Opportunity International is an organization that provides small business loans, savings, insurance and training to more than five million people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. It serves clients in more than 20 countries and works with fundraising partners in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Opportunity is a Christian organization whose work is motivated by "Jesus Christ’s call to love and serve the poor," while serving all its clients regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Opportunity was founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker, former president of Bristol Myers International Corporation in America, and Australian entrepreneur David Bussau. They established the organization, seeking a solution to extreme poverty that would transform people’s lives while empowering them to financial independence and sustainability. Opportunity was one of the first nonprofit organizations to recognize the benefits of providing small business loans as capital to those working their way out of poverty, initially distributing these loans via the Trust Group model. 
- 1 Trust Groups
- 2 Local staffing
- 3 Technology
- 4 History
- 5 Annual report
- 6 Opportunity International Network
- 7 Operating partners
- 8 Opportunity International in Uganda
- 9 Efficacy of Microfinancing
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In 1991, a group of Opportunity supporters formed the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) and created an innovative group-lending methodology called the Trust Group. A typical first point of entry, the Trust Group joins together 10 to 30 entrepreneurs who elect leaders and pledge to guarantee each other’s loans. Because the group guarantee replaces the need for collateral, credit becomes available to those previously excluded from formal financial services. Each week, as Trust Groups gather to repay their loans, Opportunity provides educational sessions to develop business skills and enhance personal growth. In 2009, almost 1.2 million clients received transformative training on a wide range of topics.
Today, Opportunity recruits and develops staff from the countries it serves. Its global team has grown to over 17,000 employees, with 9,400 loan officers working directly with microfinance clients.
Technology is a critical tool in Opportunity International’s fight against poverty. Over the last 10 years, Opportunity has invested more than $20 million in electronic and mobile technology to reduce transaction costs and bring services to the most marginalized and remote people. Satellite branches and mobile banks reach clients in previously unserved areas, like rural farming villages and sprawling urban markets. Biometric technology provides convenient and secure access to finances, even for those who are illiterate or lack formal identification. Convenient ATMs and point-of-sale (POS) devices offer the only safe method for transactions in many markets. Cell phone technology gives clients in remote locations access to their accounts. Grants from Omidyar Network and Credit Suisse help support Opportunity’s “electronic wallet” strategy.
In 1971, Al Whitaker left his job as president of Bristol Myers to found the Institute for International Development Incorporated (IIDI), a micro-enterprise organization. Barry Harper was IIDI’s first Executive Director and, along with development officer Dan Swanson, oversaw establishment of offices in Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Kenya, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia.
Australian philanthropist David Bassau founded Maranatha Trust and first used it to give loans in Indonesia in 1977. He came on staff with IIDI as the director of the Indonesia office in 1979 and began expanding its work in Asia. In 1988, IIDI changed its name to Opportunity International. Since that time, it has continued to grow.
Amid the weak economies and vast income gaps of the developing world, helping the poor find employment was nearly impossible. But the genius of microenterprise development was not in finding work, but in helping poor entrepreneurs create or expand their own businesses.
In 1992, Opportunity International began to focus on serving entrepreneurs at even lower levels of poverty. The Philippines program began to test the Trust Group lending method, and the Women’s Opportunity Network was formed and started to test and refine the Trust Group loan program across countries and cultures. Through small loans and business training, one person after another could begin to reverse the downward spiral of poverty and become providers for their families and leaders in their communities.
Convinced that no one group can tackle the issues of poverty alone, Opportunity began developing partners in various regions around the world-independent, self-governing organizations with a similar heartbeat. Linked together in 1998 as the Opportunity International Network-they now number 42 organizations in more than 20 developing countries with support partners in five countries (Australia, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany).
In 2000, Opportunity launched into what would become another distinction of its heritage. With more than 200,000 clients worldwide, Opportunity began establishing formal financial institutions (FFI) to broaden the financial services it can provide. FFIs take the form of commercial banks, development banks or credit unions and can accept deposits, borrow money and accept investments.
In 2002, Opportunity International began offering microinsurance through its subsidiary MicroEnsure. As the world’s first microinsurance intermediary, MicroEnsure provides protection against the many risks faced by those living in poverty. Innovative products cover policyholders with crop, health and life insurance–offering clients a safety net when an unexpected hardship or disaster occurs. With average premiums of about $1.50 per month for a family of five, MicroEnsure is making affordable life insurance available for the first time, exclusively to people living in poverty. Other innovations include policies covering persons infected with HIV/AIDS, weather-indexed crop insurance for rural farmers and affordable health insurance for the economically marginalized. MicroEnsure currently offers insurance in five countries. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a generous grant to enable the agency to enter new countries and provide insurance to many more people.
