Homebuilder's foundation uses micro loans to empower poor abroad

Through Hope International, U.S. homebuilders build and sell homes with donated or discounted materials and labor, and the proceeds go toward loans that make a huge impact on quality of life.
By By Felicia Oliver, Senior Editor | April 30, 2008

Builders are by and large a charitable group. Many are involved with Habitat for Humanity and Extreme Home Makeover-type projects. But Jeff Rutt of Keystone Custom Homes in Lancaster, Pa., has a program that helps poor people abroad with homes built in the U.S.

His foundation, Hope International, solicits partnerships with builders who build homes — typically on spec — and invite subcontractors and suppliers to donate or discount their labor and

Jeff Rutt, second from left, and Hope International Director of Development Justin Bredeman, far left, met with a Dominican Republic client and her son.

materials. Once the house is sold, profits go to Hope International, which then uses 100 percent of the money to supply micro loans to poor people around the world, enabling them to build their own businesses and support their families.

In places like the Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Haiti and Ukraine, Hope staff members facilitate meetings in poor communities with loan recipient hopefuls who present business plans to each other. Plans are vetted, and once loans are approved, the community members hold each other accountable for following the terms of the loans and paying the loans back.

Loans can be as small as $50, and the repayments go toward future loans.

Peter Greer, president of Hope International, says the group has a 99.6 percent repayment rate. "It works not just for Hope but for many microfinance institutions around the world.

"When funds go out they don't just go into a hole and then tomorrow you have to raise money again to replace those funds," Greer adds. "This is a permanent way of helping."

Greer cites a study that shows, on average, individuals who have a relationship with a microfinance institution improve their income 112 percent over two years.

"They are still very poor," says Greer, "but doubling their income in a relatively short time has changed their world." Rutt says that one teary-eyed loan recipient said her children can now eat twice a day.

"I think one of the reasons that the trade contractors, suppliers and builders are really excited about it is it's so leveraged," says Rutt. "Right now we have 190,000 entrepreneurs. It only takes about $18 million to serve them."

So far, 23 builders are involved, but there are many more poor they would like to reach. If you'd like to be a Hope builder or get involved in some other way, go to www.hopeinternational.org.