HOPE was founded in 1997 by Jeff Rutt, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based homebuilder. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Rutt traveled to Ukraine numerous times as a member of a church delegation, transporting containers of food, clothing, and medical supplies to the city of Zaporozhye. After several of these visits, a local pastor pulled Jeff aside and told him honestly that the shipments were not helping. Instead of handouts the pastor felt that his community needed a hand up.
Though people were accessing needed supplies, they had become dependent on American charity. In addition, local businesses could not compete with the free handouts. The well-intentioned aid shipments were actually doing more harm than good by depressing local industry and initiative.
Mr. Rutt returned from the trip with a strong drive to find a solution. He plunged into research and eventually discovered the concept of microfinance (providing small loans and savings services to entrepreneurs in developing countries), then a little-known poverty alleviation strategy. He applied this tool with great success in Ukraine. HOPE International was borne of this effort. As Mr. Rutt and HOPE's staff and board realized the enormous impact they could have on the poor through microfinance, they expanded to other countries.
Peter Greer, HOPE's current president, joined HOPE in 2004, ushering in a period of strategic growth and increased public awareness. Under Mr. Greer's leadership, HOPE articulated its four distinctives: focus on microfinance, intentional witness for Christ, commitment to stewardship, and dedication to the hard places around the world.
Jeff Rutt, HOPE International founder
HOPE started with 12 small loans in Ukraine