TO PEOPLE IN THIS ORGANIZATION deeply rooted in the Christian tradition, the Jan. 31 firing of Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller was nothing short of sacrilege.
After all, 70-year-old Fuller and wife Linda had unflaggingly dedicated three decades of their lives to what one follower called an “audacious goal”: providing a safe, decent home for every person on the planet.
While the worldwide demand for modestly priced housing remains enormous, few would question what Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) has accomplished since the Fullers started the nonprofit group in the small Southwest Georgia city of Americus in 1976. By August, Habitat will have built 200,000 houses in 100 countries for a million people who otherwise could not afford a home.
Equally important, observers say, is that Habitat has raised the consciousness of the public—as no other group has ever done—about the urgent need for affordable housing. The result: a flood of donated time, money, and materials for the cause.
Each year, tens of thousands of volunteers ranging from college students to former President Jimmy Carter work alongside prospective homeowners at building sites all over the world. Meanwhile, donations keep pouring in—nearly $500 million in the last five years alone, making HFHI America's 19th largest nonprofit organization.
“It is a tremendous tribute to Millard's hard work and entrepreneurial style that he has built such a great organization and that so many people have bought into his vision,” says David Williams, president of Make AWish Foundation and former COO at Habitat.
Parting Of The Ways So what happened?
Accolades for Fuller still echo loud and clear from a host of sources: staffers at the Americus headquarters, directors of affiliates around the world, leaders in government and business, and ordinary citizens. Even so, as Habitat sought to transition from a passionate movement dominated by one man to a large, complex organization with far-flung commitments, it was becoming increasingly evident that Millard Fuller's days with Habitat were numbered.
Insiders at Habitat and Fuller himself recall frequent clashes on strategy between the founder and the board of directors. David Snell, former head of Habitat's education ministry, remembers Fuller jumping up on a table during a board meeting to push for an eight-year campaign to rid Sumter County—Habitat's home area—of poverty housing. “He was arguing that this was our home and [that] we needed to demonstrate to the world that we could achieve this goal here,” recalls Snell.
Having won that battle, the founder then lobbied hard for the board to back construction of a controversial project: the Global Village and Discovery Center, a $2 million demonstration site in Americus that shows rows of slum shacks juxtaposed with 15 examples of the type of homes that Habitat builds in poor countries. Other battles were waged over such issues as whether to expand in new overseas areas that Fuller advocated such as Bosnia and Ukraine versus erecting more homes in areas where Habitat is already established.
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