The following is the first post in a two part series written by Walker Morrow. It was originally published on Walker's blog here.
I recently had the privilege to travel to Bogota, Colombia, to see Opportunity International’s operations in action. In this two-part blog series, I would like to reflect on how I saw Opportunity’s staff and clients working hand-in-hand to end global poverty.
Located in the heart of Colombia, Bogota is a city on the move. With a population of over 7 million people, the city that just twenty years ago was known for its violence is now a friendly metropolis that relies on tourism as one of its most vital industries. People from around the world flock to Bogota to experience its art galleries, museums, and architecture.
But for as much progress as Bogota has made, a significant portion of its residents still lives in extreme poverty. Opportunity International continues its work there, fulfilling its mission of using microfinance to empower entrepreneurs and help them transform their lives, their children’s futures, and their communities. Opportunity’s work in Colombia dates back to 1975, and in fact Colombia was one of the first countries to receive an Opportunity loan.
In order to see Opportunity at work, I visited one of their top-producing branch offices, in Restrepo, a neighborhood just outside Bogota’s city limits. I was impressed by the quality of the environment and staff – it resembled any bank one might find in the United States. Through my conversation with Carlos, the branch manager, it became evident that the bank was a metrics-driven organization, focused on improving efficiency and achieving financial results.
What impressed me most about my meeting with Carlos was his passion. His passion for both his staff and clients was inspiring. Carlos’s philosophy for successfully managing 25 loan officers and providing exceptional service to their clients was simple: in order to be successful at Opportunity International, “one has to lead with their heart…which will provide the best outcomes for the client and ultimately the community.” Each loan officer, he explained, has a much greater responsibility than simply funding loans. Many of the clients have never received financial credit before —so the loan officer must be prepared to assist them not only with their financial development, but their emotional and spiritual growth as well.
As a perfect illustration of the importance of loan officers, I also had the chance during my visit to meet Driyet, one of the branch’s loan officers. As she spoke, I could sense her passion for her work. Driyet has a tough but immensely rewarding job. In addition to the 56 current clients she visits on a regular basis, providing financial education and counseling, she also visits 20-30 prospective new clients every day. She must commute almost two hours every morning to reach her assigned territory, where she walks dirt-filled streets, block by block, until she meets her daily goal. Only a great passion and love for her work could fuel a daily grind like that. It’s obvious this isn’t just a job for Driyet – it’s a calling.
I would like to thank Carlos, Driyet, and the other 16,000 Opportunity International employees for their hard work and dedication to changing lives. I believe everyone could learn something from Opportunity’s model of leading with your heart. No matter where you work or what your job title is, leading with your heart means caring about others and having a strong desire to see them succeed. This model works, as Opportunity can attest. Their culture has not only been the driver behind their performance, but also a tool for attracting top talent. Their employee retention rate is among the best – proving that leading with your heart produces strong outcomes.
In my next blog post, I will talk about the clients I visited, who let me see firsthand how their lives have been bettered by the work of people like Carlos and Driyet.