Why We Need to Listen to the Poor: HOPE’s Untold Story

HOPE’s mission is to invest in the dreams of the poor.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Before HOPE’s founding, we overlooked the simplest part of providing a service—asking our customers what they wanted.

Moroz Zinaida

“No More Handouts”

HOPE was founded out of unsuccessful charity.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, people in Ukraine were in great need.  Motivated by Christ’s compassion, a church from Lancaster, Pa., looked to respond.

They partnered with a church in Zaporozhe, Ukraine.  For three years, they sent shipments of clothing and food, as well as visited the church.  But good intentions weren’t enough.

On one visit, the Ukrainian pastor took aside Jeff Rutt, an entrepreneur and church member.  He expressed his growing concerns:  His congregation was growing dependent on aid.  Also, the local businesses could not compete with the free goods flooding the community.

He told them, “We need a hand-up, not a handout.”

So the American church sought to find another solution.

Let’s Start a Business

Researching new ways to help, the U.S. church saw that sunflower seeds were grown in Ukraine.  A sunflower-seed processor appeared a perfect solution: it would employ church members and meet the growing demand for the product.  They bought a machine and wrote a detailed business plan.

With ceremony, the American church delivered the sunflower-seed processor to Ukraine.

A year later, the Americans visited Ukraine.  The sunflower-seed processor sat in the church’s back corner, gathering dust.  It had never been used.  The instructions had never been read.  In fact, the instructions were in English, not Ukrainian.

While the sunflower-seed processor looked like a viable solution, the poor had not asked for it.

Ownership

Recognizing outside solutions weren’t working, Jeff began talking with the Ukrainian congregation.  Many of them already had businesses in small market and neighborhood stalls.  What they needed was a way to invest in their businesses, they said.

In 1997, Jeff offered 12 small loans to people in Ukraine.   All were repaid.  And the poor had the opportunity to provide for their families in a dignified way.

Why did microfinance work?  The Ukrainians knew the local business context.  They had ownership of the process.  And microfinance encouraged them to use their God-given talents and skills to build a better future for their families.

We know firsthand that we are all “the body of Christ, and each [of us is] is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27), but it takes courage to collaborate with the poor.  And it takes strength to admit we don’t have all the answers.

Fifteen years later nearly 400,000 people are being served through Christ-centered microfinance at HOPE.  I’m so thankful that one man had the humility to listen to the dreams of the poor.

 

 

More resources on sustainable and dignified solutions to poverty are here: Additional Resources.

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