We sat down with Zach Hoins, our first Chief Operating Officer, who will be joining the team in East Africa. For the last three years he has worked with Engility/IRG leading business development efforts across Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously, Zach co-founded “The Recreation Project” in Gulu, Uganda, where he lived from 2010-2013. Originally from Papillion, Nebraska, he holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska and an MPS in Community and Economic Development from Pennsylvania State University.
We are excited to have you on board! What will be the primary focus of your work with Village Enterprise?
I will be undertaking the role of Chief Operating Officer for Village Enterprise in Kampala, Uganda. The role will be focused on providing leadership and guidance to the field team and liaising with the home office staff to assure that we are reaching our goals and objectives.
What attracted you to Village Enterprise?
The mission. Over the course of my career and the many years spent in East Africa I can’t think of a better way for development to happen than through sustainable practices being delivered to the ultra-poor. During the interview process it was also confirmed that Village Enterprise has a tremendous staff in San Carlos as well as the field. Being a part of a team has always been something I have enjoyed and combining this with the mission of Village Enterprise makes this a very exciting opportunity for me and my family!
What do you hope to gain from living in rural East Africa?
During my first time living in Uganda my heart, mind, and soul were transformed. The people and friends I made will have an eternal impact on my life. Ugandans painted a wonderful picture of what their actual situation was. So much of what is portrayed about Africa in the news gives only a small glimpse into life in this part of the world. There is so much joy, so many challenges, and countless opportunities. Understanding the precise situation on the ground was very important in understanding how cross-cultural organizations can play a part in pushing forwards the hopes and dreams of Ugandans. Simultaneously this teaches us a lot about what we can take back to our own homes through watching their daily lives. My hope in going back is that I continue to learn about East Africa and that our team at Village Enterprise finds the best and most effective way to serve the people we are engaging through our programs.
What challenges do you expect to face?
Village Enterprise has an excellent foundation. A solid mission, a solid core of people who have been devoted for a long time to reaching that mission, and some excellent opportunities on the horizon. It is an exciting time to expand on all this work that has been done. One of the primary challenges will be maintaining the feel and focus of this mission while still growing into new opportunities. This is a very positive challenge and one I look forward to working with our team on.
There are also the natural challenges that come with working with a cross-cultural organization, but I am confident in all I have seen that our staff has done an excellent job of positioning Village Enterprise to address these issues.
What aspects of your background and experience do you feel will be most valuable in your role as our first Chief Operating Officer?
Over the course of my career I have had many opportunities to work with teams to achieve a goal. A lot of this has been in the context of development in East Africa. These experiences continue to show me how important it is to get a team working together in an effective and efficient manner. Clear roles and trusting those who fill those roles creates an environment where members feel empowered and compelled to participate. My hope is that I will bring these perspectives I have gained to our team at Village Enterprise.
Why is extreme poverty a cause you care about?
I grew up in an environment where I was given all the resources I needed to be successful. At every step of my development, support was provided for me to dream and plan for my future and engage in the necessary activities to reach those goals.
After living in Gulu, Uganda, it became painfully clear that my experience wasn’t shared by most in this world. I was also able to witness the opposite end of my youth, one where people are challenged at every moment and forced to adapt and adjust with very little resources. It is simply seemed unfair, and it was at that point that I knew I wanted to be in a career as part of a team that worked towards changing that reality. I love Village Enterprise’s approach because it puts the necessary trust and empowerment with the people we work with by providing them several forms of resources to work themselves out of poverty. I believe this is a universal human right and am proud to be joining an organization that recognizes this as well.
Zach in an exercise with “The Recreation Project” in Gulu, Uganda, which he co-founded