This fall, we are celebrating education by highlighting incredible students, teachers and education enthusiasts around the world - including our friends right here at home. This week, we are honored to feature this piece from our friend Janelle Lassonde, who currently serves as the Chair of Opportunity's Education Campaign.
When friends ask me what’s going on in life, I often mention Opportunity International and my involvement in its work in education. My friends connect immediately with the idea. Friends and family, governments and think tanks alike – who doesn’t agree that education is a key ingredient in pulling people out of chronic poverty?
But whoops – there those conversations go, running off on a tangent. I know what my friends are about to say: A colleague (or an uncle or a neighbour) has set up a charitable school in Kenya! Or little Matilda’s class is again collecting pencils to send to the other side of town. My friends get it, they say. Education is important.
Goodness knows, it’s a big world and there’s much to be done. These other school initiatives can be valuable, and often they grip supporters through a physical connection – the tangibility of giving supplies, or in the case of a single school linkage, a feeling of “ownership” at that school.
It’s for this reason that I jump urgently back into my conversations. Opportunity’s approach to improving education is different, I explain. And if I may be so bold, it’s special. It’s a rare organization that shares these pillars of Opportunity’s work:
- Opportunity doesn’t prescribe “what is best.” It listens to its clients. The organization understands that its hardworking clients have a deeper knowledge of their communities than we, the outsiders, ever could amass.
- Opportunity views its efforts through the lens of the client. By offering access to capital, services and information, the group helps clients help themselves. It empowers clients to make their own choices. It allows them to remain in control of their lives.
- In this way, Opportunity gains acceptance within the local community.
- The group is not reliant on volunteer efforts, or on the endless shipping of materials, in order to create its successes.
- The Opportunity connection works well for clients. Repayment rates of school-related loan products rank among the very best in all of Opportunity’s banks (where repayment ratios already outshine commercial lenders). This fact underlines the inherent, cash generative nature of schools and the importance of these lending products to clients.
- The funds invested in Opportunity’s work go further. Repaid loans are reinvested in more educational development. As the cycle continues, the organization works toward that consequential goal of sustainability.
- By embracing the laws of supply and demand, Opportunity helps create businesses that stand on their own two feet. Rather than propping up schools indefinitely, this group aims to put itself out of business! But in doing so, Opportunity strives to create schools that are so healthy and independent that they can obtain future funding from local commercial banks. As school proprietors “graduate” from Opportunity, the group’s work expands within the educational sphere. The need is endless.
- The work is scalable. Opportunity will positively impact millions of children in the developing world. More traditional educational models – those that focus on single schools – benefit only the fortunate few.
- And no matter what, successful schools become positive forces within their communities. By advocating for the importance of education, strong schools spur on economic improvements and social change. In this way, Opportunity is improving the fabric of today’s life and at the same time heightening tomorrow’s aspirations.
Education is a big deal in the betterment of the developing world. We all agree. But we must be encouraged in sharing Opportunity’s work. It is indeed something quite special.