One year ago, Opportunity International celebrated the grand opening of its operations in the DR Congo with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the heart of Kinshasa’s Masina market. Three weeks ago, on Tuesday, May 22, 42 local and international staff, dignitaries and supporters gathered to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this milestone at a special luncheon in Kinshasa that received national television coverage. Among the attendees were the Governor of the DRC’s Central Bank; the U.S. Ambassador to the DRC, James Entwistle; Economic Counselor to the U.S. Embassy, Kevan Higgins; the UNDP Country Director, Adama Coulibaly; and a representative from The World Bank.
At the event, Gilbert Lagaillarde, Opportunity DRC’s CEO, and Keith Flintham, Chair of Opportunity DRC’s Board of Directors, addressed the crowd, giving updates on Opportunity DRC’s progress, praising the hard work and dedication of local staff members, and acknowledging the support of the global and local strategic partners who have helped make Opportunity DRC’s growth possible. Among those supporters are the DRC’s Central Bank, the U.S. Embassy, and Opportunity’s private supporters and global strategic partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNCDF, UNDP, USAID, Freeport MacMoRan & TFM Co., the Caterpillar Foundation, SAJE Foundation, Ralph Doudera/Simply Distribute Charitable Foundation, Robert and Martha Haley, the Michaelsen Family, Dr. Sandra Crowder, and Robert J. Perry. Three churches–Christ Presbyterian Church of Edina, Minn.; the Paul Carlson Partnership/Evangelical Covenant Church; and the Christ au Congo Church–also lend crucial support to Opportunity DRC. In addition to this list, Flintham thanked our other partners, including consultants, auditors, suppliers and more. ”No matter what role you have played,” he told attendees, “your support is invaluable for the worthy cause we are called to serve. Because of all of you, I see a bright future not only for Opportunity DRC, but for our growing numbers of clients whom we have the privilege to serve.”
Lagaillarde followed up Flintham’s thanks by expressing his gratitude for the hardworking local staff. ”This past year,” Lagaillarde said, “I’ve been blessed to work alongside an amazing group of 50 dedicated and talented staff members, including over 22 loan officers who are at the heart of our work, offering support and counsel to every client. I am extremely grateful to each and every one of the staff members.”
Lagaillarde also gave an update on Opportunity DRC’s progress. Since January 2011, he shared, more than 5,000 Congolese clients have received over 8,000 loans to grow local businesses and increase their incomes, which not only empowers them to help their families, but strengthens the local economy as well. In addition to loans, clients receive extensive training in business management, leadership skills and personal development, enabling them to improve their lives economically and socially. We’ve opened our second Kinshasa branch in the local Gambela marketplace, expanding to reach more of the local community. And Opportunity is among the few financial institutions in the country to utilize biometric identification for clients to access their accounts, an important layer of security especially for women. Today, approximately 66% of Opportunity DRC’s clients are women.
In 2012, Opportunity DRC is on track to reach our milestones:
- By June, we will open a third branch in Kinshasa.
- Our fourth branch will be opened by end of the year.
- We will expand beyond Trust Group loans, adding small group and salaried loans.
- We have applied for a license to take deposits so that we will be able to offer families a safe place to save their earnings.
- We’ll introduce more training modules in financial education for our clients.
- Through the support of corporations, individuals, and bi-lateral and multi-lateral contributors, Opportunity aims to grow from 5,000 clients to over 10,000 clients.
Lagaillarde shared that the goals in the long-term are to serve more families across the large country of the DR Congo with a strategically placed network of low-cost branches, ATM kiosks and point-of-sale (POS) devices placed in retail agent partners, and to be at the forefront by enabling our clients to transact with our bank via their cell phones. Once Opportunity DRC achieves scale in terms of client numbers, loan portfolio, deposits and infrastructure in Kinshasa, we plan to expand into geographically remote areas of DRC with a comprehensive rural program that includes tailored financial products for smallholder farmers and small businesses within the agricultural value chain.
“The economic outlook in the DRC today is one of hope,” Lagaillarde said. “Opportunities are opening up for sustainable economic growth, and Opportunity International’s presence here is evidence of that. There are many good things ahead. [...] With God’s help and the support of our donors, investors and staff, we hope to see a client base of 10,000 in 2012 grow to 100,000–and when we reach 100,000, we will not be satisfied. We are looking forward to the day when every family in the Congo has access to the financial services that can help them increase their income, save for the future, create jobs for their neighbors and transform the economy of this nation. [...] On behalf of the entire Opportunity International family, we offer our continued commitment to the clients and staff of the Opportunity DRC and thank the people of Kinshasa who have so warmly welcomed us, and who have never given up hope for a better future.”
Keith Flintham echoed this dedication to our work in the DRC and expressed our mission this way: “For Opportunity International, serving our clients in the DRC, in Africa, and beyond is not a job. It is a calling. We feel called to make a positive difference in the lives of our clients, their families, and in their communities. It is our great privilege to serve them, and we feel blessed that you have taken the time to join us today and share in our one-year anniversary event.”