On 24 January 2006, David Bassau gave the 10th Australia Day Address with the subject “A Giving Nation.”
In January 2008, David Bassau was named Senior Australian of the Year 2008. The esteemed awards recognize Australians excellence-citizens who have made a substantial contribution to the country and are considered inspirational role models for the Australian community. David was recognized for the significant role he has played in the global fight against poverty through his contribution to the world of microfinance.
|Annual Report 2012|
|Active Loan Clients||2.8 million|
|Average First Loan||$178|
|Savings Accounts||1.1 million|
|Average Savings Account Balance||$110|
|Loans to Women||93%|
|Loan Repayment Rate||98%|
|Total Staff Worldwide||17,000|
|Loan Officers||9,000 (99% of which are nationals)|
Opportunity International Network
Opportunity International was the first organization to approach microfinance using a microfinance network. The global Opportunity International Network includes the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Opportunity International has been a pioneer in the microfinance sector for more than 40 years, helping millions of people in over 20 countries to transform their lives. With over 93 percent of its loans made to women, Opportunity provides financial resources that empower women to grow businesses, feed and educate their children, develop steady incomes, and create jobs for their neighbors.
Opportunity International Australia is a part of the global Opportunity International Network.
Opportunity International Australia also provides support services to its loan recipients such as business training, financial literacy training and community development initiatives. It currently works in India, Indonesia and the Philippines by funding and supporting local microfinance institutions. These services include loans, savings, fund transfers and insurance. Opportunity International Australia has a repayment rate of 97%. Opportunity International is a signatory to ACFID.
Macro For Micro was a campaign in 2010 to raise funds and awareness for microfinance development. It consisted of a team of Canadian cyclists (Geoff Dittrich, Stu McCrory, Vivian Leung and Isabella Borowiec) that travelled over 5,600 km from Sydney, Australia to Perth, Australia along the southern coast. The campaign aimed to raise A$50,000 for Opportunity Australia to fight poverty. The team stopped at universities, high schools and sponsored venues along the way to share the story of microfinance. They departed Sydney on March 8 (International Women's Day), 2010 and arrived in Perth on 29 May 2010.
Opportunity International Canada is also part of the global Opportunity International Network. One of the more recent members in the Network, Opportunity International Canada began in 1998, when a dedicated group of entrepreneurial Canadian business people rallied to launch it as a registered charity in Canada. Bob Lawless is the current CEO.
Opportunity International Canada raises funds and awareness for microfinance services provided by their affiliate organizations in the developing world, with a particular focus on Colombia, Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi and Rwanda. There are plans for future expansions as Opportunity International Canada continues to grow.
Starting in 2009, Opportunity International Canada staff and volunteers created programs and initiatives like Faces of Opportunity, MarketDay, Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, and OI Connect to raise funds and awareness across Canada. Faces of Opportunity is a small coffee table book of microfinance client stories. MarketDay is a program in schools, churches, and clubs which aims to involve and educate young people with the microfinance and entrepreneurship. The Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, or YAO, is an organized group of young professionals ages 18–35 who aim to raise awareness and funds for microfinance projects around the world. In 2010, Opportunity International Canada introduced OIConnect. OIConnect is a grassroots social media platform for supporters to create their own fundraising projects.
Opportunity International UK is part of the global Opportunity International Network. Opportunity UK is currently serving more than 1.2 million African's by raising funds to help develop microfinance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana. They also support projects in Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and South Africa.
Opportunity International serves more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. In 2012, its current funding priorities are: Colombia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana India, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.
Opportunity International in Uganda
Challenge in Uganda
One of the development challenge in Uganda, Africa is that at least 40 per cent of the population - women - dwell in poverty. While women make up 53 per cent of the labour force, they only are reported to sell only 11 per cent of the cash crops due to the lack of access to markets and credit. Opportunity International, an international NGO which is present in many countries, strives to solve this problem by offering microfinancing services to the Ugandan women in need.
Opportunity International’s Solution in Uganda – Empowering Women
Opportunity International believes that one of the ways to solve the problem of poverty in Uganda is to invest in the women. It believes that by empowering women, they would be able to raise economic productivity, reduce infant mortality, improve health conditions as well as ensure that education would be provided for further generations. They believe that women are such powerful catalysts that by providing them with microfinancing loans, they would be able to invest in their children as well as community, resulting in a longer term solution. The way Opportunity International helps is by loaning money to women so that they have capital to do their own business as well as provide them business training so that their business can be sustainable.
