Bathed in the spotlight, Ebenezer Scrooge towered above the audience, sitting atop a 10-foot-tall desk in the opening scene of “A Christmas Carol.” My eye was drawn to the sign posted in front of his shop: “Scrooge and Marley Money Lenders.” It dawned on me that Scrooge was, in reality, a tight-fisted microfinance lender who cared only for personal financial gain rather than the success of his clients. As an Opportunity International staff member, I internalized this as I’ve always known we are different from Scrooge in our business dealings with impoverished people – putting aspirations for their success above aspirations for our profit margin.
Similar to Opportunity, Scrooge succeeded because people in poverty desperately need access to credit. But Scrooge was cold-hearted. He saw the poor as deserving of their dismal fate and considered them a threat to society. In his opinion, if more impoverished people were to die, the benefit would be to “decrease the surplus population.” As a moneylender, he took pleasure in exploiting people experiencing financial troubles.
Confronted by the ghost of Marley and his chains, Scrooge began to transform. Marley said, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; how much longer will yours be?” When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed Scrooge his grave, he became anxious that he would die alone, a despised man. Scrooge begged for another chance, proclaiming, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I have been.”
In one night, Scrooge made a transformation. Free from the darkness of a miserable life, he found himself in the light of a dawning Christmas day. Scrooge set out on a mission to fill the lives of others with a pure love that expects nothing in return. When he returned to his moneylending business the day after Christmas, he began to dedicate his career to caring for the less fortunate. Scrooge realized that he could make loans out of a genuine concern for others.
In another Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Bailey Building and Loan was a vital source of financial services to the working-class and immigrant people of Bedford Falls. Many residents graduated from renters in Mr. Potter’s slums to homeowners through George Bailey’s stewardship. In a world in which George had never been born, the Building and Loan never existed, and without it, the town fell into disarray. The only source of financing available was the pawnshop in Pottersville. It is a fact that communities depend on access to credit and financial services to survive and thrive.
Just as George Bailey discovered that Bedford Falls would be a much bleaker place without his help, it’s difficult to imagine where the impoverished people of India, the Philippines or Ghana would be without Opportunity International. More people would be locked in a cycle of chronic, oppressive poverty, unable to access the capital they desperately need to start or expand their businesses, and achieve financial stability that will improve the lives of their families. But thankfully, with the hard work of our global family of staff and the support of our dedicated and generous donors, Opportunity empowers people to work their way out of chronic poverty, transforming their lives, their children’s futures and their communities.
Steve Nelson is vice president of Strategic Initiatives/Services in Opportunity’s Resource Development department.