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Conference LiveBlog: Geoffrey Thige, COO of Opportunity Kenya

By Opportunity International

Geoffrey Thige, the dynamic chief operating officer of Opportunity International Kenya, shares from the conference mainstage all about the work and progress Opportunity Kenya has made, utilizing solutions that include mobile phone banking, microinsurance, financial literacy training and more to help clients build a better life.

Highlights from Geoff Thige

Geoffrey Thige, COO of Opportunity Kenya, speaks from the mainstage about the work of Opportunity Kenya and what the future holds for Kenyan clients.In Kenya, we have 39 million people, yet only 4 million people have bank accounts. There would need to be 500,000 jobs created to accommdate all the young people, yet the informal sector only produces 10,000 jobs. And most of the job training is for white collar jobs, which do not exist. So you can imagine there is a lot of joblessness.

At Opportunity, we are working to implement financial services, including savings, and especially financial training. I’ll tell you a story. A few weeks before I left Kenya, we had a financial literacy training session and a woman named Francisca was there and she was asking a lot of questions. So I engaged her and asked about her story. She had been selling tomatoes, but her business was failiing so she came to the training to find out why. There was a lot of competition in the marketplace. Her customer service was not good. Her prices had stayed the same so her margins continued to shrink. And as I was talking to her, I realized we could help her and clients like her find the solutions to creating sustainable solutions and grow their businesses. When Francisca left, she knew how to build her business, and protect against competition. She was hopeful and excited about the future of her business.

We also sell insurance for natural disasters like floods and fire, such as the recent petrol fire that ravaged the Nairobi slums. The solution to poverty is insurance, as Richard Leftley shared today in a conference breakout session. However, this is necessary to protect against the effects of not only natural disasters, but also political crises, such as the post-election riots in 2008. At that time, we lost 80% of our client portfolio. But our clients who were displaced by the political violence came back, and with our help, many have been able to grow their businesses back to their previous levels.

Seventy-five percent of the population in Kenya are under 25. We have to be able to educate them. All the schools that Opportunity Kenya funds are in the slums. Many of the students have HIV/AIDS. We also fund school fee loans so that parents can afford to send their children to school.

In Kenya, cell phones are not a luxury item, they are a crucial part of the infrastructure and daily life. Clients can transfer loan repayments and pay their bills via cell phones. This is not just a convenience, but a critical way for clients to save the time and money of visiting a physical bank. It’s also much less risky and it can also be a way for clients to save, although that not the intended use of the service. This is a great opportunity for them.

What’s next for Opportunity Kenya? In the next two years, Kenya intends to be a regulated, deposit-taking financial institution to allow clients a place to save and offer them access to formal banking services.

We are revolutionizing the way that clients are able to support their families and their communities. I wish to thank Opportunity’s Kenya Champion Team and the supporters that make the Banking on Africa initiative possible. Together, we will be able to give all Kenyans the chance at a better life. Thank you.

A bit about Geoff Thige

Geoffrey Thige is Opportunity Kenya’s COO, a role in which he oversees transformation, IT, risk/compliance and special projects. Prior to joining Opportunity, Geoffrey worked at Microenterprise Development Services Ltd, a Kenyan microfinance company where he was the finance manager as well as head of human resources and administration. He has over 15 years experience in the financial accounting, microfinance and entrepreneurship sectors working for PRIDE Africa (an international NGO) and most recently with Sunlink Microenterprise Development Services Ltd. Geoffrey holds a B.A. in economics and government from the University of Nairobi with a CPA and ACCA qualifications, and an MBA in finance. Prior to his recent promotion at Opportunity, Geoffrey served as transformation and impact manager.

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