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Opportunity LiveBlog: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Champions Rural Outreach

By Sonja Egeland Kelly

When Bill and Melinda Gates decide to take on a project, they do it with gusto. They call themselves “impatient optimists,” and firmly believe that they are changing the world, one person at a time.

Associate program officer in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor initiative, Clara Veniard is no stranger to impatient optimism. She works with financial institutions to deliver saving services at scale to underserved populations. In particular, she has witnessed the effectiveness of mobile banking solutions, and manages several Gates Foundation program-related investments in rural areas of Africa.

Her presentation to conference attendees today was moving, emphasizing the importance of savings services.

“Less than 10 percent of the world’s poor have access to safe, affordable deposit services,” she stressed.

She shared that one of the core principles of the Gates Foundation is that “all people have equal value.” This certainly resonates with the Opportunity mission.

“We see that the poor are demanding services and are bleeding money in inadequate options. Savings services are hard to deliver, but Opportunity International has a critical role to play in the delivery of those services,” she emphasizes.

Clara shared a vignette from Melinda Gates’ recent site visit to Opportunity’s bank in Malawi. While there, she stood in line with savings clients who were proud to have the equivalent of $0.75 in their bank accounts.

The following is an excerpt from Melinda’s Gates’ blog entry regarding the experience: “I got to see some of this work in and around Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, when I visited some sites run by Opportunity International Bank of Malawi. OIBM is building inexpensive branches – I visited one that was made out of three shipping containers–and setting up kiosks in shopping centres and post offices. They also operate seven trucks, some equipped with ATMs, that can bring affordable banking services to even the most remote locations. I talked to several OIBM clients who told me that before the trucks started coming to their town, they had to take long, expensive trips into the city to do their banking-or simply hide their savings under the mattress. But now the bank comes to them” (source: ft.com/gapperblog).

You can read more about Melinda’s reflections here.

For more information about Opportunity’s partnership with the Gates Foundation, visitwww.opportunity.org.

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