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The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time

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Hired by ForbesTraveler.com to review some of the most luxurious accommodations on Earth, and then inspired by a chance encounter in Dubai with the impoverished workers whose backbreaking jobs create such opulence, Bob Harris had an epiphany: He would turn his own good fortune into an effort to make lives like theirs better. Bob found his way to Kiva.org, the leading portal through which individuals make microloans all over the world: for as little as $25-50, businesses are financed and people are uplifted. Astonishingly, the repayment rate was nearly 99%, so he re-loaned the money to others over and over again.

After making hundreds of microloans online, Bob wanted to see the results first-hand, and in The International Bank of Bob he travels from Peru and Bosnia to Rwanda and Cambodia, introducing us to some of the most inspiring and enterprising people we've ever met, while illuminating day-to-day life-political and emotional-in much of the world that Americans never see. Told with humor and compassion, The International Bank of Bob brings the world to our doorstep, and makes clear that each of us can, actually, make it better.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2013

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Bob Harris

3 books32 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 217 reviews
Profile Image for Nancy Kennedy.
Author 11 books54 followers
February 8, 2013
Bob Harris was a writer on assignment for a luxury travel website, on a whirlwind tour to test-drive the most expensive hotels around the world, when he had an epiphany: Most of the world doesn't live like this!

In Dubai, he stays in a hotel offering $1,500-a-night rooms and $7,500 cocktails served in glasses made of gold, but he discovers that pleasure palaces like these are being built by homeless, emigrant workers who labor for $6 to $8 a day. This jarring imbalance causes a seismic shift in the way Bob Harris views the world. He realizes that he has "won the birth lottery," and he wants to help those who didn't.

Mr. Harris stumbles across Kiva, an online microlender that provides small loans to people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for a loan, mostly in the developing world. People -- ordinary people like Bob Harris, or you or me -- can browse the business ideas that need financing, whether a motorcycle repair shop in Morocco or a convenience store in Rwanda, and with a click or two contribute as little as $25, which is pooled together with other people's funds to make the loans.

Mr. Harris makes thousands of loans, using the money he earned on the luxury hotel tour. Eventually, he decides he'd like to take another tour of the world, this time to meet some of the people whose loans he has contributed to and see how they're making out. Out of this tour arises his book.

Mr. Harris is companionable and funny, informative and earnest, in a good way. He is open to new experiences -- he tastes charcoal-flavored yogurt in Kenya and agrees to a shave from a barber in Beirut -- and revels in the stories of the people he meets. In his concluding remarks, he says without a trace of irony, "Letting love guide your work really may be the best way to happiness."

