Opportunity Colombia celebrated its grand opening event in Bogota last month. As a regulated financial institution, Opportunity Colombia can now offer a full range of financial services to its clients, including interest-bearing savings. By 2015 it aims to reach 60,000 Colombians who live at the base of the economic pyramid.
With 150 attendees at the beautiful Metropolitan Club, in the hills above Bogota, Opportunity Colombia’s CEO Enrique Ordonez and his staff were on hand to welcome the finance community, local corporations, donors, the Board of Directors and Opportunity International’s global operations staff. Jenny Alexandra Reyes, Chief of Collections at Opportunity Colombia, was the emcee, and John de Bruyn, Chair of Opportunity Colombia’s Board, led the group in an opening prayer, giving thanks for the opportunity to help people in poverty to transform their lives.
Enrique welcomed attendees and thanked staff and supporters. Since 1973, he said, loans have been a critical tool Opportunity used to help impoverished Colombians build or expand their businesses. In 1971, Mr. Ross Clemenger, a Canadian Citizen who developed his pastoral activities in our country, gave the first Opportunity loan in Colombia to Mr. Carlos Moreno. Though Mr. Clemenger passed in July, his work is more vigorous today that ever. But in these years, one equally vital tool was missing: savings. “Tonight,” Enrique said, ”we open the doors of a new financial intermediary that has as its sole objective to offer opportunities to the less fortunate [so that they can] save money.”
Alois Gitterle, Director and Senior Client Advisor at Credit Suisse, highlighted the continuing need for capacity development, financial inclusion and effective training in the microfinance sector to keep up with its exponential growth. The collaboration between Credit Suisse and MFIs like Opportunity Colombia helps to accomplish this, enabling Opportunity to develop the people, processes and products it needs in Colombia to meet its social and financial goals and increase its geographic footprint to new areas, adding four new branches in the cities of Bogota and Cucuta. Alois discussed the Microfinance Capacity Building Initiative (MCBI), established in 2008, which is funded through the Credit Suisse Foundation and complements the bank’s long-term business engagement in the sector, leveraging their banking expertise. They’re proud of their long history in microfinance. They were recently awarded a special commendation for microfinance engagement in connection with the Financial Times/International Finance Corporation Sustainable Finance Awards in recognition of 10 years of comprehensive and complementary work in microfinance across all divisions of the bank.
Credit Suisse also contributes funding and expertise to the training of thousands of staff members at microfinance institutions around the world, including Opportunity Colombia. They help to develop a quality workforce by partnering with Opportunity Colombia in NextGeneration Banker staff training and development programs. And they helped implement the back-office technology Opportunity Colombia needed to gain constitutional and operational licenses, such as the T24 banking system. “Credit Suisse is proud to partner with the dedicated management and staff of Opportunity Colombia,” Alois concluded. “We’re satisfied that this is a bank that will continue to adopt best practices well into the future.”
Harry Turner, CEO of Opportunity International’s Global Microfinance Operations, noted that what sets Opportunity Colombia apart from other local MFIs is its dedication to holistic client transformation. Clients gain improved economic status, are better able to build their capacity in business and in life, and they receive social support from their Trust Group and the guidance of their loan officer. And this philosophy led to Opportunity’s Code of Conduct, which reminds us to always treat clients with dignity, fairness and respect, offering transparent fees and clearly explained contractual obligations.
Cecilia Oquendo Gomez, one of Opportunity Colombia’s most successful clients, told the sad story of her daughter Vanessa’s long battle with cancer. When Vanessa passed away a few years ago, it was difficult not only because they had lost their daughter, but because their deep debt from her medical fees meant that they risked losing the business they had worked years to build. Even though Cecilia’s first loan from Opportunity was small, that capital and her subsequent loans helped her to slowly reestablish her family’s business.
Finally, David Simms, Chairman of the Board of Opportunity’s Global Microfinance Operations, took center stage to thank Opportunity’s donor community for their unwavering support, patience and trust in the goal to make this day a reality. More than 1,000 partners contributed to this historic effort, including Credit Suisse; Caterpillar Foundation; Citi Foundation; InterAmerican Development Bank; private foundations (Soran Foundation, John and Jacque Weberg Foundation); as well as the Robert Jenkins Family, Warren and Mary Lynn Staley, and Alan Barnhart. David presented a commemorative plaque to Carlos Moreno, Opportunity’s first loan client, honoring him for his historical place in Opportunity International’s legacy.
As David told the crowd, “The grand opening and expansion of Opportunity Colombia is the result of a strong and sustaining vision, great commitment, hard work and abiding faith. I share this joyful moment with the entire Opportunity International family of staff and supporters.”
Congratulations on this wonderful achievement, Opportunity Colombia!