Opportunity International provides small business loans, savings, insurance and training to people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. Clients in over 20 countries use these financial services to start or expand a business, provide for their families, create jobs for their neighbors and build a safety net for the future.
Motivated by Jesus Christ’s call to love and serve the poor, Opportunity serves all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender.
Opportunity International works with fundraising operations in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom to help create a sustainable approach to help fight global poverty. Contributions from individuals, governments, corporations and foundations are leveraged through commercial borrowings and client savings to signifcantly increase the size of our loan pool and provide additional funds for our work in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Opportunity International was founded in 1971 by two visionary leaders who were inspired to take action by their experiences with people living in extreme poverty. Al Whittaker, former president of Bristol Myers International Corporation in America, and Australian entrepreneur David Bussau sought a solution that would transform people’s lives without creating dependency.
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. When clients build businesses with Opportunity loans, they often set into motion monumental changes. Family incomes rise. Children are well fed and go to school. Homes are improved. Women gain status. For clients around the globe, these transformations take place every day–beginning with loans as small as $60.
Opportunity offers a mix of loan products, including group and individual loans, and allows clients to access larger loans as their businesses grow. In 1991, the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) was formed 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. Last year, almost 1.2 million clients received transformative training on a wide range of topics.
In 2000, Opportunity International began building scalable, sustainable and accessible banks throughout the developing world to provide savings, in addition to loans and other financial services, to people who have never had access. To date, Opportunity has built 13 regulated microfinance institutions, including nine banks. For Opportunity clients, savings bring stability and a means to move away from subsistence living. Interest-bearing savings accounts provide a secure, convenient way for clients to manage money and prepare for both crisis and business opportunities.
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.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 affordable, reliable access to their accounts. Grants from Omidyar Network and Credit Suisse help support Opportunity’s “electronic wallet” strategy.
Opportunity is dedicated to recruiting and developing staff from all of the countries it serves. Its diverse global team has grown to over 11,500 employees–99 percent of whom are nationals. More than 6,515 loan officers are at the heart of our work, offering support and counsel to every client.
Opportunity staff worldwide share four core values: respect, commitment to the poor, integrity and stewardship. These values are exemplified by our worldwide staff in their relationships with clients, colleagues, donors, visitors, vendors and all people. The Opportunity family includes people of many cultures who are united in our mission and vision .