In fact, Mr. Harris says so many memorable things that I could go on and on. Instead, I think you should pick up this book and read them yourself. This is one of those books that you'll be sorry to see end.
Profile Image for India.
2 reviews33 followers
February 13, 2013
In fairness: I'm a friend of Bob's, a Kiva lender, and the copy editor of this book. Yet I would give it 5 stars were I none of the above, I promise. The International Bank of Bob made me laugh. It made me hope. And it made get off my backside and try to do something constructive. That's a 5-star book. Hell, I'd give it 4 for the hope alone. There is so much not enough of that out there.
Profile Image for Lisa Klink.
Author 21 books14 followers
February 1, 2013
I have to agree with Joss Whedon about “The International Bank of Bob.” He says that “No book this important should be this delightful.” He’s right. Bob Harris’ new book tackles huge issues like economic disparity and global poverty by bringing them down to a human scale.
Bob found himself staying in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, courtesy of ForbesTraveler.com. Inside the hotel was a vending machine that dispensed gold bars. Really. Just outside, he saw construction crews working twelve hour shifts for miniscule wages in 110 degree heat. Faced with the stark contrast, Bob wondered if there was anything one guy could do to make a difference.
He found Kiva.org, a website where anyone can lend $25 to entrepreneurs in some of the poorest regions of the world. Bob began to make loans. A lot of loans. But were they actually helping people improve their lives? He decided to find out. Most of the book follows Bob on his travels around the world to visit Kiva borrowers and talk to people at the local microfinance institutions (MFIs) which actually make the loans.
Readers will certainly learn a lot about microfinance from “The International Bank of Bob,” but it’s about more than that. As the self-described “average Ohioan” meets a seamstress in Tanzania, a furniture maker in Sarajevo and a dairy farmer in Kenya, he finds more similarities than differences. Like his own hard-working father, the entrepreneurs who get microloans through Kiva are trying to build a better future for their families.
These stories are told with an engaging, optimistic voice. Bob finds humor in his own, occasional fish-out-of-water situations. But he also tries to process what it must be like to live through the recent violence in places like Rwanda and Bosnia, asking in disbelief: “How do you not go crazy?” By researching the impact of microfinance, Bob discovers the resiliency and interconnectedness of people all over the world.
Profile Image for Anna.
133 reviews
May 6, 2014
I recently started investing with Kiva and I have loved the experience so much I went looking for books about Kiva, an international micro finance clearing house, where ordinary people can loan a few dollars to other ordinary people around the globe, using the dignity not charity model to lend a helping hand to small business people in places as far away as Kyrgyzstan or Kenya or as close at hand as the USA. Helping people help themselves, From maybe buying a selling a few key goods in their communities to saving up enough to be able to invest in things that will help them own their own businesses, like a cow, or a sewing machine or a motorcycle to being able to afford to pay someone to help them market their products more effectively. That is the magic of micro finance. This memoir of an early investor who set out to meet some of the people whose businesses he had supported was interesting, but not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. It suffered a bit from superficiality. However, what there was of it was truly interesting and he doesn't shy away from looking into the dark side of micro finance as well as the life enhancing aspects of it - after all, micro finance, the giving of loans to people whose businesses are too small to be interesting to conventional banks, is another form of banking and so if organizations go into it with predatory intent they can cause a lot of damage. And it was interesting to meet entrepreneurs all over the globe from Bosnia to Africa to South America. I just wish there had been a little more depth to it all. But as a lighthearted intro to Kiva it can't be beat!
Profile Image for Melody.
2,622 reviews251 followers
February 20, 2014
I picked this up for a couple of reasons. First because I'm skeptical and curious in equal measure about microfinance, and second because SUNFLOWERS. No, really, second because I find it easier to learn about things I don't understand (like finance) if I have lots of examples from real life. I was hoping for that, but what I got instead was footnotes. There are more footnotes inside this book than there are sunflowers in the field behind Bob. I got tired of back and forth, and am of the opinion that all his trenchant asides could have been incorporated into the text for a more readable book. The stories of the people he met were certainly interesting, but ultimately his writing and his tone didn't resonate with me. I have a better understanding of Kiva loans, though, and think I'll try 'em out.
Profile Image for Nick Arnett.
Author 6 books7 followers
March 6, 2013
On assignment for Forbes, Bob visited the world's most exclusive hotels. But along the way, he also saw the extreme gap between those who stay there and those who build and work at them. That inspired him to take another world tour, this time to hear the stories of recipients of Kiva micro-loans. Like Bob, the book is brilliant, funny, inspirational. He's also my cousin.
Profile Image for Maureen Grigsby.
826 reviews
March 4, 2013
I loved this book!! It is a story of changing the world, one micro loan at a time. It is also a story of how incredibly interconnected our world is today, due to the Internet and cellular phones. Worth reading!
Profile Image for Juliana.
627 reviews48 followers
March 25, 2013

Bob Harris was writing an article on the world's most luxurious hotels. Appalled at the waste he saw and the gulf between the lives of the richest and the poorest--Bob decided to take the fees he earned and do something good with it.  He researched and began loaning funds out through Kiva and other micro-lending organizations. He then traveled the world and met some of the real individuals who are recipients of those funds to hear their stories and find out how those relatively small loans can make a huge difference downstream.

In his book International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a TimeHarris connects the story to his own background--from roots in Appalachian poverty his own parents moved up for a better opportunity. He describes the long hours his own father put in--and how he sees that and his mother time and again reflected in these hard working individuals around the world.

