Grants will help develop and expand microfinance programs in Malawi and Mozambique, helping poor entrepreneurs work their way out of poverty
OAK BROOK, Ill., (March 20, 2007) – Opportunity International, one of the world’s largest microfinance organizations, today announced it recently received two grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) totaling $1,351,000. Opportunity International will use the funds to expand its microfinance services to the poor in Malawi and Mozambique. Opportunity International operates banks or financial institutions in 28 countries and has more banks in more countries than any other microfinance institution serving the very poor.
The first grant of $890,000 will allow Opportunity International to reach approximately 85,000 poor people in rural areas of Malawi by 2009 through microfinance loans and other basic banking and financial services. The grant will build on the work of Opportunity International Bank of Malawi, which opened to great success in Lilongwe in 2003. Specifically, it will support the expansion of the bank’s mobile banking units, ATMs and point-of-sale devices, as well as facilitate partnerships with local businesses. For example, Opportunity International recently opened branch offices in Kasungu and Blantyre-Limbe, in the poorest part of Malawi, and new ATM kiosks in Kanengo, Chinkhoma, Lilongwe and Blantyre.
The second grant, a $461,000 award, will enable Banco Oportunidad de Mozambique to expand into rural areas where few if any banking services even exist today. Opportunity International will use much of the funding to pioneer a scalable, technology-driven, low-cost approach to providing a full range of financial services to poor families living in rural Mozambique, which can then be adapted and replicated throughout Africa. USAID provided the grants to match portions of two recent grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has provided a total of $17.6 million in grant and loan support to Opportunity International since November 2005.
“Africa has become a key area of focus for us due to the terrible poverty and sheer volume of poor people who have little or no access to financial services,” said Christopher A. Crane, president and chief executive officer, Opportunity International. “Through technological innovations, we are rapidly scaling-up our banks to reach people who previously have been isolated by distance and extreme poverty. This empowers them to work their way out of poverty and transform the lives of their families.”
The use of new technology has contributed greatly to the success of the Opportunity International Bank of Malawi. Since most poor entrepreneurs cannot afford identification, the bank pioneered the use of biometric fingerprint technology to identify customers. When new customers set up an account, the bank digitally encrypts their fingerprints on a computer chip and embeds that chip on a smart card. When customers visit the bank or use an ATM, they swipe the smart card and place their finger on a scanner – transactions may be made only if the prints match – aiding customer safety and security.
In addition to opening numerous ATM kiosks in the poorest parts of the country, Opportunity International Bank of Malawi has formed partnerships with rural merchants so clients will be able to use smart cards as debit cards in stores. Also, a new mobile bank is reaching poor farmers affected by severe drought, helping deliver aid from another government organization in the form of smart cards and savings accounts.
Grants to Enhance “$1 Billion for 100 Million People” Campaign
The USAID grants are the latest in a series of high-profile contributions to Opportunity International as it executes a new campaign to mobilize $1 billion over the next six years to benefit 100 million poor people by 2015. Opportunity International has recently received major gifts from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($7.6 million in grants and a $10 million loan), Caterpillar Foundation ($1.2 million) and Lenovo Corporation ($1 million in computer hardware). John and Jacque Weberg, long-time supporters of Opportunity International, announced plans in 2006 to give $5 million annually for the next 10 years, the largest individual gift ever to a microfinance organization.
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.