HOPE International isn’t just another nonprofit. Instead of handouts, the organization focuses on encouraging saving and entrepreneurship in countries around the world – helping people build their own success rather than simply trying to give it to them.
Peter Greer, the President and CEO of HOPE International since 2004, talked to Opportunity Lives about the breathtaking success HOPE has had over the last 10 years. The organization went from a couple thousand active clients in two countries to 800,000 families in 17 countries today.
But Greer is appropriately cautious about growth. Focusing too much on expansion can jeopardize quality, and he wants to make sure the organization is achieving its purpose. “At HOPE, we seek first to be Christ-centered, second to do our microfinance services with the highest degree of excellence, and then (and only then) to focus on growth,” Greer told Opportunity Lives.
The microfinance services he refers to have had a real impact in creating entrepreneurship around the world. Throughout the HOPE Network, Greer said there are $41 million in active loans. “We’ve seen the individuals we serve create businesses of all kinds—selling baked goods, raising livestock, or owning a ‘colmado,’ a small convenience store,” said Greer.
He told the story of one client in China who first used a HOPE loan to expand her business. But she didn’t stop there. Soon she was training others in her community to do the same. A rural cooperative quickly developed, allowing the village to collectively increase profits and improve production.
Microfinance is important to poverty reduction, said Greer. “We’ve all heard the old Chinese proverb, ‘Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.’ But there’s a flaw in that logic—knowing how to fish is insufficient if you don’t have a fishing rod. With microfinance, we’re able to provide capital, coaching, training, and encouragement to help each individual start their businesses.”
HOPE is on track to serve one million families by the end of 2015, but Greer said it’s not enough. The demand for microfinance services globally is still vastly greater than those supplied today. He is hopeful that the future will bring technological changes that make it easier to bring microfinance to millions of new people.
HOPE’s mission reflects an idea that is just starting to take hold in society. “The only way to help someone not be poor anymore is to help them have a job,” said Greer. “No handout model ever addresses poverty.”
By recognizing the intelligence and potential of the people they serve, HOPE employees give loans and training that are much more successful. Encouraging active participation by the people being served is a key factor in ensuring that they take ownership of their successes. This allows microfinance to work as a “hand up” instead of a handout.
Part of the challenge is helping people recognize that business, capitalism, and globalization are incredibly powerful tools to reduce poverty. “Though remarkably simple, changing our viewpoint from seeing business as part of the problem to part of the solution is what I believe will continue to diminish poverty worldwide,” said Greer.
Research is starting to support this conclusion as well. A 2011 study by Yale University and the Brookings Institution concluded that the major trends that helped poor countries were “the rise of globalization, the spread of capitalism and the improving quality of economic governance.”
Saving is important too, in order to have a safety net in case of emergencies and a launching point for investments in education or a new business. HOPE has helped individuals to save over $30 million, aiding in economic stability for families all over the world.
Entrepreneurs are vitally important to the mission of reducing poverty. “While there may be some who are self-focused, the vast majority are people who see a problem in the world, imagine a way to solve it, and actually have the courage to take action,” said Greer. “We need to celebrate those individuals.”