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Local Connections Matter

By Chris Horst of Hope International - Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the home of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, the nation’s oldest-running farmer’s market, and HOPE International. It also has one of the largest Amish communities in the country. Recently, while in Lancaster, I visited Costco and noticed hitching posts in the parking lot where Amish customers could park their buggies.

Costco is headquartered in Seattle, Washington. While I can’t verify this, I’d guess that Lancaster is their only store with hitching posts. If Costco had used one of their standard site plans, that detail would have surely slipped through the cracks. Only through soliciting the input of Lancaster residents could they develop a strategy relevant to the local economy and culture. By bringing in the expertise and contributions of individuals familiar with the Lancaster market, Costco developed an appropriate and localized plan for their operations.

If this complexity exists across a single country, how much more are these variances multiplied when operations transcend borders, languages, cultures and economies? It is often surprising to our supporters when I share that less than one percent of our staff members internationally are not native to the country where they are working. Of HOPE’s 1,500 loan officers, branch managers, clerks and country directors employed across 14 countries, 1490 (99.3%) are working in their home country.

There are many benefits to this approach. Employing national staff members creates local jobs and is significantly less expensive than sending Americans. But, there is also strategic value gained by hiring Rwandans in Rwanda, Moldovans in Moldova and Haitians in Haiti. They understand their context. If an executive in Seattle would have trouble planning a new Costco in his own country, how can we expect to operate successfully internationally without employing local community members?

In Ukraine, we recently saw this exemplified when we encouraged our Ukrainian country director to hire a human resources director to coordinate the growing team. After encouraging him in that direction, he shared that the human resources profession doesn’t actually exist in Ukraine. He suggested instead that HOPE Ukraine reorient their existing team to solve the problem. A solution only a Ukrainian national would propose. In the Dominican Republic, one of our American interns recently was interviewing a client and, from her experience in marketing, asked a client why she did not put a sign on the front of her house advertising her business. The client laughed heartily and responded, “Why? Everyone in my community knows me! A sign would not be appropriate.”

Depending on local participation is critical as no one understands the context better. It’s true with Costco establishing a store in Lancaster, and it’s true with HOPE operating programs in 14 countries.

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posted by Justin Forman | 10.07.2009 - 7:38 AM

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