Forum speaker shares his perspective on charity

Jeopardy champion supports microfinance website


Story by Kate Niestrom, Staff Writer

Any one person has the possibility of making a huge difference in the world, the author of the critically acclaimed book “The International Bank of Bob” said in a speech he gave Tuesday night at UW- Eau Claire.

“Helping people is good; I don’t care who,” writer and former “Jeopardy!”contestant Bob Harris said. “And you can really actually help people for nearly free, all over the world.”

Harris spoke as a part of The Forum series in Schofield Auditorium to a crowd of over 200 people who listened as he recounted how his job of being a travel writer for Forbes Magazine turned into a quest to help some of the poorest people in the world.

In 2008, Forbes hired Harris to help compile a list of the 50 best hotels in the world, but he found he could not enjoy the luxurious accommodations after witnessing the living conditions of some of the local citizens.

Harris found a way of helping those living in poverty through the microfinance site The organization connects people all over the world by allowing lenders to loan money without interest to those in need, who then pay the loans back in full when they begin to turn a profit.

Harris called Kiva “a bastion of kindness and sanity” and donated his entire $20,000 paycheck from Forbes to various individuals all over the planet through Kiva, where the money has already been repaid and recycled through the site nine times.

“I’m just trying to help people make a living, to help people get by,” Harris said.

After donating his money to Kiva, Harris spent the next several years visiting the projects he helped finance, which he chronicled in his book.

Kristi Hagen, an audience member at The Forum, said after watching Harris speak, she was considering donating to Kiva herself.

“I think Kiva sounds like one of many ways to give back to those in need,” she said. “Bob Harris’ story is very inspiring and just makes me want to learn more.”

For those who want to donate but are not sure how to get started, Harris has his own Kiva lending team, Friends of Bob Harris, with over 1,700 members who have lent over $164,000.

Harris ended his talk with a message he heard from a man in Beirut. The man had lost his restaurant and livelihood in an airstrike, yet still remained happy and hopeful. When Harris asked him how this could be, the man said, “You love more, you win.”

Harris said he plans to continue spreading love and generosity to those in need for the rest of his life.