Pursuing Excellence While Fulfilling Your Mission with Peter Greer
1:40– About Hope International
15:16– About Mission Drift
18:16– A piece of advice
20:33– About Rooting for Rivals
25:30– What is one mistake you’ve made in your career you’d do over again?
28:26– What is a piece of advice you wish you would’ve gotten in the first year of your career?
30:28– The 4:23 Question
Peter Greer is President and CEO of HOPE International, a global Christ-centered microenterprise development organization serving throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
Prior to joining HOPE, Peter worked internationally as a microfinance advisor in Cambodia and Zimbabwe and managing director of Urwego Community Bank in Rwanda.
He is a graduate of Messiah College and received a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Peter has coauthored over 10 books, including Mission Drift which was selected as a 2015 Book Award Winner from Christianity Today.
More important than his occupation is his role as husband to Laurel and dad to Keith, Liliana, and Myles.
For more information, visit peterkgreer.com
Full Transcript of Podcast Below
Ray: Well, hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith and we’d like to welcome you back to another episode of the program where we love to interview top Christian leader across the country to learn how they think, how they plan, how they succeed, but most importantly how they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in their leadership. I am really excited because today’s guest is Peter Greer. Peter is the president and CEO of Hope International. We are going to learn all about Hope International as we talk to Peter today. But it is a global Christ-centered micro-enterprise developmental organization serving clients and well deserving people throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe and that’s not all of Peter’s background we’re going to learn more about it, but that’s what the Lord has him doing these days. Peter, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Peter: It is great to be with you, thanks so much.
Ray: Well, Peter we’d be remiss at what I just shared was a very intriguing introduction into Hope International. Would you mind taking just a couple of moments here and walk us through, tell us more about Hope International. It’s an exciting thing that the Lord is doing through this ministry.
Peter: Wow, I really appreciate that, and I do you think it’s exciting as well. I’ve been with the organization fourteen years, and I am still energized when I get up every morning to continue pursuing this mission. You know, really the organization was founded out of a failed charity attempt, which is an interesting way to be founded. But after the fall of the Soviet Union there was a group of individuals in Lancaster Pennsylvania that were sending food and supplies, going on trips and building buildings and after doing this model of charity, after trying to do all these short-term mission trips and trying to help they were approached by one of the Pastors in one of the communities that they were working and the Pastor said “Your help is a helping us anymore.” and it was really interesting that he recognize what was good and appropriate in the years that immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union. At that time humanitarian assistance and immediate relief and aid, that’s what was needed, but over time they were still in a position of dependency on aid and charity, and that wasn’t good for them, it wasn’t good for the people going and God had created all of us for so much more than just to be recipients of someone else’s charity, as good as that is in a crisis moment, and he recognized they were ready to stand on their own two feet and provide for their own communities and have the gift of generosity in their own communities as well. So, that conversation really shifted the approach from an aid approach then going beyond that and figuring it out what does it look like to help individuals and what they found in Ukraine is what we found in so many other parts of the world. That it is a powerful combination to have the hope of Jesus and to work in such a way that you can equip individuals to have a job. So, that really became the focus of and continue to have that emphasis on discipleship and outreach and reaching individuals with the good news of Jesus and doing it in such a way the primary form of aid is not one of handouts but really a hand up by providing training, savings, investments capital so that individuals can start and expand small businesses.
Ray: If you don’t mind, Peter, I would like to park there just for a moment this term micro-enterprise, I’ve heard it. I’ve heard a lot about it, but I suspect there are some listeners to our program who are going “What’s a micro-enterprise.” because I know this is central to the model I Hope International. Why don’t you take a moment and walk us through exactly what that means?
