Summer is here, which means that I—along with my fellow summer interns—have swapped backpacks for business casual and lecture halls for office cubicles. Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Summers are a chance to step out of the swirl of quizzes, term papers, and finals and into the reality of what I’m passionate about—helping underserved and disadvantaged individuals gain access to a better quality of life. This passion is the reason I study International Relations and why I’m excited to work as an intern with Opportunity International this summer.
As a part of the International Business Development team here at Opportunity-US, I love that I get to actively participate in the dynamic world of microfinance. I’ve had the chance to listen in on calls and read updates on Opportunity’s projects throughout the Global South. Compared to other similar organizations that I’ve studied, Opportunity International is incredible in terms of who they choose to serve. They are expanding access to financial services for people living in extreme poverty—a group most banks simply aren’t motivated to serve. Opportunity does this by purposefully providing financial services in rural, poor regions of the countries in which they operate. Oftentimes these regions require innovative financial tools like cellphone and mobile banking technology to provide services to their clients.
Most recently I had the chance to learn how one of Opportunity International’s banks in Ghana, Opportunity International Savings and Loans (OISL), is expanding access to the Northern Region—the largest region in Ghana and also the most sparsely populated. Ghana’s Northern Region is mostly grassland and Savanna woodland with a harsh, dry climate. Over 70% of those economically active in the region are employed in agriculture, hunting, and forestry (mostly as a part of the informal private sector). Many of the locals own small farms where they grow either cocoa or plantains. While OISL has been operating in Ghana over the past decade—with over 30 branches and 200 other types of access points—this year their very first branch opened in Tamale, the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region.
Following construction and staff training, operations began at the Tamale branch in March of this year. By mid-April the branch had already provided services to 66 loan and 177 deposit clients—even though the branch won’t even conduct its opening ceremony until later this year! Along with these financial services, Opportunity is also specifically helping their farm clients by providing them with agricultural training and access to higher value local crop markets. In order to spread awareness of these new financial services, Opportunity has been meeting with local chiefs, sponsoring radio advertisements, and sending out “cinema vans” that travel to rural parts of the region to show educational films on smart financial practices.
One client who has already benefitted from the new Opportunity branch in Tamale is Sala. She was able to open up a savings account and join a loan group through the branch. Using the money from her loan, Sala has been able to purchase more stock for her household appliances store in Tamale. These financial services will help Sala grow her business and provide for her three children.
It’s really exciting to see the amazing progress made by Opportunity International in Ghana, particularly as services are expanded to the country’s Northern Region by OISL for the very first time. I’m looking forward to seeing continued progress at the Tamale Branch in Ghana, and I can’t wait to learn about the rest of Opportunity International’s up-and-coming projects this summer!
Abbie is a 2015 Knowledge and Program Management Intern. She studies International Relations and Spanish at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.