January 10, 2012, 7:44 a.m., Dulles Airport – Washington, D.C.
Greetings friends of HOPE! My name is Dave Wasik, and I serve as the VP of Operations at HOPE International. My job is to oversee our programs around the world. I joined HOPE in July of 2011 after many years working in banking.
As background, HOPE has two types of programs: microfinance institutions (MFIs), where HOPE provides small loans ($80-$2000) to local entrepreneurs, and savings and credit association programs (SCAs), where we provide operational funding and technical support to catalyze savings groups. In both MFI and SCA programs, we also share the Word of God with our clients and provide them with biblically based business training.
I am beginning a 10-day trip to Africa to visit several HOPE programs. I will start my trip in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda is a relatively small nation (it’s roughly the same size as Maryland) with approximately 11 million residents. Rwanda is the home of our largest SCA program, which has over 75,000 members, as well as the home of Urwego Opportunity Bank, one of the largest MFIs in our network. It will be my first time in Rwanda, and I am very excited to see both of our programs there.
After three days in Rwanda, I will travel to the Republic of Congo, where I will visit HOPE Congo, our microfinance institution in Brazzaville, the capital city. I will be in Brazzaville for four days. We have recently rolled out a new structure and process for our group meetings (more on that in a future post), and I am eager to see our progress. We are also introducing two new tools to the field which will help us better equip our loan officers and improve the collection of operational data, and I’ll be reviewing those tools with our leaders in Brazzaville.
Finally, I will be traveling to Kinshasa to visit HOPE DRC, our microfinance institution in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My agenda in Kinshasa is similar to what I’m seeking to accomplish in Brazzaville. The additional dynamic is that in DRC there have been protests relating to recent presidential and parliamentary elections, and I’m interested to see how our business is returning to normal after a few weeks of election-related turbulence.
One of many great things about working for HOPE is having the opportunity to go on these international trips, and with practice I’ve become more effective at traveling light. So I’ve got a briefcase and one suitcase that I’m carrying on. However, on this journey I will also be bringing a desktop computer over to our Brazzaville office. This computer has been used for the last few years at our HOPE headquarters in Lancaster, Pa. It has been lovingly refurbished by Christopher Blank, our one-man IT department, and will now be used in the Congo. HOPE is a very cost-conscious organization, driven by our Christian call to good stewardship. Given that our loans to our clients start at only $80, every expenditure becomes a choice between spending money on overhead and funding the next loan for our clients. Of course we choose funding the loan wherever possible, so we work hard to save money on flights, lodging, and, yes, purchasing and shipping computers. The computer is securely packed in a hard-shell suitcase and weighs just under 50 pounds (no bag fee!). I check it in, hoping that it will be waiting for me in Africa.
I will be blogging throughout my trip, with at least one post per day. Please check back to follow my progress!