GlobeTravel+LeisurePBS NewsHourForbesMarieCurrent TV, among a lot of others.



Even Chinese state television (!).


The tour of SF, LA, NY, and DC was awesome. Big crowds, lots of old friends. The Strand event in NY was a real highlight.  I was also invited to give talks at Citi, Visa, and Google, whose team lending total increased by almost tenfold soon after. (I’m not sure how much my talk had to with that; I’m sure that the people who organized my talk drove all that lending, and I was a handy prop at most. Still, cool.)  A bunch of book clubs have asked me to Skype in, too, some from as far away as Europe and Australia. Meeting people who appreciate the book never gets old.

More important by far: more than 15,000 new lenders have taken advantage of the “Bank of Bob” free trials page at Kiva, creating new accounts and making their first $25 loans to small mom-and-pop businesses all over the world. (If you’re curious, click the link. Poke around. You’ll probably dig it.)  Meanwhile, the Friends of Bob Harris team at Kiva is approaching $4 million in loan volume, having made nearly 130,000 loans to small businesses in 76 countries. I can’t even get my head around those numbers.

And we’re just getting started. This fall, the book has already received academic adoption at a number of university “first read” programs.  And as I write this, I’m in New York, taking a little time for fun. Then I head for Brussels, where I’ve been invited to present the book in the European Parliament. (Those words look really weird to write.)

I’ve said this individually to everyone I can reach, but for the record: heartfelt thanks to readers, lenders, Kiva, friends, family, booksellers, my publisher, various writers and interviewers, nice folks at a bunch of colleges and corporations, and most of all, to the kind and hardworking people in nearly two dozen countries who opened the lives and work and homes and hearts in various ways, just because I asked.

I have been given more than I ever dreamed of asking for, nearly everywhere I’ve gone. Best summer—heck, best four and a half years—of my life. Thank you.


Jambo (“hello” in Swahili) from Kenya!

I’m writing from Nairobi after an amazing lap around Kenya for The 1st International Bank of Bob, my upcoming book for Bloomsbury about microfinance, my own Kiva lending experience, and my personal encounters with Kiva entrepreneurs and others all over the world.  (So far, my own repayment rate is vanishingly close to 100 percent — after 2029 loans, I’m down all of $31.82.)

Much of my time here was spent visiting with officers and clients of Juhudi Kilimo, a microfinance lender that focuses on Kenya’s rural population. It was a privilege to join them as we drove to small towns and villages in the countryside, meeting farmers and families whose whole lives are transformed — just by buying a cow with Juhudi’s help (and if you’re a Kiva lender investing in Juhudi’s loans, your help as well).

Mr. and Mrs. Mwangi of Murang'a show off their cool new cow

Think of a cow as a dairy farmer’s capital equipment, and you’ll see why this is so powerful: Juhudi has figured out a way for small farmers to finance a top-end hybrid cow that produces more than twice as much milk than a local cow, and for the farmers to pay off the investment in just one year — so the cow produces nothing but income for the rest of its life. In the first year, farmers get milk for the market in the morning and milk for the family in the evening — so they’re feeding the kids as well as ever while paying off the cow — but thereafter they have income to invest in their homes, their farms, and their children’s education.

Mrs. Mwangi's sister and her shy little boy

The kids were always the most fun to meet. They were almost always curious, friendly, and then playful like my own niece and nephew were at the same age.


(The lone exceptions were a few little ones who were frankly petrified at the sight of a human being with my strange skin tone. I didn’t know until this trip that there were still places in the world where this was possible, but oh yes — as one little girl who is probably still cowering under her mother’s skirt made abundantly clear.)

The most inspiring group I’ve met was this group of deaf farmers from Bureti, way out west halfway to Uganda.

The Bureti Self-Help Group for the Deaf, plus Nathan (2nd from left) and Fred (5th from right) from Juhudi, and some dude. Group chairperson Isaiah Arap Chepkulul is 4th from right.

They not only face the predictable challenges of any group of rural poor trying to pull themselves up, but they’re doing it in a society where deaf people suffer far more obstacles than they do in America. But they’ve committed themselves to supporting each other — even putting it in writing in a simple but powerful statement of purpose they’ve all signed.

The grace and welcome that flowed from these people when this total stranger showed up was more moving than I can describe.

Communicating was surprisingly easy. As deaf folks, they’re extremely skilled at making hand signals and understanding those of others, and when words were necessary, I could mumble in English, Fred from Juhudi would translate into Swahili, and one of the members with some hearing would translate this into sign language. And then the answer would come back around the same way.

But words were rarely necessary. Sitting with these sweet folks in a small wooden home, the love and mutual care they are providing each other is something I will be remember for the rest of my life. No exaggeration.

It may not seem like it, just pointing and clicking at, but you are sending more than a loan out into the world. For people like the Bureti group for the deaf, you are sending out love. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.

I hope as you read this, you feel it, too.

Maybe you’ll even join my lending team and do some good right now.


And my profound thanks to the good people at the Nairobi, Murang’a, and Litein offices of Juhudi Kilimo. Your kindness will stay with me for as long as I live.

Hanging with the cool kids at Juhudi Kilimo in Litein.

PS — When the Bureti group’s loan comes up on Kiva, I’ll post a heads-up, because I want them to get financed in about twenty seconds. Thirty, tops. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

Beyond Caprica: My New DK Sci-Fi Travel Guide

I just found out a few weeks ago that I'm about to have a new book-type thingy published.

Last year, my dear friend Jane was running Caprica (the Battlestar Galactica prequel), and on the strength of my real-world travel writing and the country summaries in Who Hates Whom, she thought I'd be a good choice to devise backstories for the show's planets (the "colonies of Kobol"), amplifying the existing tangential references in the original BSG into fuller political histories, giving Caprica's writers an internal bible for consistency.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance — this was like being a Star Trek fan in 1968 and being asked to write the show's history of the Romulans for use in future episodes. I didn't figure this would be published, but whoa — turns out NBC/Universal has edited my memo to fit the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide format, licensed the resulting pamphlet with DK, and published a limited run as if it's a real full-color DK travel guide to be released in a limited run at the San Diego Comic Con — but it's also on sale at the NBC store. I don't think this will ever be in stores, so if the show becomes a cult like BSG, it could become a collector's item. Neat!