Microfinance is more than just loans and savings and business—it’s a way forward for many families with few resources and little hope. Wherever Opportunity works, we strive to understand the local communities and to get to know the families who use our resources. This is the first in a multi-part blog series about a new branch in Kyenjojo, Uganda, which I visited in February one month prior to its opening. This first blog will start by introducing the foundational concepts that inform our work. I hope this series will give you a sense of how and why we enter a particular community, and how our services address the needs of families like those that we serve in Kyenjojo.
Opportunity’s Grassroots Vision
Opportunity International is committed to empowering entrepreneurs and communities in the developing world to break down the cycle of chronic poverty and hunger. We believe that real, lifelong change is possible when people at the grassroots level are empowered and equipped to recognize and seize the opportunities available to them. We strive to help those who have few resources or little confidence to see the dignity imparted to them by the One who created them in his image.
Empowering the Community Through Trust Groups
A critical component of Opportunity’s grassroots vision is the Trust Group model, through which loan clients receive transformational training, support and encouragement that equips them to be change agents in their communities. In places like Kyenjojo, Uganda, there are a number of established community groups who gather to pool their resources and knowledge, and strengthen and encourage one another. Established groups like these are being evaluated as potential participants in Trust Group programs in various communities throughout Uganda. The characteristics of these groups in many ways match those of Opportunity’s Trust Group model in that they elect their own leaders, determine who belongs to the group, and are already an important part of the civic aspect of their community. When these associations join Opportunity in the form of Trust Groups, their members receive weekly transformational training in a range of topics, including budgeting and financial planning, business development, health and spirituality. Since members of established groups already know and trust one another, it is less risky for the members who must co-guarantee one another’s loans. Equally important is the fact that these groups are already well-connected throughout the community and constitute small communities within themselves, serving as building blocks that have a ripple effect of transformation in the local community.
Meet the Tusitukire Wamu Trust Group
The Tusitukire Wamu (Together We Stand) Trust Group formed in 1997. The dedicated group of 23 members meets every Thursday in Mulago, a village located on a hill north of Kampala, and the members operate a variety of businesses, including shoemaking, food sales and services, transportation, carpentry and retail market stalls. In addition to Opportunity’s financial services, the group members receive and share advice and encouragement from one another and from their loan officer. Group members take advantage of the training opportunities provided with their loans, and are able to improve or develop business skills and a variety of life skills, including managing interpersonal relationships and family healthcare. Strong relationships among group members strengthen their businesses and their community.
A Holistic Transformation Model
A critical component of Opportunity’s grassroots vision is the combination of banking resources and holistic transformation training. Our transformational training is designed to address the unique situations of people who are economically active but impoverished, who have great capacity for change but may lack the knowledge, education and capital required to break the cycle of chronic poverty and hunger.
The primary platforms through which we engage people in poverty are microfinance banking services and transformational training, which enable us to walk together with our clients and their communities in multiple areas of personal and economic development. These areas include provision of basic banking resources, but through assessment of client need in each location we also are able to provide customized options that allow individuals to determine the best fit for them in improving their own lives as well as their communities.
Many clients dream of starting or expanding a business; others are farmers who lack the knowledge or resources to grow successful crops in hostile terrain; others desire simply to send their children to school but cannot afford the costs of education; and still others have the vision to educate their neighbors’ children in their community, knowing that doing so increases the chances of lifelong success for these students who will become the backbone of the community someday.
Without basic resources such as loan capital or access to secure savings, many impoverished people have no hope of ever building a successful future in which they can provide for their families and escape the cycle of poverty. As we get to know our clients and their neighborhoods, we are able to walk beside them as they strive to make their dreams, and their families’ dreams, come true.
Stay Tuned for Part Two: Getting to Know the Community