I asked Chris (HOPE International) if I was going to be the lone outsider. I had never gone on a HOPE trip to see their work first hand and meet their clients. Although I had signed up for a trip for a later date, Chris proposed that I travel with a group in February that would be combining visits to see the work of development organizations HOPE, Edify, and Plant with Purpose. In my mind, this seemed risky. Risky for me because I didn’t know anyone I’d be traveling with, and risky for Hope because their supporters may end up falling in love with the other organizations’ work and defect to their causes. In the end, I said yes in hopes of stretching myself a little, plus February in Iowa can drag on for what seems an eternity.
During this past year of business, in order to better serve our clients, we’ve had to re-think our role in the market and pivot on occasions. Changing your direction in business and in life can be hard. You build momentum and people come to expect certain things from you. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and really examine yourself.
We landed in Santo Domingo just after noon and immediately departed from the airport for our first visit, a Pentecostal church near our hotel. While living in Quito, Ecuador, I attended a number of different churches, but I mainly attended a small Brazilian Assemblies of God church. So I already had a preconceived idea as to what we were going to experience on this visit. However, I was blown away by this church’s work in serving their community’s needs. I completely agree with Chris when he says, “This Pentecostal church modeled partnership perhaps better than I’ve ever visited. Their church building was a hub for ministry in the community. In the basement, children sponsored through Compassion International met in classrooms to study God’s word, learn to read and to play with one another. A sewing and literacy training center was located on the second floor. And at the ground level, a clean water outlet disbursed safe water to the community. Healing Waters International designed the water solution. Using ultrafiltration membranes, this durable technology will provide clean water to this community for at least ten years.”
As their church differed so much from what I expected, I asked the pastor, Domingo, how they arrived at such a point in their ministry. He reflected on the evolution of his church and their pivot around 15 years ago. In the years prior to their change, he and his church condemned their neighborhood, quickly noting the sin that they observed in their community. However, today the community knows them by the way they serve. And the church is growing. With the help of partners, this church serves everybody working with and through their church. “We see all these organizations as links in the same chain.” (Pastor Domingo)
Plant With Purpose
Early the next morning, we began our day by visiting a community that Plant With Purpose serves and meeting the farmers they work with. After witnessing micro-finance in action, community member Eladio Cabrera gave us a tour of his farm. He pointed out the compost pile and organic fertilizer he created with Plant With Purpose’s help and also showed us his diverse crops which included avocados, coffee, pineapples, yucca, oregano, and various citrus trees. Once the tour of was over, we had a feast for lunch which was prepared by community members using the produce from Eladio’s farm.
Later that afternoon, we visited the first of three Edify schools we saw during the trip. Edify combines micro-finance and education initiatives to help start schools in developing countries. I wasn’t able to take down all of the numbers given, so I’m quoting Chris here, “Edify serves over 500 “edupreneurs” in the DR. On average, these private Christian school proprietors outperform government schools by a margin of 3:1 and do so affordably. The first school–Mi Casita (“my little house”)–served close to 300 students, all paying $20/month for a top-notch education. There are some children unable to afford that rate so this edupreneur actually has 35 students on full scholarship.” It was inspiring to see how micro-finance could be used responsibly as a means of supporting education.
HOPE’s partner in the Dominican Republic, Esperanza, partners with Edify as their lender. We visited two more Edify schools on Friday. As these schools grow and they are ready for expansion or improvements such as computer labs, Esperanza and Edify provide the loan together. Esperanza’s work is spread over 8,000 Dominican entrepreneurs. Each group of entrepreneurs’ main form of contact with Esperanza is through a loan officer. This contact is what makes or breaks HOPE’s work. Esperanza loan officer Brunilda held a meeting with eleven entrepreneurs outside of Santiago and we were able to observe the three models HOPE provides its clients: biblically-based business training, savings accounts, and business loans. It was obvious that this relationship between Brunilda and her group of entrepreneurs went beyond business. She was personally invested in the lives the women and when she found out that one of the women’s mothers was recently admitted to the hospital, she immediately organized a day when the entire group, her included, could go visit her.
As the meeting continued, I realized that the work being done in the lives of these women goes beyond financial support. Whereas we often see access to capital as a right for everyone, when one of HOPE’s clients receives a loan, they view it as someone believing in them, in their work and inspiration. Maybe for the first time in their life, they feel empowered.
During our trip, we became familiar with the story of William Wilberforce, a man who at the age of 26 determined to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, a mission he accomplished. But he didn’t accomplish it alone. In his summary of Wilberforce’s life, biographer John Polluck states, “Wilberforce proved that a man can change his times, but that he cannot do it alone.”