I live in Oak Park, Illinois, about three blocks from the Chicago city line. I've been married for almost four decades, and my wife, Sandy, and I have three married children. Our two daughters live in the Chicago area and our son lives in Orlando. We are blessed with three grandchildren, so far. My wife and I have attended LaSalle Street Church in downtown Chicago for 30 years.
I've worked for over thirty years in micro-finance. For twenty-three of those years I worked with Opportunity International, servings as Program Manager, Africa Regional Director and then CEO of the Opportunity International Network. Since then I've worked in various micro-finance initiatives, including the Boulder Institute, Micro-finance Transparency and the Micro-credit Summit Campaign. I currently work as a Senior Fellow for RESULTS, a citizens action group that advocates for government policies that will help bring an end to extreme poverty.
My parents were missionaries, and I lived overseas for my first five years of life. I was born in Tangier, Morocco, and then lived in Beatenberg, Switzerland and Monte Carlo before coming back to the US to start kindergarten in Detroit (my Dad proved to be too effective as a fund raiser to go back overseas). For my grade school and junior high years we lived in southwest Michigan, and for high school we lived in Boca Raton, Florida. All in all, quite a range of living conditions for my first 18 years. I got the international bug from my parents’ work, but it really took hold in college. I went to Wheaton College and ended up leading a group of students to rebuild homes in the Dominican Republic after a hurricane. I guess that was one of my early experiences at how much difference a small amount of money could make in other people's lives. I worked for a couple of years after college with World Relief, helping to recruit and train people to work in refugee camps. Then Sandy and I and our newborn son moved to Boston where I attended the Kennedy School of Government.
I joined Opportunity International when it was a small six-person operation. I ended up being the only member of the staff who made the move from Washington, DC to Chicago with the organization. After a few years with them in Chicago, I received the opportunity to head up Opportunity's new operations in Africa. Sandy and I moved with our now three children to Zimbabwe, where we lived for five years while I helped to set up micro-finance operations in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. We all loved that experience, both for the excitement of starting new things and for the extended amounts of time we had together as a family to explore the beauty of Africa. In the last few years, as Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign I have had the great privilege of working closely with Mohammad Yunus, Sam Daley-Harris and John Hatch, founders of the campaign and early leaders in the micro-finance movement. Over my years in micro-finance I have seen it grow from an initiative that reached a few million worldwide to one that now reaches over 200 million and has helped spur a new revolution in digital finance for people living in poverty.
In the process I have had the privilege of getting to know some amazing people from both conditions of wealth and poverty, people who think carefully about how they employ whatever resources they have. I have also seen people become consumed by money, people who started off wanting to help those less fortunate, and ended up helping themselves to more riches instead. Which leads me to the reason for this blog. I want to explore more about what enables people to invest their money in a way that aligns with their values. I want to share where I struggle with that objective, and learn from the struggles that others face as well. And I want to point out some good examples of programs that employ finance in a way that ennobles and liberates others. Part of this blog will contain interviews with people, talking to them about how they use their finances. In the interviews I will ask many questions, but I want to always include the same three. So, to be fair, I'll start here by giving my answers to the three continuing questions.
What are your childhood memories about money?
Since my parent were missionaries, we never had a lot, but we never lacked for anything, either. My earliest memories of money came when I started getting an allowance, and my parents teaching me to give 10% of it to the church. In grade school I became a door to door salesman, selling greeting cards, to make more money. Then I got a paper route and started earning enough to start buying things for myself, like a bicycle and clothes for school (clothes were pretty important to me in junior high). At that time I was pretty fixated on what I could buy for myself with the money I earned, poring over the Sears catalog to review the possibilities.
What is the best investment you ever made?
Wheaton College encouraged all of us to take a semester overseas. In order to save up the money to pay for it I took the winter term off and worked construction in Florida. I made enough money to go on Wheaton's International Study Program, which provided classes in economics and psychology in the Netherlands, and then travel through ten other countries in Europe. Also on the trip was a young woman named Sandy Stromberg who had gone to Wheaton for a year, then transferred to the nursing program at Wayne State. We met in the Drachten, Netherlands. I was smitten immediately, but Sandy successfully fended off my charms for most of the summer (there were taller, handsomer, more outgoing men on the trip who had captured her interest). The last week of the trip we had a few heart to heart conversations, and she began to see me differently. We started dating when we got back to the US, got married two years later, and have now been married for 37 years. Paying to go on that trip turned out to be the best long-term investment I have ever made.
What are your current struggles with aligning your values with the way you invest your finances?
For me the biggest struggle is actually thinking about my values at the time I am making a financial decision. In some ways I am still that boy poring over the Sears catalog. I think of something I might want, start researching the best value option and make a purchase without ever stopping to think whether I really need it or whether there might be better uses for that money. Along with that comes the constant struggle of managing between two worlds. I live fairly comfortably in Oak Park. According the global rich list, even with my modest salary from a not for profit, I am among the top 1% of wage earners in the world (you can try it yourself, go to globalrichlist.com and enter your salary). In my work I meet with people in the bottom 20%, who live on much less than I do. I meet with people to learn about their lives and how they manage money to create better conditions for their children. (I'll be posting some of their stories, and write about what I learn from them, on this blog). Their example challenge me to become a better steward of my own resources, to turn the money that passes through my hands into tools of liberation for those trapped in poverty.