Florence in Rwanda, why I love Opportunity
This is my last week at Opportunity International Canada and stirs up many emotions. I started at Opportunity International in the US while I was in graduate school and always say it was the place where I saw a business mindset meet a ministry heart and really started sending me down the international development path. This path led me to Spark Ventures and eventually Opportunity International Canada. This path led me to work alongside many wonderful people and meet more inspiring individuals in Zambia, Colombia and Rwanda than I can remember. This path has taught me about the innate value and potential of human beings, the power (for good and bad) that aid and development can wield and the need for local and sustainable solutions in developing countries.
I could go on and on but in reflection I've boiled down the reasons why I love, will continue to support and follow Opportunity International to these five:
1. Stating that the poor are worth it
One of the most powerful experiences I've had was in Colombia at a Trust Group meeting where woman after woman (with a couple of men) stood up tall, looked us in the eye, talked about their business, where they started and where they are now, how they are helping their family and what their dreams for the future were. One woman even got a little choked up and thanked us for helping her get a loan. That's when it hit me that with every loan, every savings account, every and insurance policy we aren't just providing financial services but we are making a statement... that they are worth it... that we believe in them. So much so that we will treat them like any other business and give them a loan, with interest, and trust they'll pay it back. We are saying, you are worth it! Powerful.
2. Recognizing the potential of the poor
Not everyone is an entrepreneur but all entrepreneurs should have the opportunity to be. And while not everyone needs a loan, savings account or insurance policy they should at least be able to access them. Because when they can't their potential is hidden, squelched and buried. How do we even know what those living in poverty are capable of if we don't give them a chance? Financial services, with training... can't stress that enough, are a means to access that limitless and untapped potential.
3. Focus on innovation
While I was in Rwanda I had the chance to see Opportunity's agricultural finance program up close and personal. This is one of my favourite programs/projects/ideas in the entire world (literally) and not just because there are banks on wheels, cell phone technologies and crop yield improvements. It is because the program is designed to reach more people with the services that they need to improve their lives. It is not cheap. It is not a purely financial decision. It is a response to the fact that over 70% of Rwandans are involved in agriculture, like many Sub-Saharan African countries, and yet there are few financial products/programs that are seeking to address some of the very unique issues they face on a day-to-day basis.
I love numbers. I've kept made up stats for mini-sticks games. Charted my own statistics for video games. Collected baseball cards, obsessed over fantasy sports and enjoy a good spreadsheet. Numbers also tell stories and the world of microfinance and Opportunity are full of numbers. Loan portfolios, portfolio at risk, loans to women, repayment rates, average loan sizes, and the list goes on. The best part about all these numbers is that they are not about how many hits Derek Jeter has on Thursday night games in Ohio but about real people whose lives are being impacted.
CEO's who work for free, mentors who continually teaching me things, co-workers around the world working together, loan officers who are the hands and feet of our work and of course... Jim Frantz. Clients who work harder in a day then we do in a week without complaint working for a purpose, for a family, for a future. I've been lucky to get to know so many of them even just a little bit and I'm better for it.
That's why I'll keep loving, supporting and following Opportunity as they continue to transform lives around the world.
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