He also tells the bigger story of micro lending in the book--of Kiva and other organizations--their successes and failures. This is as much a travelogue of the world's poorest regions. He does it with humor and respect for those he meets (except in a couple cases the individuals are not told that he was their benefactor).

I've been a big fan myself of Kiva, and also organizations like D-Rev and Room to Read that are on the ground solving real problems.

In this vein, here are other books I would recommend on globalization and giving back:

Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
An economics professor chases the economics of a simple t-shirt around the world and it's effect on the economy--from it's creation in a factory to a used clothing economy in Africa.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood
John Wood left his career at Microsoft to start and fund Room to Read and libraries all over the world.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedmann
Friedmann explains the economics of globalization.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Diamond explains how history and resources has benefited some groups over others.

The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist
Lessons on how to give back.

Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America  by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich joins the working poor working for minimum wage to show the endless cycle of poverty.
Profile Image for Andrew.
387 reviews7 followers
May 1, 2013
Bob Harris had what many might consider a dream job, paid to stay in and write reviews of some of the best hotels in the world. But in Dubai, he came face-to-face with the reality of the disparity between the extremes of wealth and poverty, and he began looking for a way to use his modestly privileged life to help improve the lives of those less fortunate. The tool he found for doing this was the mico-lending portal at Kiva.org. For as little as $25, he could help finance a loan to an entrepreneur halfway around the world, empowering them to improve their business and their life.

Curious to see how his hundreds of loans were impacting the lives of the clients, Harris set see the results for himself. He visited countries in South America, Africa and Asia, meeting representatives of the lending institutions that partner with Kiva and with actual loan recipients, hoping to see that his loans and those of other Kiva users are actually making a difference. While such micro-loans are not a panacea that will solve all the world’s issues of poverty, he did find that they are a powerful tool for improving the lives of people living in poverty. Used together with programs to improve infrastructure, address government transparency and accountability and other efforts, such financial tools as micro-lending can truly make a difference in the lives of people in some of the poorest places on the planet.

This book describes the author’s experiences, from that initial encounter in Dubai, to his travels to document the impact of his loans through Kiva, as well as his interactions with the Kiva community itself. He relates his stories with a great deal of empathy and compassion, combined with a generous dose of humor. He make a compelling case for participating in micro-lending, and his optimistic view of the future is infectious. For people who already lend through Kiva (or some other micro-lending platform), this book is going to provide validation for their efforts. For those who question the merits of such efforts, this might provide insights that will help them decide how they feel about such programs. Even if the reader isn’t persuaded to join the Kiva effort, hopefully this book will inspire them to find their own ways to reach out to others, to make the world a better place.
Profile Image for Chelsi.
28 reviews
December 16, 2012
I am ashamed to admit that prior to reading this book I had never heard of kiva.org and did not know that microlending was so readily available to those who want to donate. After reading this book however, one is definitely able to carry an intelligent conversation about microlending; Bob Harris does a good job of covering the basics. That being said, I must mention that this book reads more like a travel memoir than a business or economics book. If you are looking for an academic book on microlending this is definitely not it. In fact, this book is humorous at times, Mr. Harris detailing the trials of staying and in and learning about a developing country.
The thing that I really enjoyed about this book, aside from the aforementioned humor, was the variety of places and types of people covered. We meet families in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. We also meet characters who live without electricity or clean water to those who live seemingly “normal” lives in the United States. Another aspect that impressed me was the respect that Harris gave each of the people he encountered and how he was able to keep an open mind with all the circumstances.
What irked me to no end about this book was Harris’s attempt to relate to EVERY SINGLE CIRCUMSTANCE he came across. While I think it is admirable to try to understand and connect with different people’s lives, there comes a point when enough is enough. Bob Harris’s Dad grew up without power which is unfortunate. I do not think that is comparable to the conditions that some of these people lived in. Even if it was, there are only so many times you can hear about it. There are also only so many times you can say you see your mother in the person you are interviewing. I think Harris tried too hard at times to find similarities in people instead of just accepting and welcoming the differences. If you can get passed these few minor points, I think this book is definitely worth reading.
14 reviews
March 12, 2013
I am regular Kiva lender and bought this book on the recommendation of another Kiva lender who had received an advanced copy.

