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LiveBlog: Plenary Session III: Will Ball, Knight Kiplinger and more

By Opportunity International

This Friday evening plenary session features Opportunity CEO, Bill Morgenstern; chair of the Opportunity Board of Governors, Mary Lynn Staley; director of credit support at Opportunity Rwanda, Alice Gasatura; vice president of the Caterpillar Foundation, Will Ball; economic journalist and editor-in-chief of The Kiplinger Letter, Knight Kiplinger; and Dale Hanson Bourke, president of the CIDRZ Foundation, which supports AIDS research and treatment programs in Africa.

Bill Morgenstern opened the session by telling the audience, “Be still and listen, because the voices of the people we serve are singing with joy and gratitude tonight for everything you do as supporters of Opportunity. We want to keep people’s dreams alive, helping them achieve a better life. Our clients are just one storm in their lives away from being back down to where they started. As long as I’m CEO, we’re going to continue to serve those at bottom of pyramid. And the need continues to be great. Mary Lynn Staley followed by assuring us, “In the next 90 minutes, you are going to meet four fascinating individuals: a woman with good news from Rwanda, a man whose company moves the earth both literally and figuratively, an economic journalist and forecaster who has become a trusted household name, and a woman committed to helping you find passion and purpose now and through the rest of your life.”

As promised, we were moved by the four speakers, who all offered us inspiration, and one, a surprise philanthropic announcement. Here now are just a few of the speakers’ comments:

1. Alice Gasatura, Opportunity Rwanda: “Of Rwanda’s population, 70% are women and 87% are rural. That is our challenge in Opportunity. After facing hardship growing up in Rwanda, living in poverty, I was determined to make a better life for myself and my family. And I saw my dream come true when I became a loan officer in microfinance. I am happy to say that at Opportunity, we have many successful clients who have learned the importance of savings and creatively diversifying their businesses. On behalf of Opportunity Rwanda and our clients, I thank you for your support, and encourage more of you to support Opportunity by getting involved as donors, governors, and advocates for those seeking to create better lives for themselves and their families.”

2. Mary Lynn Staley introduced Will Ball of the Caterpillar Foundation with an announcement: “At this conference, we are proud to announce the Caterpillar Foundation’s Alliance for Progress initiative, which is the largest grant from a corporation to a microfinance organization in history. The grant will increase sustainability of local communities and promote long-term job impact, generating $100 million in economic investment in poor communities over the next five years.

Will Ball: “Tonight, I’d like to focus on something that is critically important. Great companies of tomorrow are going to have to focus on the problem of sustainable development. Nations that can meet the basic needs of their citizens are going to be the societies that can best face environmental and social challenges. When you think of the one billion that live on less than $1 a day [held up a dollar bill to the audience] and half the world’s population live on less than $2 a day, it astounding. Plus, a billion people don’t have access to clean water, two billion people die each year from lack of access to sanitation systems, and a billion children under the age of five die each year from poor sanitation and hunger. At Caterpillar, we see shareholder value as a measure of how successfully we deliver to society. We asked Opportunity to deliver us the facts and data as to how effectively it’s helping people around the world, and they delivered. Tonight, I want to announce that in addition to our current matching and challenge grants, we pledge an additional $1 million to Opportunity in matching funds as a challenge to staff and supporters if they raise $1 million in business grants: Let’s do this together. Be a part of this challenge. We look forward to partnering with you to make this a better and more sustainable world.”

3. Knight Kiplinger: “Recently, I became a convert to the microfinance movement. I then became a donor to Opportunity. I realized early on that I could do even more for the microfinance movement through my journalism. When I tell friends about the impact of their donations to Opportunity, certain things always surprise them: That it requires only $138 to fund a first loan, that they have a 95% repayment rate, and that it can be economically sustainable. Multi-national, commercial big banks can’t always be as effective because the non-profits take the time to get to know their clients. Giving to Opportunity may not be local but it is making a difference on all of our communities. It is not a gift but an investment. Your limited dollars will have a much greater impact than they would in the United States. Milton Friedman once observed: ‘The poor stay poor not because they are lazy but because they have no access to capital.’ The people working for Opportunity are doing God’s work, and we should help them.”

4. Dale Hanson Bourke, author of Skeptics Guide to Global Poverty and Second Calling: Finding Passion & Purpose for the Rest of Your Life. “Most of us found Opportunity because we were open, and I encourage you to be open this weekend. There is an African proverb: ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, you’ve never spent the night with a mosquito.’ So, here’s what you can do: continue learning, and reading books about microfinance and global development. There is another African proverb that I keep in mind: ‘Numbers need faces to change hearts.’ Go see — go on an Insight Trip, see the effects of Opportunity’s programs. We can also meet Opportunity visitors when they come to town. They are amazing and inspiring people to meet. My final proverb: God gives nothing to those who keep their arms crossed. Finally, I will close with a Franciscan blessing: ‘May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.’ Thank you.”

Join us again tomorrow for live video coverage of the final plenary session with Tony Hall, Mark Lutz, Benjie Montemayor and Bill Morgenstern at 10:30 a.m. ET.http://www.opportunity.org/opportunity-international-conference/register-for-the-live-stream/Click here to register to watch it live.[/intlink]

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