Peter: There are a lot of people that have gone and seen the mission of hope, and it is not uncommon for them to return and say “I just didn’t understand it until I actually saw it.” There’s probably faults and how we communicate and some areas for improvement but at its core micro meaning small and enterprise meaning enterprise, and it’s really designed to help individuals start a small business so they can have a place of employment. In many of the countries that we serve they are just not formal jobs. There are not help wanted signs, and there’s not a lot of activity in the formal sector, so the result is a lot of people have to be entrepreneurial to survive. So, it is in those environments a little bit of training, a little bit of access to capital, a safe place to save money oftentimes are necessary building blocks so that they can start or expand small a business. So we have Hope International I don’t know if this is going to help or not Ray, but we offer three different primary approaches. One are church base saving groups, where individual start saving together then they take their capital and invest it in each other to have an investment fund, if you will, to start a small business. Then there is micro-financing institutions, that are regulated Institutions that make small loans to individuals that don’t have the opportunity to go to a bank, to save money, don’t have the opportunity to get a small loan and then we also have small and medium enterprise support as well. So, this is helping entrepreneurial really scale and grow their businesses so that they can become employers. Again all this boils down to trying to figure out as effectively as possible how do we introduce the hope of Jesus and how do we help people have jobs so that they can provide for their families.
Ray: That is extraordinary and if you wouldn’t mind could you just gave a specific example, don’t necessarily need the country or the name or anything, but kind of a beginning to an end example of what this approach did and how made a difference in someone’s life?
Peter: Yeah and one of the great parts of my job is that I do get to travel around the world and spend time with some of these remarkable entrepreneurs. So, twenty years ago the organization was founded and designed to help in one community in Ukraine and so made twelve initial small loans, and today there is over 800 thousand entrepreneurs that we are serving in sixteen countries. I don’t know all of them I have known many of them they really are an inspiring group of people that teach me so much about what it looks like to love Jesus and to love my neighbor. So I think about last summer, I was in Rwanda and had the opportunity to be with Savara, and she’s an individual that went through something that is almost impossible to imagine. But living through the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and merging from that, having to provide for her family and so she ended up getting access to a small loan, about $100, and she got into framing. She was able to cultivate and sell peanuts, and that’s her business grew, as she was able to provide for her family she ended up expanding and got access to another loan and start a hardware business. Got into rental properties in her community in Rwanda. Got into more farming activities. Got into a store that she treaded and today she employs more than 50 individuals and doesn’t just employ them both provides health insurance for them and not just that she doesn’t just take care of her children, she has adopted eight orphans into her family. She saw the her community doesn’t have clean water and so she built a well. You think about all those positive aspects that happened when she was able to grow these enterprises, she already had a heart that has been touched by God, and she said “I know I have been blessed to be a blessing. I know that what I have is not just for me, but it is for others.” being an incredible woman of generosity and courage and faith and she’s an entrepreneur on the move. Not every story is that traumatic in terms of before and after. But really seeing the power of the Gospel alongside the idea of having the ability to grow a small business and then to watch local generosity, watch local impact. I had been in so many churches I’ve seen built up by foreign organization, but built by community members, and I’ve seen so many orphans have been brought into homes and it really is amazing what happens when there’s a little bit more economic capacity. So that individuals can, yeah, really change their family and the lives of others around them.
Ray: That is such a clear and Powerful example, and I’m sure that many of our listeners, Peter, are business owners and entrepreneur individuals that have started their own enterprise or at least in there past attempted to. As I was listening to that story I am reminded that is the entrepreneurial spirit, we find in Zechariah where it says “Do not despise the day of humble beginning” and that story comes out of a- did you say a $100 investment has turned into that enterprise?
Peter: That’s right, yeah and subsequent Investments after that, but that’s right. Our average initial loan size today is just over $200. But she started several years ago when the initial loan size was even smaller.
Ray: That is truly astounding. So it is in my head right now is that many of us we’ve got a $200 a month cable bill and maybe what we would spend in just one month’s cable Hope International and literally, bring hope and bring dream, bring economic opportunity prosperity but most importantly and influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and through soul transformation. That’s what’s really exciting right?