The International Bank of Bob tells the story of how Bob came to start loaning with Kiva and then of his subsequent travels to meet the people behind the loans that he made, by visiting by visiting Field Partners and Borrowers across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. Along the way, he answers many of the big questions about microlending such as excessive interest rates, the impacts of irresponsible lending and microlending as a solution to poverty.

The book is brilliant. Powerful, funny, informative and insightful. It is as if Bob had a picture of me on his desk as he was writing and was thinking, I’m going to write a book just for that guy.

The first 50 pages made me angry. The next 250 pages that anger was replaced by hope and a sense of Purpose. Then there was the peroration of the book, which is a superb call to action that takes us from the Avengers to Gandhi via a Hungarian psychologist in five pages of prose. Five pages that remind me of the power of the written word, as our collective store of memory and as a force for change. These last five pages struck a chord with me in the way that only two other pieces have ever done so. Mary Schmidt’s Sunscreen column and Vaclav Havel’s 1990 New Year address to the Czech people.

If you like Kiva, you should read this book. If you want to learn more about the impact of your $25 loan you should read this book.

If you are interested in reading interesting stories of faraway places, where the people are just like you and me, then you should read this book.

If you want to learn more about the world really works then you should read this book.

If you just want to read an interesting travel memoir then you should read this book.

If you haven’t guessed already I really like this book!
Profile Image for Tammy.
340 reviews
March 25, 2013
I'm a huge microfinance fan (and, apparently, a Bob Harris fan), so it's no surprise that I loved this book. Bob presents things in an entertaining, and easy-to-digest manner, while covering the very serious topic of world-wide poverty and some of its underlying issues.

What I appreciated most about this book is that Bob presents himself as just another guy trying to make a difference the best he can, without skimping on the research (what else would you expect from a Jeopardy champ?). I found his footnotes (and endnotes) as entertaining as they were informative -- don't skip them :)

And I have enough "For Further Reading" to last me through to the next year.

For now, I'm off to make another Kiva donation.
Profile Image for Michele.
9 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2013
Inspiring! And very easy to read. I was completely engrossed in this book, as it is an entertaining, witty and intelligent travel memoir. The focus is obviously microfinance, but this is not intimidating for non-economic minded folks; learning how different people in very different geographies live and work hard and aspire to more is a reality check and humbling experience. Really enjoyed this, and highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Leslie.
92 reviews
April 3, 2013
A good book to learn about Kiva and how microfinance is working globally.
Profile Image for Beth.
616 reviews24 followers
April 20, 2013
Did you know that you can buy The World's Most Expensive Cocktail for $7,438 (it comes in a take-home gold tumbler)? Or that you can buy a special type of coffee for around $600 a pound that came from the rarified atmosphere of an animal's butt? No? Well, how about this - there's a flip side, a dark side to the craziness. A huge percentage of people on this Earth live on $1 *PER DAY*. Not because they're lazy, or criminals, but because they got dealt a different hand than so many of the rest of us. This book is about those people, and one crazy American who traveled in search and support of the efforts being led to help them.

Many may have heard of Kiva loans - that is what this books is about. It takes a look at exactly how they work, why they work, and what happens when someone abuses the system. It also takes a look at the most important part - the people involved. Those who apply for loans, those who give their lives helping, and those who started these groups in the first place. Without the people, there would be no book.

I did find a couple of things that I should mention that bothered me. The first four chapters seemed less organized than the remainder of the book. Things that seemed like they would be in an introduction were stuck later in another chapter - that sort of thing. While it didn't damage the book overall, it did just seem out-of-whack on occasion. The other thing is that this book could have been cut down by about 1/4-1/3 without doing any real damage to the overall point(s) being made.

Having said that - I loved the voice of the author. Very entertaining, which can be difficult when writing about such a serious subject. I also am very glad for the numerous links at the bottoms of the pages, which allow the reader to look up the profiles of these people and to donate if they decide to. The sources were also wonderful to have.

