At the final presentation of this morning’s first plenary session of the conference, philanthropists Ronnie and Karen Lott, members of Opportunity International’s Board of Governors, spoke about what brought them to support Opportunity, their life-changing experience meeting client Talekeleni Kagaso on an Insight Trip to Malawi, and why they’re passionate about helping people in poverty.
From the Lotts’ speech…
Karen: We are grateful to be here with you today to share just a little about our story–one of community, family, and hope. Ronnie and I have always shared a love for our community, and over the years this community of ours has given us so very much.
For the last 20 years we have worked to support local kids and their families through our foundation, All Stars Helping Kids. As a parent, it breaks my heart to see children in circumstances that would bring the best of us to our knees, and they are circumstances they did not choose.
We believe that while our circumstances may not be the same, in every way that matters we are all more alike than we are different.
An Insight Trip to Malawi
Ronnie and I have promised each other to do as much as we can, whenever we can, to help others that are not able to help themselves. When I was introduced to Opportunity International through a VP of Resource Development, Michele Ruby, she told me stories of African women and children who had received loans, whose lives were being transformed.
We decided to see for ourselves. In 2006 we took our family on an Insight Trip to Malawi. What we saw was staggering. Poverty and AIDS were devastating the African continent. Extended families and orphanages were stretched beyond their limits. My heart broke, especially for the children, and I will never be the same.
And yet, in the midst of the despair, we saw hope. Poor but resourceful women were using loans and training from Opportunity to empower themselves financially. And it was working. It made them better able to protect themselves and their children from HIV and AIDS.
It was in Malawi that we met Talekeleni Kagaso, the woman you saw in the video. She lived in a slum outside the capital. She and her husband, both Opportunity clients, ran a small grocery store. Their two small children were in school, and the success of their small enterprise made their lives and outlook radically different from their neighbors.
Their transformation has not just been economic. Because of the confidence and security Talekeleni gained from her small business, Ronnie and I could see that she was a source of strength in her community. Standing tall against a backdrop of poverty and desolation, she and her “village of hope” were–and, with God’s grace, will continue to be–the future of Africa.
As a mom, I continue to see the need to encourage and support all children regardless of where their community is, whether here or in Africa. And with Opportunity supporting women and mothers in the developing world, I know their children will be cared for.
Ronnie: This takes you back to the understanding of what love is all about. We’re all neighbors, whether across the street or across the continent.
We believe in “localizing love.” When you’re in a foreign land, and somebody loves you, it makes you “local” right away. I want to thank all of you for being here. Always extend your love, give of your love, and give of your financial resources. You will make a difference. Thank you very much.
A bit about Ronnie & Karen Lott
Ronnie Lott, NFL Hall of Fame Inductee; Co-founder, All Stars Helping Kids
Ronnie Lott’s legendary career included four Super Bowl titles and 10 Pro Bowl appearances. Ronnie retired from professional football in 1994 after having played 10 seasons with the 49ers, plus additional years with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. In 1994, he was selected as the safety for the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Ronnie is co-founder of All Stars Helping Kids, which supports disadvantaged youth in the Bay Area and throughout the nation. He has traveled to Africa three times to learn about and represent Opportunity’s work.
Karen Lott, Co-founder, All Stars Helping Kids
Karen Lott is an active community leader, volunteer and a dedicated advocate for the work of Opportunity International. She serves on Opportunity’s Board of Governors as well as the board of directors of All Stars Helping Kids, a charity founded by her husband, Ronnie Lott. An active member of Saratoga Federated Church, Karen led her church’s response to the economic and AIDS crisis in 2003 by traveling to Ghana as the featured actress and narrator in Opportunity’s video, “Race Against the Fire.” Karen has been to Africa three times to learn about and represent Opportunity’s work in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana. Prior to being a full-time volunteer and parent, Karen was a professional model. She has a degree in secondary art education from Oregon State University.
This session was streamed live at opportunity.org/live. Visit opportunity.org/live throughout the conference to watch the sessions live.