Peter: I couldn’t agree more. Exactly, yeah and one of the interesting pieces too is that over time these entrepreneurs that we work with, they don’t just repay their loan- So we have over 98% of the loans that we’ve given been repaid. So, incredible kind of success rate of the money that we are loaning out comes back so that we can loan it out to someone else or continue to walk with these entrepreneurs. But when they repay it, they also repay it with an interest, depending on the country in the contacts, and that allows us to create institutions that are self-sufficient. So, it’s not just that you’re helping one individual, it’s repaid, and it continues to operate on its own. So, that’s one of the other exciting things that it is almost like a self-supporting mission approach. Because it’s really designed to help entrepreneurs and we try to be entrepreneurial and the way we that ourselves up to exist long-term as well. So, yeah it’s really not just about the first loan but then that amount of capital being able to be leaned again and help another individual and to watch the impact continue to grow over time.
Ray: That is simply stunning to me. You said over 98%, 98% repayment rate. Why is that? What’s the secret to that, how does that happen? That’s incredible.
Peter: Yeah it’s Interesting too because I think- I know when I first starting taking trips internationally I know I had a bit of a small cognitive approach to individuals and when I heard of this sort of approach and individuals getting loans and repaying it I almost thought “Is that possible? Is that even possible?” and behind that question was a little bit of disrespecting of the people that we serve and the way that they are created with an Incredible capacity. They’re just born with a different circumstance. They’ve had to be entrepreneurial just to survive in these places without any safety net. So, there is already that drive and entrepreneurial spirit that allows small amounts of capital to really be invested wisely. But the second piece is also is that we are able to make investments into individuals, and we don’t require any sort of a physical guarantee, but we are able to offer individuals the ability to come together anime cross-guarantee each other’s loans. So, that practically means there’s a group of individuals and imagine- So our savings model, we partner with local churches, they reach out to their communities and say here’s a new program that we’re offering if you’d like to have information come in and then groups of individuals form. If an individual receives access to capital doesn’t repay it is that group that says, “You know what, we will repay for that individual.” and so is a really strong incentive not for us to figure out is that goat business better than that tomato business in that one community in Burundi or the concrete business or the greenhouse a better investment right now in Ukraine. We don’t really have the ability to answer those questions, but you know who can’t answer those questions? The individuals in that community and so we try to create a system that incentivizes the local community to come together and to make sure that the right individuals with the right drive, right spirit, right integrity, right idea that those are the individuals that are accessing the capital. So, this is not something that Hope International created this is really modeling what our approach on what Muhammad Yunus, won the Nobel Peace Prize for, and really just try to make sure that we don’t just use this model or mission but intentional partner with the church and make sure that the Gospel is woven into everything that we do.
Ray: Sounds extremely biblical the sense of community and the Ekklesia coming together I love it, I love it. Well, Peter, I want to talk in just a moment about some aspects of leadership and kind of how your faith has continued to shape your leadership of this amazing organization. But our audience may or may not be aware, but you are a very accomplished and prolific author, written over ten books and one, in particular, was called Mission Drift. Why don’t you tell the audience just a little bit about that? Then if you don’t mind, I’d love to be able to help you put a great plugin for a new book, just out, but tell us about Mission Drift and what that book was about then also I would love to talk about the new book that has just come out as well.
Peter: Yeah and I will say I have not authored solo any book. Every book has been written with a colleague or a friend or family member. So Mission Drift had the incredible privilege of working with my friend Chris Horst and Anna Haggard, also a colleague at Hope International, and it really was out of a situation that I had several years ago where there was a foundation that was interested in supporting Hope and a micro-enterprise development work that we’re doing they loved the model, they loved the approach, they loved the geography and the places we were serving. But, as we were doing kind of our final presentation to the board of directors they said very; clearly, they said, “We like all of that, but you’re so over in how you talk about Jesus and incorporating that into your model,” they said, “because we’re a publicly traded company we can’t get behind you.” and they said “tone down that and stop being so overt about the aspect and then we can come alongside you.” and it was an extremely large check that they were considering writing. So, we went back as a board, and we started to look at this and what they ended up giving us was not a check. But they gave us something far more valuable because as we started to look at this, we started to say “Is it possible to separate our faith from the work that we do?” and we also started to have our eyes open to just how many other organizations were found it was very clear and compelling mission that went beyond the project or service and what we found was there is a very long list of organizations that over time walk away from their founding commitment to Jesus in pursuit of money or Prestige or growth or variety of other things. We said, “We don’t what that to be our story and so the book Mission Drift was really our research that came out of that say, “What is it that organizations that have scaled and have grown have professionalized. What is it that they did differently? And how can we pay attention to the small decision that we that when compounded over time will lead us to a very different place?” The result is the book Mission Drift but more than that it was very concrete practical takeaways for how we leave differently at Hope International. I have just been so grateful for the receptivity of other leaders and other organizations who have taken, again, not just the message but have taken action to make sure they stay on mission for a long time to come.