Overall - this book is an important resource for people who want to help but sometimes aren't sure how. Kiva and other microlending programs were hit hard a few years back after a huge scandal by another group, and this book discusses that while demonstrating that one bad banana needn't spoil the whole bunch. I had looked into microlending in the past and, for whatever reason, never really got my butt in gear. I am proud to say that while reading this book, I made my first loan. In such difficult times, and when actions here in America have such dire consequences all over, it's nice to feel like I have the ability to help someone else. This book is well worth reading, and maybe, more readers might decide that $25 is small enough for them to help with.

Change is out there...will you be a part of it?
Profile Image for Rock Angel.
377 reviews11 followers
Shelved as 'i-put-down'
May 21, 2013

A critique against the current state of micro-lending:
Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor

Bob's travel tips:

----- At 13% created the "writer-ovreach" label

The author is an affable guy. Nary educated, in policy, world affairs, economics, fine arts, or even travel (yet he rates hotels for Forbes Travel). But he seems to have his heart in the right place. The first 3 chapters are dotted with minor (or not so minor) inaccuracies, as well as some of his mindful drivel. The passage where he tried to overcome petty bitterness in not winning the grand prize in the birth lottery, swimming naked in the Persian Gulf was probably the most enjoyable part to me (~p.16-19)

While his intention was certainly admirable, his reasoning came across rather juvenile, and his research, despite obvious fervor, fell short. W.r.t the state-of-the-world that he covered in his personal musings (and much of the footnotes) in the first 3 chapters, he was simply not well-versed enough to discuss them. The fact that anyone who regurgitates the results of a Google search can have a byline today, "facts" never vetted before going to print, is a sad sign of the times.

I struggle to muster enough interest to push through the rest of the book. Even tho he does provide amusing anecdotes of foreign cultures.

I hope someone will tell me how the rest is gonna go.

----- At ~1/4 added the "drivel" label

Nope, no improvement from my previous impression

----- ----- ----- ----- -----
top earmarks - 42 49 54 60 81 85 89
bott earmarks - 73 86
Profile Image for Harold.
1 review1 follower
March 5, 2013
I am so glad that Bob Harris went on this enthralling, epic adventure, so that I didn't have to. But, boy, am I glad he did! And that he wrote so beautifully about it so we could all go along for the ride from the dengue fever free comfort of our favorite reading chair.

Little did Bob know when he went on a tour of luxury hotels around the world that it would spark a much bigger journey, one with the tiny little goal of trying to figure out how to do something about the horrible inequalities he witnessed outside the doors of these gilded palaces. On the way, Bob discovered Kiva, and their incredible online micro loan program. So the journey began, through thousands of loans, and then to meet the people on the other end of those loans. You will love to meet each and every one of these people, through the kind, curious, and eager eyes of Bob Harris, and learn too a bit about the world they live in. This is the other side of globalization. A shrinking world where we can all get to know each other a bit better, and reach out across divides that seemed unbridgeable not so long ago. But no more.

This book had me literally laughing out loud just paragraphs after having me in tears. And if you ever thought footnotes were boring, you haven't read footnotes generated by the brain of Bob Harris. His footnotes are what the internet should be. Quick, entertaining, and full of tasty nuggets of insight and knowledge.

I highly recommend this read. The pages fly by. But be careful, it might just inspire you to get up and do something in this world. Or at least go online to Kiva and make a difference with a couple of clicks, so you can start up the International Bank of You.
Profile Image for Kelly Jahn.
95 reviews1 follower
April 3, 2013
The International Bank of Bob could (should?) be a life-changing book for people.

Bob Harris begins by telling us about the economic injustice that caused him to even undertake the book. Then he proceeds to take us on a whirlwind tour of the countries where he personally has funded Kiva microloans: war-torn countries, economically disadvantaged countries. In each, Bob gives us the background that we need to better understand the economic situation in the country and also provides a personal touch by meeting with people whose loans he has funded. He is shameless in his argument that we all could be providing microloans and changing people's lives.

