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In the last few weeks, I’ve hit my 10-year anniversary serving with HOPE.

Incredibly grateful, I’m still overwhelmed by the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to serve at such an incredible organization. With such an extraordinary team, I continue to learn every day.

But yesterday, I had the chance to reflect on some things I’ve learned in the past few years:

  1. When hiring … choose wisely. Jim Collins was right—get the right people on the bus, and good things happen.
  2. Culture matters. When you have clarity of culture, you don’t have to spend time worrying about so many other issues. A clear culture guides behavior more than any set of rules or policies. Articulating HOPE’s PASSION statement gave clarity to our culture we wanted to create: PASSION.
  3. Care for families, not just the employee. My friend Steve said, “If you do something nice to me, I’ll remember you … But if you do something nice for my family, I’ll never forget you.” An organization that supports families—whether that’s providing meals or helping people move or creating flexible work arrangements—doesn’t go unnoticed.
  4. It’s always the small things. While having a great benefits package is ideal, it’s the small things each day that matter most. Are employees always on the lookout for ways to tangibly care for each other?
  5. Simplify. And then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Organizational whiplash, where leaders constantly change priorities and goals, undermines progress. Focusing on core elements and goals, and then reinforcing through repetition, helps an organization move forward in a unified manner. Focus and repetition lead to excellence.
  6. Measure what matters—and celebrate often. “What gets measured gets done.” Beyond measurement, healthy organizations pause to celebrate together. A highlight of my week is when we celebrate individuals exhibiting our culture of PASSION during staff meetings.
  7. Asking the right questions matters more than getting the right answers. The people who have had the greatest impact at HOPE are the ones who know how to ask questions and get to the heart of the problem first. How could you frame every agenda item at meetings with the question you are trying to answer?
  8. Commit to continual learning. Organizational impact is tied to staff members’ constant desire for continual learning. Acknowledging there is always more to learn in the pursuit of progress, we pursue excellence together.
  9. Be willing to change your role. Ten years ago, I did vastly different things at HOPE than I do today. Don’t hold tightly to titles or roles or assignments. Be willing to ask, What can I do right now which will best advance my organization’s mission?
  10. Never forget—every good thing is a gift from God. Whatever good happens, we must remember the Giver of these gifts. At HOPE, we have a very long list of reasons to thank God.

On the list, I intentionally didn’t include the technical lessons learned about enterprise risk management, new financial products to impact poverty, credible and cost effective monitoring and evaluation, internal audit … because I believe these issues seem to be solved when you get the people and culture right.

To staff, friends, and supporters, thank you for the past 10 years—they have been a gift.

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Santa Clause, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle. But Saint Nicholas has another lesser known moniker—the patron saint of pawn shops.

How could this jolly old fellow be known as the patron saint of such a seedy business?

Pawn shop

In the Middle Ages, montes pietatius were charities similar to urban food banks. And they were created as an alternative to loan sharks.

These charities provided low-interest loans to poor families. Started by Franciscans, they became widespread throughout Europe.

Even the pope (Julius II) gave an edict endorsing montes pietatius.

In folklore, Saint Nicholas generously provided a poor man dowries for his three daughters, gold coins in three purses. The symbol of gold coins in three purses became the symbol of pawn shops and fit with his title of patron saint.

In the 1300s, people in poverty met caring friars when they entered the doors of pawn shops. The shops existed to help the poor get back on their feet. These friars had their best interests in mind.

Today, often the opposite is true.

Over time, pawn shop owners lost sight of their identity. Created for good, pawn shops have drifted away from their purpose. From caring for the needy to an instrument often preying on families in distress, pawn shops have lost their original intent.

Here’s the reality: Mission Drift is the natural course for industries and organizations. Having a clear founding identity and purpose, having initial zeal for the cause, and even having Father Christmas as your patron saint are insufficient safeguards from Mission Drift. It takes focused attention to sustain your mission.

“It’s the exception that an organization stays true to its mission,” said Chris Crane, president and CEO of Edify. “The natural course—the unfortunate natural evolution of many originally Christ-centered missions—is to drift,” he said.

My colleagues Chris Horst, Anna Haggard, and I have been studying Mission Drift in Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches, being released January 14. We’ve discovered some prominent examples of Mission Drift—Harvard, ChildFund, and the Y.

Mission Drift is recognized as the normal direction for faith-based organizations. In a survey of hundreds of Christian leaders at the Q conference in Los Angeles in 2013, 95 percent said Mission Drift was “a challenging issue to faith-based nonprofit organizations.”

Realizing the seemingly inevitable drift, it became our passion to find organizations which have protected their core identity for generations. By researching and sharing their practices, we hope to equip many other organizations to faithfully stand the test of time.

This is a personal issue. I care deeply about the work I do with HOPE International. Founded by a local church in response to needs in the former Soviet Union, our mission has always been to address material and spiritual needs in places of intense poverty. My aim is to ensure the decisions we are making today help this organization stay true to its founding ideals. My desire is that it does not follow the slippery path of pawn shops and so many other organizations.