Ray: Wow. We could do an entire conversation just in the book, and I know you’ve done that on many occasions. I’d like to ask you just real quick before we move on to your new book. I would like to ask you what advice would you for somebody that’s listening to the program right now, and they’re wrestling through- they just feel like man, this is not what we set out to be, this isn’t who we set out to serve, or it just feels like things are so different as to why we started out as a company or as an organization. So, what advice would you have for someone who’s experiencing mission drift?
Peter: You know, so much- and the reason why we like the word drift is because drift insinuates something that is unintentional. Insinuate something, you know, when you’re on a boat you don’t have to work to drift. Drift is just what happens when you stop doing the hard work of rowing, and so I guess the first piece is, I would say fantastic that you recognize drift is occurring, that is a critical first step and then I said that the second piece is the longer that you wait to address this issue of drift the more difficult it takes. So, you think of an institute like Harvard University it is a great place to get, you know, a world-class education but what few people realize is one of the founding mission statements was this “To be plainly instructed and considered well that the main end of our life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” that is a pretty clear mission statement that today it’s dramatically different from that founding purpose and so it is almost unimaginable that today that Harvard could go back to that founding mission. But the same is true for all of us the more time that you wait to course-correct the longer the distance is that you’re going to have to travel to get back to that core mission. So, I would say that if you’re feeling that the best thing that you can do is recognize is don’t wait to address it and figure out what are those small concrete, practical steps that you can take to get back on mission.
Ray: Incredible advice and you just shared that mission statement, original purpose from Harvard and it’s like who are you talking about? That sure doesn’t sound like what we know them to be today, right? That’s incredible insight. So, folks can still purchase the book, Mission Drift, I assume at Amazon other retail outlets, it’s still available that correct?
Peter: Yep, it should be available wherever books are sold. Absolutely.
Ray: That’s a great segway. You’ve got a brand new book out call Rooting for Rivals and what an interesting title, Rooting for Rivals. Tell us a little bit about that and where that idea came from and what you’re communicating in that project.
Peter: Yeah so this actually, it is related to Mission Drift, and it was also working with Chris Horst and also our colleague Jill Heisey, but what we found as we thought back to the story of Mission Drift. What we found is that as we started picking up the phone, as we started having conversations with leaders of other organizations that are in many ways in the same space of Christian relief development. They went out of their way to help us. I think back to a conversation with Wes Stafford, at the time he was president of Compassion International, I saw him at the airport after a conference. I’m sure he was exhausted, this is when we were doing research for Mission Drift, I went up, you know, and said, “Hi, I’m Peter and can I ask you a few questions.” and he was so gracious even though I’m sure he was exhausted, he put away his book and had me sit down and then followed up on our conversation with some materials that were so helpful occurred to me why did he do that? Why was he so incredibly gracious in his invitation to help? I think part of the reason is because mission true leaders, I saw that they had a mission that extended beyond just their own organization they saw that their ultimate mission wasn’t to build an organization, but it was to build the kingdom of God. They didn’t look at the world through a lens of scarcity saying more for you means less for me. They looked in the world and said more for you means more for the Kingdom and they were ejected worldview that is based fear of not having enough and they also again believe that their calling is extended beyond building an organization and including building the Kingdom of God. So in a very practical way when I think back to the conversation, not just with Wes, but with so many of the other leaders that I’ve had the privilege to get to know over the past several years. They were rooting for us even though we could kind of, in some ways kind of be considered a rival organization they were so clearly cheering us on, helping us, being open-handed with all that they had. So we wanted to discover what’s behind that type of leadership and how can we, all of us as, followers of Jesus be more collaborative, be more open to partnership, be more generous with our time and resources and not to identify other churches or other charities or other organizations as our competition. But, instead our friends and so it is really a research project to say, “How do we more actively root for our rivals and figure out what gets off track in that and how can we course-correct there as well?”
