Happy 50th anniversary to our Charity Alliance partner, Opportunity International! Through micro-banking, education finance, agriculture finance, and a wide range of innovative programs, Opportunity International (Opportunity) helps families provide for themselves and break the cycle of poverty. They help entrepreneurs grow their small businesses; farmers increase their harvests and income; and children get a quality education.
These empowering and transformative interventions have touched the lives of millions, each with their own unique story and experience.
Opportunity’s work is centered around the needs of the people they serve. Everything they do, from providing small loans to financial training for marginalized groups, is focused on giving people what they need to succeed and thrive.
And it’s working – last year alone, Opportunity served 14.7 million families and 2 million children, in total releasing $3.1 billion in capital to empower people to work their way out of poverty. It’s the same model that has powered Opportunity since 1971 and will lay the foundation for their next 50 years.
The best way to illustrate their incredible impact is through the stories of those they have helped.
I’m compelled by stories. While I love learning about microfinance initiatives and high-quality agricultural inputs, I’m in this work to see how organizations like Opportunity are empowering change in the lives of individuals. Hearing their stories motivates me to consider my own role in the fight against poverty. So to celebrate each decade that Opportunity has served people in poverty, and to give you a better idea of what this work means to the people they serve, here are five stories from the people who can tell it best.
5 lives (of many) changed for the better because of Opportunity International
Aurelia Jonas, Tanzania
For 18 years, Aurelia worked at a commercial bank. She was let go at the age of 45 when her branch closed, so she decided to open a small school called Young Roses. She always had a passion for teaching and knew she was well-equipped with knowledge. In her words, "why should I stay idle with the education I have? My parents paid for my school and I should use that." Each year, she would build one new classroom as the school grew – slow and steady.
When she started working with Opportunity, she received loans to tackle larger construction projects like a second classroom block and a beautiful new dining hall. From her humble beginnings in 2007 with nine students, the school has grown large enough that it employs 15 teachers and 12 support staff. They even have three school busses and a silo where they keep corn! Aurelia even worked with Opportunity to offer loans to students’ families in order to help pay for the school fees, as they often struggle to pay a lump sum at once.
Aurelia is so proud that she regularly pays back her loans. She says, "I've never missed a month. I don't want to disappoint myself, and I don't want to disappoint people who have supported me."
Young Roses has come so far, but Aurelia has more plans for the future. Her primary goal is to find a location and the money for a new school, as there is no more room to grow at the current location.
Denis Alvarez, Columbia
Ask Denis about how most people in her community access capital, and she’ll tell you about the local money lenders: The men who charge 20% interest a month and aren’t afraid to physically hurt you if you are late on your payments. She’ll speak of them with a mixture of disdain and fear – but also a heavy dose of gratitude that she has another option.
Denis serves as the president of her Trust Group – named Girasoles (sunflowers) – and leads 21 other women in accessing safe, fair loans from Opportunity to grow their businesses. Denis has used her own loans to grow her small general store on wheels – a cart that she takes around the neighborhood selling snacks, drinks and small supplies. Denis speaks highly of Opportunity saying, “I love working with [them].”
Beyond the obvious financial and physical benefits of working with Opportunity, so much of what Denis has learned has been personal. She says that she is less impulsive now, and feels trained and educated. She appreciates having a leadership position in her group, which has empowered her to be a well-respected leader in her community. And she loves that she is always learning something new. For Denis, Opportunity has been a true partner – helping her reach her dreams for her business, her home and her family.
Wang Hong, China
In order to support her employees, many of whom were mothers, Wang set up a place in her factory where young children could stay while their mothers worked. This effort was made possible by a partnership with Opportunity. Not only has Wang helped bring these women dignity and purpose, but she has also impacted their children by providing them with a safe environment where they can spend more time with their mothers and make new friends. With perseverance and strength, Wang forged a better life for herself and those around her –a great reversal of fortune. She plans to continue serving the women in her community who are looking for opportunities to work, learn and grow.
Bindu, India (center)
Bindu runs a small business making brooms in a rural area of India. Before starting her business, Bindu only made 100 rupees ($1.50) per day. It was not enough to take care of her family’s needs or send her children to school. It was a life of hardship and extreme poverty that most of us will never experience. However, when thinking about how she could improve her family’s situation, Bindu reflected on the one trade she knew: Making brooms.
With an Opportunity loan of just $300, Bindu was able to buy the raw materials she needed to make a quality product that she could sell to her community. She also benefited from Opportunity’s digital solutions like mobile banking and biometric identification. With mobile banking, clients in rural communities can skip the long and dangerous trip to the bank and access their accounts even if they can’t read. And with personalized training from Opportunity, Bindu was able to grow her idea into a thriving business, which now employs 9 people.
Bindu and her employees say they are able to support more of their family’s needs, educate their children, and contribute to their community. She is proud to be an entrepreneur and is hopeful for her family’s future.
Jastin Madeb, Tanzania
If you wind your way up the spiraling ramps of the Ilala Market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, you’ll walk right into Jastin’s calendar and poster shop. A lifelong entrepreneur, Jastin began his career selling clothing along the side of the road. However, his income was unstable. Clothing sales fluctuated dramatically from season to season, so Jastin couldn’t predict what he would earn each month. Because he wanted to stabilize his earnings, he decided to shift to a paper goods business, starting from his home with a small inventory.
When his business began to grow, he found a space in the local market located just across the street from the Opportunity branch office in Ilala. He began working with Opportunity, accessing loans to grow his business. Now, several years later and thanks to investments from Opportunity, Jastin has several successful businesses. In addition to the paper business in Ilala, he also runs a guest house and grocery in his home village of Tabora, where his wife lives with his two kids. As the businesses have grown, Jastin has been able to hire neighbors to help him manage the increasing demand. He has two employees at the paper shop and three at the grocery store and hopes to hire more as his businesses continue to grow.
When he thinks about his future, his number one goal is to give his kids a good education. As for his business, he would like to register the company and source cheaper products to expand profit margins and provide for his family.
How to get involved
Simple yet effective interventions can transform people, families and communities. Opportunity knew that Aurelia, Denis, Wang, Bindu and Jastin were leaders in the making and could change their own lives with the right tools and support.
There are many ways to engage with Opportunity’s work and see firsthand how lives can change when people and families have what they need. Here are a few ways to get you started:
- Join the Opportunity Book Club to learn about other places and cultures in which Opportunity works.
- Dive into the past with Opportunity’s celebratory 50 for 50 blog. I particularly enjoyed the reflection on how financial services have changed over the last 50 years.
- Learn the ins and outs of topics like agriculture or education finance by joining one of Opportunity’s upcoming events.
- Stay up to date on Opportunity’s work and hear more amazing client stories by following them on social media and signing up for their newsletter.