The program in Uganda is carried out through the help of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON). WON is a network which is committed in providing financial services and training to women around the world in hopes of helping them escape poverty. With microfinancing, the women can receive education, monetary support for those in farming families, as well as receive training to become women leaders.
Mariam Noah, an Ugandan woman who has received microfinancing loans as well as training from Opportunity, is now a successful owner of a school called Ladybird Infant Primary School. She has managed to reap business profits with the help of Opportunity International which allowed her to build a house of her own, care for her mother as well as educate her three children.
She is also a member of the Opportunity Progressive Trust Group  where she receives training in interpersonal relationships, business practices, as well as healthcare along with other women entrepreneurs. Her mentor, Charity Namutebi, is a loan officer who works in the Opportunity Uganda branch in Kida. Ms Namutebi is currently helping 454 other clients in 20 Trust Groups. In the Trust Group meetings, she trains her clients in business practices and personal development, training them to become leaders.
In the Opportunity Progressive Trust Group, the women have developed close bonds with one another and help each other out in their businesses. The members in the Trust Group get to receive education from Madam Noah’s school while the other members who own food businesses send food to the school in return. Madam Noah is still keen in building a new school with the help of microfinancing loans, so as to be able to provide education to others who live in the area.
Efficacy of Microfinancing
There is no evidence presented in Opportunity International (OI) publications of summary-level improvements in household income or jobs created by OI's borrowers. This is not surprising, since scientific testing of the impact of microcredit is surprisingly difficult. Dozens of studies have looked at the experience of people who received microloans. The challenge has been to identify a control group for comparison: it is difficult and expensive to find a group of people who are like the loan recipients in all relevant ways except for not having gotten a loan. Two studies looked at standard microcredit clients over a short period (12–18 months) using randomized controlled trials found no evidence of improvements in household income or consumption. For now, it seems an honest summary of the evidence to say that we simply do not know yet whether microcredit or other forms of microfinance are helping to lift millions out of poverty.
Further, one of the least remarked-on problems facing the world's poor living on two dollars a day is that they do not literally get that amount each day. In other words, economic poverty is not just a matter of low incomes, but also of irregular and uncertain incomes. To put food on the table every day and meet other basic consumption needs, poor households have to save and borrow constantly. One research team presented results of year-long financial diaries collected about twice a month from hundreds of rural and urban households in India, Bangladesh, and South Africa. They consistently found the poor use credit and savings to smooth consumption, to deal with emergencies like health problems and to accumulate the larger sums they need to seize opportunities—occasionally business opportunities—and pay for big-ticket expenses like education, weddings and funerals. Over the year, the average diary household used 8 to 10 different types of financial instruments; most types were used multiple times. The notion that microcredit brings loans to people who previously had no access to them is widespread but mistaken, as is the notion that the strong majority of microloans are used for business purposes.
Finally, it seems unlikely that a year of microlending helps poor people as much as a year of girls' primary education, for example. The true advantage of microfinance is not that each "dose" is more powerful, but rather that each dose costs much less than subsidies. Social programs like primary education and health care usually require large continuing subsidies, using up scarce tax dollars year after year. Microfinancing is different: when it is done right, relatively small up-front subsidies lead to permanent institutions that can continue providing services year after year with no further subsidy needed, and can expand those services to reach many millions of low-income clients.
- PR News Wire (July 16, 2012) Vicki Escarra Named CEO of Opportunity International
- Opportunity Australia Who We Are
- Australian Development Gateway
- Opportunity Australia Where We Work
- Opportunity Australia FAQ
- Australian of the Year 2008
- OI Press Release
- OI Canada
- 80 Day Ride
- Opportunity Canada in Global Network
- Opportunity Canada History
- Opportunity Canada Fact Sheet
- Opportunity Canada Staff
- Opportunity Canada Governors Council
- Mutume, Gumisai (July 2005), African Women Battle for Equality, Africa Renewal, p. 6, retrieved 10 February 2012
- The Case for Support; Bringing Opportunity to Women, Opportunity International, retrieved 10 February 2012
- The Opportunity Progressive Trust Group, Opportunity International, retrieved 10 February 2012
- Rosenberg, Richard. (2010) Does Microcredit Really Help Poor People? Consultive Group to Assist the Poor, Focus Note Number 59, 1.
- Collins, D., Morduch, J., Rutherford, S., and Ruthven, O. (2009). Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Collins, D., Morduch, J., Rutherford, S., and Ruthven, O. (2009). Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Bourdreaux, K., and Cowen, T. (2008). The Micromagic of Microcredit. Wilson Quarterly, 64.
- Rosenberg, R. (2010). Does Microcredit Really Help Poor People? Consultive Group to Assist the Poor, Focus Note Number 59, 1.