Ray: That is so extremely powerful and many of our listeners to the Bottom Line Faith program, Peter, are involved in Truth at Work roundtable groups, which are these models across the country of business and organization that gather together and spur one another on and encourage one another as business leaders. We talk about that a lot “Am I praying for my competitors in the marketplace.” Because if that person is also a brother or a sister in Christ, they are my brother or sister in Christ and God doesn’t love them more then He loves me and He doesn’t love them more than He loves me and so it really is a challenge to all of us, right, as followers of Christ rather we’re the leader in a nonprofit organization or a leader in a business-for-profit entity we should be praying and cheering and rooting for our brothers and sisters in Christ to win because then the name of Jesus gets elevated. I think that’s what you’re trying to teach us here, is that correct?
Peter: You’re exactly right and thanks for the way that you are living it out, absolutely.
Ray: I can’t wait. So the book is called Rooting for Rivals. I’m going to go get a copy of it. I know it just came out, where is the best place for our listeners to pick up a copy?
Peter: Yeah, again my hope is that it is available wherever books are sold.
Peter: I know it is available at my website, my blog at peterkgreer.com. So, peterkgreer.com and that is also a place that I am certain that it is available.
Ray: Oh, fantastic. Folks, please, please, please check it every leader in the marketplace is going to learn from this project and this book, called Rooting for Rivals. Well, Peter, lunch transition then into a segment here just on advice and lessons learned. God has used you in amazing ways in leading this organization Hope International on a global basis, He’s allowed you and some of your associates to write books and really be a great communicator. But let’s talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned as a Christ follower in business. As you look back over the course of your career what would you say would be one mistake or one decision or one saying that if you had a chance to do it over again, you would do so, what would that be?
Peter: I think the challenge with this question is going to be limiting it to one. I actually believe that failure is fertile grounds for God, not just to get our attention, but for us to remember our complete and utter reliance and just a practical truth that left on our own, that’s not a place that we want to be. So, I guess one of many lessons is I think that when I look back at my time at Hope International early on there was a pursuit for growth and it was unchecked and undergrowth if what we were doing was good then I wanted to do more. I literally had to charge on my wall, of not just where I wanted Hope to be but our relative growth compared to other organization and I was a defining our success wrongly on two counts. One is by thinking growth is what is most important as opposed to what I now believe which is, are you fulfilling your mission and are you fulfilling it with excellence? Because if you are not doing that you are merely going to have a bigger problem to correct, and I think about one of the greatest times of challenge that we had as an organization, and I think it was because we were so focused on growth at the expense of our mission and at the expense of doing it well. We didn’t have the people or the system to implement well at that time, and I think that another thing, thinking back to that time was that I was defining our success and how I felt about how we were doing on a relative definition of success. How are we doing compared to other organization? Which is a horrible way to think about success as opposed to are we being faithful to what God has given us to do? So, I think the pursuit of growth it can sound good, it can sound noble, it can sound like you just want more for the Kingdom but behind it, there is a shadow side, or maybe not doing everything with excellence or defining your success in relative terms as opposed to am I being faithful with what God has entrusted us in this moment.
Ray: So powerful that is a lesson I think every person in leadership should heed and before worrying about getting bigger, we need to be better and if we are better long enough growth is inevitably going to occur. That is powerful, great lesson learned. As I was listening to you talk about that, it must have lead into the whole Mission Drift because you do fall away from mission when it because about growth opposed to staying focused on what you are supposed to be doing.
Peter: Absolutely, yep, so true.