One dislike with the book was the frequent footnoting. It really chopped up the reading and was distracting. That negative being said, it also provided a lot of humor and background.

You NEED to read this book! I don't give out 5 star ratings easily!
Profile Image for Kelly W.
31 reviews4 followers
April 2, 2013
I enjoyed this book immensely.Bob Harris writes in a conversational style that is a pleasure to read. I had vaguely heard of Kiva ( the organization ) and microlending in general, but his enthusiasm and explanation of the way they work has convinced me to become a microlender as well.

We follow Harris on his travels to countries around the world to see how these loans change lives and give people a chance to make a living.He even meets some of the actual clients to whom he is making loans. Graciously, he does not reveal this fact to them. For the cost of a few lattes a month ( that Americans wouldn't miss ), the lives of the clients are improved so much. They have business plans and work hard to be able to make a profit and pay the loans back.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone and will be encouraging my friends to buy it.
Profile Image for Scott.
Author 6 books16 followers
March 6, 2013
Bob Harris' new book is a funny, educational and often poignant look at how he discovered the world of micro-loans: $25 loans to people all over the world trying to start or expand small businesses, enterprises that put food on their table and improve their quality of life, and make basic products available to their neighbors. Then Bob travels the world and meets the farmers and shopkeepers who have benefitted from micro-finance, from South America to Asia to Africa.

Bob has a breezy, conversational style and is a great teavel companion. The people he meets on his journey are unforgettable. You won't be able to put this book down!
417 reviews
March 26, 2013
You should read this book for many reasons. The author is a funny, pleasant guy, who travels places that I will never go and finds something good about each of those places. He explains many of the things that I have not quite understood about kiva.org and does a good job of putting into words the things that make me feel so good about being a lender. You finish the book with a better understanding of the difficulties that exist in the effort to bring people out of extreme poverty, but also with a strengthened faith in the basic goodness of most people. And, if you are reading this review and haven't ever loaned money at kiva.org, check it out now!
26 reviews6 followers
March 31, 2013
Fascinating look at the effectiveness of microfinance through the lens of Kiva and its partners. It certainly makes me glad that I contribute to Kiva, and makes me not only want to give more, but also to meet some of the people that my loans have benefitted. As difficult as the world's problems are, this book gives hope. It also provides perspective that we all need (concepts such as "the birth lottery," "yes, and...," are things we all need to keep in mind).
Profile Image for Sarah.
2 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2013
The funny, witty, but imminently helpful, guide to saving the world. Bob Harris made making a difference seem possible. I received a Kiva card for Christmas and after reading Bob's book (yes, I'm calling him Bob because he feels like my friend after reading his book) I've made additional loans and felt more educated on the process. Go Friends of Bob Harris!
Profile Image for Laura.
1,027 reviews15 followers
March 26, 2013
Loved this. It's funny (what I expected from his first book) but also had me in tears in many places (the atrocities that we [humankind] are willing to commit in the name of "_________" horrify and scare me anew every time) and inspired to figure out a way to help others, even while I'm at home raising my two kids.
3 reviews
January 7, 2015
I enjoyed reading the first half or 250-300 pages of this book. I found almost every experience that he had in the book was completely and totally fascinating. I was able to find out what struggles others had and how I was able to help these people. I even considered loaning to others across the world. Reading this book made me want to help others instead of being a bystander.
Profile Image for Bibliovixen.
175 reviews8 followers
December 12, 2013
This is a well-written book about Kiva, those who participate through its programs, and how it connects people. I'm a huge fan, and lender with Kiva. I appreciate the experiences shared in this book. I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Fiona.
188 reviews14 followers
Want to read
February 8, 2013
I really want to read this, especially since I know what Kiva does.
Profile Image for Nancy.
69 reviews
March 20, 2013
Just starting this book and liking it already.

"Win big at the birth lottery, and you get to poop gold by the kilo."

Sounds funny out of context.

90 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2013
Terrific, easily approachable account of Bob's journey to make a difference and encourage others to make connections and alleviate poverty.

Go Kiva!
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