Saturday, May 4, 2013

Plugging a Good Cause and a Good Book

It's Microfinance Time.
As the owner of a blog with a weekly readership in the high single digits, I have a special obligation to endorse only the finest goods and services.

And it is without hesitation that I ask, nay, order you to buy Bob Harris's new book, The International Bank of Bob. So stop whatever you're doing. Turn off that web browser, put down that baby, shut down that air traffic control station, toss that beryllium dome back onto its sub-critical mass of plutonium, and go buy this book.

International Bank of Bob
Bob Harris was working as a travel correspondent in Abu Dhabi, reviewing $75 cups of coffee,staying in
thousand-dollar-per-night hotel rooms, and eating food from kitchens that use $300,000 of pure, edible gold leaf each year for pastry decorations. Meanwhile, trafficked sex workers line the streets and imported laborers work in hundred-degree heat for six dollars per day.

How did they get there?

Desperation. They lost the birth lottery, and this was the best they could expect out of life. It was comparatively lucrative, in fact. A good deal. They probably felt lucky to be there.

Seriously, how fucked up is that?

Kitten Ducks Gun
Approximately this fucked up.
So Bob started thinking about how to help poor people reverse their fortunes. After much pondering, much searching, he came across Kiva, a microfinance site that connects worthy borrowers with willing lenders. Kiva allows you to act as loan officer for entrepreneurs in 64 countries, lending them as little as $25 to help grow their businesses. When they repay the money, you can withdraw it and buy candy, or you can roll it back into another loan.

But does it work? In an attempt to answer this question, Bob embarked on a round-the-world trip. He visited lenders, exploring the advantages and the disadvantages, the dark side and the bright side, of this promising—albeit imperfect—strategy for alleviating poverty.

It makes for a great read. I was so caught up in it that I read it cover to cover in two marathon sessions. The last time I read a book in two sittings, I was 13 and had just discovered Interview with the Vampire. (For the youngsters: Interview with the Vampire is like Twilight, except Edward is cool and Bella is an effete French guy. Also, the narrator doesn't pass out every time something remotely interesting happens.)

Bob is funny, incisive, and thoughtful. I think you'll really enjoy the book. And I think that, once you've read it and considered the options, you'll want to try Kiva for yourself. Conveniently, the book comes with a $25 Kiva credit, which you can use to support any loan on the site.

The International Bank of Bob is available at Amazon, Powell's, independent booksellers, and as an eBook for Kindle and Nook. Note that I don't get a commission or kickback when you purchase it through any of those links. I've also forgone my usual $0.04 plug fee for this review, so you know it comes from the heart.

Regular programming will resume on Wednesday, with part two of our jaunt through the digestive tract.

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