We began the final plenary session of the http://www.opportunity.org/opportunity-international-conference/2010 Fall Microfinance Conference[/intlink] with Ambassador Tony Hall, one of the world’s leading and most inspiring advocates for hunger relief, poverty eradication and human rights, and the author of Changing the Face of Hunger. Today, he is interviewed on stage by our SVP of human resources, Connie Stryjak.
Hall described to the audience his nearly 30-year-long fight to eradicate hunger. In 1984, as a Congressman from Ohio, he visited Ethiopia during the famine, when, in the course of six months, a million people had already died. “Seeing the devastation made me realize that we do a lot of stuff in Congress that really doesn’t amount to much. Finally, in 1993, when the Select Committee on Hunger was dismantled by Congress, I went on a hunger strike for 22 days to protest. At first, people thought I was crazy, but when my efforts got noticed, they changed their minds!
“Now I work with Opportunity because I’ve seen the good work that you do. And I know that the people who live in poverty all over the world are smart, they can take care of themselves if given the opportunity. Plus, I appreciate Opportunity because accountability is so important, and to see people getting on their feet, and providing for their children, having money in their pocket and laughing is so rewarding. I have worked to have Congress allocate $25 million to microfinance. I got into microfinance because I traveled a lot, and I was in the Dominican Republic and met a man who made shoes, and it cost so little to make shoes, I thought, we can do so much to help people like him.”
Hall was so passionate and engaged, when he finished speaking, the entire audience delivered him a standing ovation.
Tony Hall was followed by Mark Lutz, our VP of Global Philanthropy, who beautifully told the story of a Zimbabwean client named Esther, whose husband had died of AIDS and she had also contracted the disease. But she had a dream to make a better life for herself and her family through a loan from Opportunity. Lutz concluded: “On behalf of clients like Esther, thank you for joining me on this journey, and for considering what strategic steps you will take to help them. Thank you for being here today and for joining this revolution to end extreme poverty.”
Finally, Benjie Montemayor, president and CEO of Opportunity Philippines, got up to speak. He told the audience, “With all of the Philippines’ resources — and an annual growth rate of 2.1%, considered one of the highest in the world — most people are surprised when they learn that my country is poor. Yet, 30% of our population lives below the poverty line. The reasons are many: rapid population growth, inadequate social infrastructure, slow growth of rural productivity, lack of opportunities and – most strikingly – lack of access to credit. Yet, as you’ve been hearing from all of our speakers this weekend, when access to credit is made available, the poor are able to change their lives. I have personally seen it happen again and again. It happened for Filipino clients like Emma Ola, of the Maayong Aga (Good Morning) Trust Group, and Caryn, a woman who used Opportunity training to add a new business to complement her rice farm and trading.
“I purposely chose women as my examples because women (particularly mothers) constitute close to 90% of all our clients. As we heard yesterday from General Claudia Kennedy andSheryl WuDunn, women are some of the most marginalized members of society — but they are also tough, and natural poverty fighters. When the sack of rice is about empty, they go without eating in order to feed their children.
“Many people make the mistaken assumption that people living in poverty do not know how to handle money. On the contrary, we have found that they make money go much further than the rest of us — precisely because they have so little of it. It has been a rewarding experience for me to discover that what impoverished people in the Philippines lack is not ingenuity, but credit.
“The stories of Emma and Caryn are the stories of millions of Filipinos who lack productive assets, but through their ingenuity and hard work, make use of their survival skills and small loans to create work and generate income for themselves, their families and communities.”
Closing Remarks from Bill Morgenstern
On behalf of all of us at Opportunity and the clients we serve, we are deeply grateful for your commitment to end global poverty – an economic and moral necessity. Thank you for joining us this weekend. -Opportunity CEO Bill Morgenstern
After Montemayor’s speech, Bill Morgenstern closed the session with this message to the audience: Share the Opportunity story with the people you know.
He asked the group, “How do you plan to get involved?” One audience member said: “I came here because I saw a Tweet about the conference. I’m signing up for YAO and I’m going to somehow find a way to get to the Philippines on an Insight Trip.” Another couple said, “We’re going to open anOptINnow group and invite everyone to be a part of it. Fund a Trust Group with $5,000 by the end of the year.” Someone else said, “I’ve started an OptINnow fundraising page so that my friends can get involved.” And another person said, “I’m going to join http://www.opportunity.org/young-ambassadors-for-opportunity/YAO[/intlink] and I’m going to host a Breaking Bread dinner.”
Then, Morgenstern asked people to stand up if they were going to take action in a number of different ways, such as joining a constituency group like the http://www.opportunity.org/board-of-governors/Board of Governors[/intlink] or http://www.opportunity.org/womens-opportunity-network/WON[/intlink], starting an online fundraiser on OptINnow, or going on anhttp://www.opportunity.org/be-involved/insight-trips/Insight Trip[/intlink]. He told the audience to “stand up if you believe that loans, savings, insurance and training offer hope and tools for sustainability for millions of people living in poverty.” And every person in the audience stood.
“On behalf of all of us at Opportunity and the clients we serve, we are deeply grateful for your commitment to end global poverty – an economic and moral necessity. Thank you for joining us this weekend.”
There is more coverage of this conference on the blog. Click here for our 2010 Fall Microfinance Conference blog posts.