This Christmas, every time I see a photo of Santa Claus, I’m reminded how easy drift occurs. Let’s be involved in building organizations that remain focused on what matters most.

On Sunday, an inferno overtook Bujumbura’s Central Market—the economic heart of Burundi.

In talking to staff and friends in Burundi, we know that although this fire will cause a major economic disruption, it is personally devastating for families who lost everything and had no safety net or insurance to soften their fall.

Over 100 clients of our partner Turame lost their businesses and their livelihoods as market vendors. 85 percent of our clients are women who rely on this business to provide for their families.

Continue Reading…

In the below Q&A, HOPE’s president, Peter Greer, speaks about international adoption, his new book, and the intersection of microenterprise development and orphan care.

You recently spoke at the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ annual Summit at Saddleback Church. As president of HOPE, how does your work tie to the global orphan crisis?
Adoption has forever changed our family. But as powerful as international adoption is, and as much as it has changed our family, we know that it only reaches a small number of the children globally who need a home. My “day job” at HOPE helps mothers and fathers start or expand small businesses so that they can work their way out of poverty and provide for their children. My hope is that the faith-based adoption community and the faith-based development community will realize how much overlap they have in heart and desired outcomes.

What did you speak about at the conference?
According to UNICEF, there were 132 million orphans living in developing countries in 2008—132 million children dearly loved by God who need a home. But studies have also found that many children in orphanages have a surviving family member who could provide them that home. In Zimbabwe, for example, 40 percent of children in orphanages have a surviving parent, and nearly 60 percent have a contactable relative. The orphan crisis is interconnected with poverty. Parents put their children in institutional care because they don’t have enough money to care for their children. The solution isn’t building more orphanages but rather helping parents earn enough income so that they can care for their children. What parent would prefer for their child to grow up in an orphanage if they had the resources to care for them on their own? We need to broaden the discussion about the orphan crisis to include employment-based solutions that help families work their way out of poverty. Continue Reading…

There is a lot that has changed at HOPE since our founding in 1997. We’ve built our team. Added 15 more countries of service. Diversified our services. But our core beliefs have remained consistent.

  • Charity is broken. Necessary for short-term relief, charity is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone. It doesn’t address the underlying issues of poverty—hopelessness, helplessness, and voicelessness. Instead it reinforces these mindsets long term. Our help can actually hurt those we’re attempting to serve.
  • Job creation is a proven way out of financial poverty. Poverty was cut in half—from 52 to 26 percent—between 1981 and 2005. What happened? Economic opportunity in China, Brazil, and India have revolutionized poverty reduction. But it’s also common sense. A job is simply superior to a handout. Consistently, we hear this when we listen to the families we serve. They don’t want to be thrown another fish, but rather given the opportunity to start a fishing business.
  • You can gain the whole world, yet lose your soul. Poverty is more than financial. At its heart, poverty is about relational brokenness: our separation from God and from each other. Jesus Christ calls us to restore relationships and has given us the message and the model through his life, death, and resurrection. We are fully committed to addressing not only physical poverty, but also spiritual poverty in all we do.
  • Do one thing – and do it well. HOPE’s model works because it’s simple. We focus on one thing: excellent Christ-centered microenterprise development. Our model includes teaching biblically based business training, sharing the Word of God, providing access to small loans and savings services to those excluded from the formal financial sector.

Fifteen years ago, HOPE offered 12 loans to people in poverty. While so much has changed since then, our core beliefs have kept us anchored.

At a Lancaster, Pa., breakfast attended by over 400 HOPE supporters, we welcomed a very special guest: a talking goat! HOPE President Peter Greer interviewed Colette the goat on the impact of goat ownership in Rwanda while she happily tried to munch on the microphone.

Peter: We did encourage attendees to bring friends this morning, and someone really gets points for thinking outside the box! …This is Billy the Goat.

Goat: Actually, my name is Colette.

A talking goat! You knew you came to HOPE’s breakfast to see something special! Well, Colette, it’s a privilege to have you here. This is a rare opportunity for us. May I ask you a couple questions?

Of course!

Last year we conducted an impact assessment of our savings program in Rwanda, and we saw that goat ownership had increased by 101%. Does that surprise you?

Not at all. We’re an affordable, yet impactful, asset. In Rwanda, a goat costs around $20 , and many savings groups commit to providing one goat for each member. Rwanda is also a densely populated country, where most residents live on small parcels of land. Goats don’t take up much space, and we’re known for eating whatever’s available. Our owners don’t have to worry about finding enough to feed us!

What are some of the practical ways that goats are changing lives?

Well, Peter, I’m not sure how to make this meal-time conversation, but one of my greatest contributions is what I produce after eating. … Nearly 90% of Rwanda’s population engages in subsistence farming, and good fertilizer can significantly enhance their efforts. More crops mean that families are better fed, and there may even be some left over to sell at a local market.

We’re also known to be prolific. On average a female goat has two to three kids a year, which can be sold or given to other families in need. And although we make lovely pets, goats are also an important source of…protein…in Rwanda. But don’t get any ideas! Seconds on the bacon, anyone?!