Oak Brook, Ill., (Sept. 03, 2009) — A delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives visited Opportunity International’s bank in Kigali, Rwanda early in September to learn more about the need to expand microfinance banking services in sub-Saharan Africa, where fewer than 20% of households have a secure way to safeguard their earnings.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) chaired the Congressional delegation which included Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Melvin L. Watt (D-NC), and Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH). After touring the bank and meeting with staff and clients, Meeks opened a savings account with Opportunity Rwanda.
According to a 2007 study by the World Bank, more than 80% of the population in most of sub-Saharan Africa is shut out of the banking sector because they cannot afford the fees, they lack required documentation or they live too far from the nearest bank. To lower costs and increase access, Opportunity International uses a variety of tools including biometric-based savings accounts, point-of-sale technology, marketplace kiosks and mobile banks that bring services to even the most remote rural areas.
The delegation attended a Trust Group meeting with over 30 clients who had received initial loans of $60 per person. Over several successful loan cycles, members have grown their businesses and increased their average individual loan size to $1,500. Clients shared information about their businesses which range from selling electronics to operating food stands. The group also has collective savings of over $6,000 which is deposited with Opportunity Rwanda.
Meeks told the Trust Group, “We are reaching our hands across the ocean to join with you and empower the African people. You are setting an example of how success can continue to come to Africa. We want to know how we can better connect with you so there can be a better tomorrow.”
In April 2009, Meeks and Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) introduced H.R. 1987, The Microfinance Human Capacity-Building Act of 2009, which will build capacity around the world, especially in Africa where lack of human capital is the single greatest constraint to the growth of microfinance institutions. Susy Cheston, Opportunity’s senior vice president for policy, helped craft the bill which will provide more resources for the recruitment and development of local staff in the African countries where Opportunity serves.
“Opportunity International is honored to have hosted these Congressional delegates during their visit to Rwanda,” Cheston said. “We are thankful for their support of microfinance and excited about the potential of H.R. 1987 to make a real difference for millions of people in Africa who are working their way out of poverty.”
About Opportunity International
Opportunity International provides access to savings, small business loans, insurance and training to over five million people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. Clients in over 20 countries use these financial services to start or expand a business, provide for their families, create jobs for their neighbors and build a safety net for the future. For more information, visit http://www.opportunity.org or join the conversation at http://facebook.com/opportunityintl and http://twitter.com/opportunityintl.