“It’s the dignity of it” was how one African loan client expressed herself to an off-duty staff member standing in line at an Opportunity International bank. She knew she had achieved success through the work of her own hands. Four million such stories play out each day all over the world as Opportunity strives to provide clients with the products and services they need to achieve economic, personal and social transformation.
“Poverty is not just a deficit, not just a lack of resources, it’s a deprivation,” said Daniel Ryumugabe, transformational impact manager for Opportunity Rwanda. “If you offer only one solution — loans — the client cannot get out of the poverty trap because of other environmental problems, such as poor health or financial illiteracy.”
Improved economic status is the most obvious component of Opportunity’s transformation model. With the opportunity to expand a business with a small loan and training, our clients are able to feed their families and put their children in school. They develop steady incomes and create jobs to help their neighbors improve their lives. Opening a savings account and purchasing insurance exponentially expands their economic choices.
Opportunity also believes in personal transformation — helping people build their capacity not just in business, but in life. Through Trust Groups, Opportunity’s gateway lending model, clients learn life-saving information about HIV prevention and disaster planning, in addition to business skills. They also discover more effective ways to communicate and resolve conflicts with family members and others in their communities.
The support a client enjoys from her Trust Group, and the nurturing she receives from her loan officer, who is equal parts advocate and counselor, lead to an understanding that others are invested in her. This awareness fosters her growing sense of self-worth and confidence. Additionally, the administrative, financial and managerial skills she learns reinforce her determination to plan and save for a better future.
When businesses and individuals thrive, it strengthens the community’s social fabric, thereby contributing to social transformation. Former loan client Valamarthi became a loan officer for Opportunity India after experiencing transformation in her own life. Moved by the plight of those at the lowest rung of India’s caste system, she resolved to help traditionally stigmatized communities of lepers and gypsies to create better lives for themselves, and convinced Opportunity to offer them loans. Said Valamarthi, “It is our way of telling them, ‘We value you as people. We’re invested in you. You’re as worthy as the rest of us.’”
Opportunity now teaches marginalized groups to make and sell candles and other products, and has partnered with an organization that trains them to refurbish bicycles. Valamarthi said that the gypsies, typically nomadic, have settled, built homes and are sending their children to school — a social upgrade that would have been much more difficult prior to working with Opportunity.
Opportunity’s Code of Conduct — 10 guiding principles posted in each Opportunity branch in the local language — ensures all clients are treated with dignity, fairness and respect. In fulfillment of the code, we strive to make all fees transparent, clearly explain contractual obligations, and support our clients in their transformational life change.
Further, Opportunity encourages clients to live selflessly, embracing a love of community and neighbor, and to care especially for people who are more impoverished or marginalized than they.
At Opportunity, we’re not just about microfinance, we’re about transformation. For our clients’ sakes, we are committed to the creation and delivery of the best financial services possible to help them transform their businesses, their lives and their communities.
This article was the cover story in the fall 2012/winter 2013 issue of Opportunity’s Impact newsletter.