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As a tribute to the late Paul Harvey, who passed away last month, I’d like to share “the rest of the story” of HOPE’s beginnings. You think you know how HOPE International began? Yes, the Ukrainian pastors approached Jeff Rutt (HOPE’s founder) and his church and asked them to stop with the hand-outs. And yes, HOPE began with twelve enthusiastic Ukrainian entrepreneurs shortly thereafter. But, do you know what happened in-between those two incidents? The story is actually a bit grittier than what gets printed in the brochures.
As HOPE’s web site history correctly states, Jeff “returned from the trip with a strong drive to find a solution. He plunged into research and eventually discovered the concept of microfinance.” “Eventually” is the key word. When the Ukrainian pastors approached Jeff in 1997 and asked him and his church to change their missions strategy, Jeff started thinking. What these pastors asked for was a long-term, sustainable solution to the abject poverty which existed in their communities.
Jeff and his church thought through and researched close to 50 different ideas and eventually landed on a promising plan. The plan they decided on was to help these churches process and sell sunflower seeds, as sunflower seeds are one of the most abundant resources in Ukraine. They wrote a comprehensive business plan and then raised $2,000 to buy a top-of-the-line sunflower seed processor. Through this plan, Jeff estimated the Ukrainian church members would be able to generate thousands of dollars to fund the ministry of the church, eliminating the need for his church to bring the hand-outs.
They excitedly took care of all the shipping and logistical issues to ensure it got to Ukraine. Jeff led a group of enthusiastic members from his church to Ukraine to be there for the delivery of the machine and to help train the Ukrainians on how to use it. They celebrated the machine’s arrival, took their pictures arm-in-arm with their Ukrainian friends, and flew back home—solution found!
Not exactly… One year later, when Jeff and the church returned, they found the machine exactly where they had left it. The Ukrainian church leaders were embarrassed to even show them the unused machine. “There was absolutely no evidence it had been used…it was in the exact same spot we had put it,” Jeff shared with me. Cobwebs and dust littered the gears and levers. Remarkably, the processor hadn’t moved an inch from where it had been delivered. It hadn’t even been turned on.
Why did this happen? The issue, as Jeff describes, was ownership. “It wasn’t their idea. It was our idea. When you have your own idea, then you will do whatever it takes to try and make that idea work, but they didn’t have any ownership of this idea.” Ownership is the name of the game. Often, charity, while well-intentioned, fails to truly stimulate long-term change. Even in the case of providing an income-generating piece of machinery, Jeff found that without local ownership, the idea and machine wasn’t ultimately theirs.
We need to continue to find creative ways to partner and empower the poor, to break the perpetuity of poverty. Real transformation and development happens when we partner with local ingenuity and ideas. Jeff and his church learned that lesson in a very real way—and HOPE was birthed out of that realization. And now, today, in some of the most challenging communities in the world, hundreds of thousands of industrious and innovative individuals are having their potential, dreams and ideas awakened and resourced. In the words of Paul Harvey, “And now you know…the rest of the story.