Ray: Awesome. So as you look back then also over the course of your career, what do you wish someone would have told you in that first year of leadership that you had to learn the hard way?
Peter: To be vigilant, look out to see if you are having a disordered love. So unpacking that a little bit what I think is for many individuals that are- rather it’s leading organizations, founding organization, or just, in general, are passionate about the work that you do. It’s easier to be more passionate about the work that you do then about the people that God has entrusted to you that are really close. I think back to again a time when I was so exciting about the mission that I forgot temporarily about the incredible joy and privilege of being a dad and husband and even if you kind of look at the bio that I try to put it now, I want to make sure that dad and husband, that those titles are more important than President and CEO or whatever the other titles are. So, I think kind of going back I wish someone had said in your zeal, in your excitement, in this great cause, in this organization don’t forget that you have a higher calling. You have a higher love, and that’s not just to God but then after that then to also the people that are closest to you.
Ray: Oh, such great advice and thank you for reminding me, as we’ve listened there are times I get to be the greatest recipient of lessons learned. First, just thank you for your humility and sharing in the way you are but thank you for the substance of your message as well because so ofter we identify with our work instead of really who we are in Christ. Good stuff. Okay, so I have one more big question, that I’d love to ask, okay? Our regular listeners they know this is always the last question I ask and Peter frankly it is the one question that I always make sure to ask every guest on the program. I call it my 4:23 question, and it says this, it’s from Solomon, of course, where he says, “Above all else guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” So here’s my question for you Peter as we wind down here today. If you have a chance to pass along one piece of advice above all else, you’re above all else advice to someone who’s listening here today or to your kids or those who are most precious to you, would you mind us filling it the blank for us and answering above all else?
Peter: How can you add anything to what Solomon wrote? Guard your heart. I think that’s it. It’s really interesting too, I’m fascinated by Solomon because Solomon is this incredible leader more success, more wealth, more fame than virtually any other person and at the end of his kind of dark memoirs end of Ecclesiastes, he says, “Fear God and keep His commands.” and I think we can get so, so off track when we pursue anything apart from God, keeping his commands, and making sure that we are not the center of our story. That our story is focused on pointing individuals to the incredible grace, to the love, to the forgiveness that’s found in Jesus. There is so much more fulfillment. There is so much more joy in that pursuit than anything else we can grab onto. Apart from fear God and keeping His commands. So I would say that’s the whole duty, that is the whole shebang, making sure our lives are not about us but focused on Christ and His Kingdom.
Ray: Oh, I love it. It is the most powerful advice. It really is, fear God and keep His commands. Peter Greer, I can’t thank you enough for being our guest on today’s program at Bottom Line Faith. Would you mind once more helping our audience understand how they can connect with you, learn about your books, your speaking, the Ministries that God has called you to do? How can our guests learn more?
Peter: Yeah, I appreciate that. I mean the easiest place is online at peterkgreer.Com, my middle name is Keith, that’s why the “K” is there, but that’s also the best way to reach me on everything on all social media channels. Also, you can get connected to do Hope International there you can go direct[sic] to hopeinternational.org, or peterkgreer.com.
Ray: Peter, you have been so much fun. I look forward to further conversation and thank you we’re representing the Lord as you do globally and just loving people so well through your books, your speaking and, of course, the CEO and president of Hope International. Thanks so much for being on the program today.
Peter: Thank you so much for having me this has been a terrific conversation I’ve loved it, thank you.
Ray: Well, folks, there you have one of the leaders that God has called in the marketplace. Truly a humble man but in an incredible communicator of just the love of Jesus Christ. Check out his new book Rooting for Rivals, as he shared- everywhere where books are sold. Thanks for joining the program today. If you’re a Christ-follower and what to learn more about Truth at Work, check out our website at truthatwork.Org we’d also be very grateful if you would take just a moment and provided a review of today’s conversation with Peter. That helps us to gain a web presence and gets the word out on a more broad basis. So, til next time I am your host, Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to faithfully serve the Lord in the marketplace. God bless, and we’ll see you next time.