Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
Below is an interview with Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief. Before coming to World Relief, Stephan served as Director of International Programs for World Hope International. He previously worked for Mercy Ships International directing programs and training for over 300 staff on the Anastasis, a hospital ship based in Africa. A Certified Public Accountant and minister, Stephen has also worked as a consultant for Anderson and Co.
Q1: Tell us about World Relief. What is your mission and main focus?
World Relief was founded in 1945 by the National Association of Evangelicals to provide humanitarian assistance in war-torn Europe. We have since evolved into an organization working in 14 countries around the world and in 25 cities in the United States to empower local churches to serve the most vulnerable.
Q2: How are you working to expand opportunity domestically and internationally?
We believe in empowering the most vulnerable so that they can create their own solutions and meet their own needs. Through the power of Agri-business, Microfinance and Savings Groups, World Relief equips small business owners with the skills, capital and resources necessary to develop successful, self-sustaining businesses. We believe when given the tools to protect and leverage their financial assets, these entrepreneurs will be able to participate in the transformation of their local communities.
When people in America want to set up their own small business, they go to the bank and apply for a loan. In the developing world, banks won’t consider loaning to the very poor. The world of microfinance opens the door of opportunity for the poor – providing the dignity and satisfaction that comes from working to support one’s family.
Yet there are still more vulnerable populations who do not meet the basic requirements for microfinance loans either. Our Savings Groups allow members to invest their savings in their children’s education, health, family small businesses and benevolent funds within their group for their community. One of our Savings Group members, Agnes, is a widow who for over 10 years struggled to find the resources to feed, clothe and educate her five children. She was introduced to a World Relief savings group in her village in Kenya and has used her savings to start her own mango business. She recently opened her own shop, and now she not only meets her family's needs, but is able to provide for other vulnerable women in her community. Another, Ermite, is a mother of two who sews school uniforms in a tiny workshop. She has expanded her business with the help of a loan from World Relief, hiring two more workers to meet her increased demand. “There’s been a big change in my life,” she says.
Moreover, our work is not limited to international efforts. Over the past 35 years, World Relief has resettled over 250 thousand refugees from more than 80 nations here in the U.S. The moment refugees step off their plane, they are greeted at the airport by a World Relief representative who takes them to a fully furnished home. For new refugees, everything is new and unfamiliar. Every day is an opportunity to learn how to become self-sufficient. In everything, World Relief aims to empower refugees to be self-sufficient in their new life.
Q3: In what ways are you partnering with businesses and other organizations to increase your impact?
Whether internationally or in the United States, World Relief has always partnered with organizations on the ground to help empower the most vulnerable so that they can achieve economic and social independence through access to employment and micro-enterprise opportunities. World Relief believes that when given the resources necessary to help themselves, it is amazing what people can do.
For instance, in Haiti, World Relief and its trained staff are committed to supporting the country’s agricultural growth through its partner DANRE. Our interventions aim to improve farming practices with production techniques, strengthening the capacity of farmers associations, and improving access to inputs and markets. Since 2010 World Relief has been assisting farmers by providing training, technical assistance and loans which will enable farmers to continue on their path towards self-sustainability. World Relief is looking to strengthen the local economy by providing support to farmers in a number of value chains - particularly banana, coffee, vegetables and poultry.
Through locally governed microfinance institutions, World Relief provides small loans, training and support to hardworking individuals – mostly vulnerable women – ensnared by poverty. To date, we’ve empowered more than 100,000 individuals to live productive, meaningful lives. Over the years, we’ve seen how initial loans of just $50 to $75 can launch an individual on the path to economic self-sufficiency, spurring entrepreneurial ideas. Microfinance is about much more than just money. It helps create stability at home, teaches individuals how to thrive, and fosters self-respect and community well-being. Once empowered, men and women are able to support their families for a lifetime – not just a few days or weeks. It’s the difference between a hand up and a handout.
Additionally, for those who are not eligible for microfinance loans, World Relief organizes and advises Savings Groups, a model structured by the Village Savings and Loan Association. These groups are structured to pull from the community’s personal resources, teach on savings skills, and foster a democratic approach among community members regarding the distribution of funds and governance of the group. In #DRCongo alone, World Relief helped train 100 new savings groups last quarter and now we get to watch these community-led groups flourish!
In the United States, World Relief works in partnership with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide initial resettlement and placement as well as employment, youth, education and legal services to refugees entering the U.S. World Relief also collaborates with the local Church and community members to come alongside vulnerable families as they begin their new lives. All of this is achieved through a partnership between World Relief and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau and Population, Refugees and Migration.
Refugees entering the U.S. are eager to work and establish themselves as contributing members of society. All of the refugees resettled by World Relief are legally authorized to work and ready to enter the workforce. World Relief helps adult refugees secure full-time jobs while providing the training and
resources they need to remain and advance in the workplace. Like at a staffing agency, the goal of World Relief’s Employment Services program is to connect employers and potential employees based on staffing needs. In this case, employees are newly resettled refugees. World Relief provides employers with hard-working, pre-screened, work authorized candidates at no cost to the employer. All candidates have permanent work authorization in the U.S.
For employers, hiring a refugee has many benefits. Refugees enter the U.S. eager to work and have a strong desire to establish themselves as productive members of their new community. Finding and keeping employment is also critical to their financial self-sufficiency. Hiring refugees saves time and money on the recruiting and screening process. Refugees are flexible, local and immediately available. Most importantly, employers have the opportunity to culturally diversify their workplace. In order to ensure the refugees are equipped for their newfound employment, World Relief provides free follow-up services, including language assistance. World Relief also provides ongoing assistance as employers and refugees overcome potential obstacles.
Q4: If people want to learn more about World Relief, what should they do?