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50 for 50: Listen and Adapt - The Allmans' Story

By Opportunity International

David Allman, a successful part of the real estate community in Atlanta, is known for his deep involvement in community development and his commitment to meeting local needs. Years ago, David befriended and listened to the lessons of Bob Lupton, an outspoken proponent of missions that are aimed at the beneficiaries' needs, not at the desires of the donors or volunteers (Toxic Charity). Lupton's philosophy struck a chord and shaped the Allmans' outlook on missions, philanthropy, and development moving forward.

In 2004, Mike Brasel introduced the Allmans to Opportunity International. David shares that, at the time, they were listening and looking for ways to "balance their philanthropic portfolio." They were interested in doing more to address international poverty and were taken by Opportunity's "hand-up" model.

Launching Community Economic Development in Nicaragua

God prompted David to consider adapting Bob Lupton's Community Economic Development (CED) principles in the developing world, and David listened.

He approached Opportunity in 2005, and then-CEO Chris Crane and Head of Programs Dennis Ripley approved a test of a CED program in Nicaragua. Geralyn Sheehan, an "Asset Based Community Development" expert, consulted on design and was hired to launch the program. First, the team conducted extensive listening exercises in rural Nicaragua. They identified two industries with strong growth opportunities for jobs for the working poor: agriculture and tourism.

These two industries formed the foundation of the program and shaped the curriculum of the Emprendadora School, a technical secondary school that Opportunity launched in 2011. To date, the school has had six graduating classes and has trained 300 students in business, life skills, and English. Students also receive hands-on practice at the yuca processing plant or the Pacaya Lodge and Spa Hotel—two businesses that were also created by the CED program.

Agriculture, Education, Tourism, and Community Projects

As the program developed, David continued to listen to the needs of the community and helped Opportunity find and hire David Kone to take over leadership of the program. Kone's entrepreneurial bent and mission orientation made him well-suited to serve in Nicaragua, and he quickly identified yuca and cassava as key crops with significant untapped value, despite the fact that families have grown them for generations.

As a result, the processing plant expanded, and the agriculture program launched a field-to-market strategy that covered everything from planting and technical assistance to a value-add processing plant for international-quality flour.

In the last 9 months, international sales have taken off and the program has achieved profitability. The plant itself transformed into a for-profit entity–a long-awaited milestone in this project. Today, the plant employs 135 people!

David and Donna want to see farmers join the middle class. They are looking for new models of profit-sharing and "flipping the profit pyramid upside down"—and their goal is to go deep and wide in the community.

Meanwhile, the non-profit portion of the program is focused on community projects—joint financial investment by the community and the donor-funded program in communal projects such as water, road, and community needs.

The Road Ahead for Community Economic Development

David is not done listening.

He hopes that the Pacaya Lodge and Spa Hotel will one day house an "Institute" to share the principles and practices the team in Nicaragua has learned so that more partners, both inside and outside the Opportunity network, can replicate the model.

After a decade and a half leading as Chairman of the Board of the CED program in Nicaragua, David looks back with joy. While he admits that there were many obstacles, he has seen some tremendous progress, too.

He has learned countless lessons in this work, including the difference between doing community economic development in the US versus in a developing country. In the US, he sees the work as building up the health and vitality of the community so that neighborhood members can engage productively in the strong economy. In a developing country, you have to put a lot more work into building up the economy as well as people's ability to engage.

Through this work, David has become a longtime advocate of "second half" purposeful involvement—serving on Opportunity's President's Council and now Ambassadors Council, encouraging others to use their business experience to serve a project that matches their calling and a local need.

David shares: "When the 'haves' and 'have nots' come together in authentic relationship with common goals, everyone is transformed! Donna and I have felt a deepening of our spiritual walk through this experience, finding amazing people to do life with."

When former Opportunity Network CEO Larry Reed came to visit Nicaragua to see the Community Economic Development project early on, he said, "If someone steps in and helps your child who is hurting, you have a special affection for that person. I think that's how God feels about those who help His hurting poor." That has stayed with David all these years.

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