As I reflect on this past year, I am filled with a combination of disparate emotions. Joy for another year of life surrounded by so many incredible friends and colleagues, excitement and anticipation for the year ahead, and heartbreak over the challenges Opportunity clients still face—poverty, pain, and suffering so severe that they turn my stomach just to read about them.
But above all, I am overcome with gratitude and excitement.
I am grateful to be alive at this exciting time—a season when, in the midst of so much turmoil and pain, we are catching glimpses of God at work. We get to bear witness to mothers opening new businesses, generating their own incomes, and earning enough to feed their families; children who are spending their first days in the classroom learning from skilled teachers; and families who can look to the future with hope and possibility for the first time.
I am filled with gratitude for what we have accomplished this year, excitement for the mission set before us, and a spirit of celebration for the people that make all of this work possible.
Earlier this week, I read the latest edition of Time magazine edited by Bill Gates. The issue—entitled “The Optimists”—reminds us of a critical truth: that no matter how bad things may seem in the news headlines, the world is, indeed, getting better. We are making measurable progress against some of the world’s most challenging goals. Childhood mortality has decreased dramatically over the last 25 years, there are more children in school, more people have access to clean water, and more families can access basic healthcare.
And for the first time, ending extreme poverty is within reach.
This alone is reason to pause, give thanks, and celebrate.
As I reflect on the past year, a few blessings have stuck in my mind that I wanted to share:
1. The progress we have made so far
If you and I have met, Gates’ words in Time this month were likely a reminder of a message you’ve heard me share consistently over the past year: for the first time in human history, we have a sightline to the end of extreme poverty. As I read the research and interact with Opportunity’s clients around the world, I am reminded that despite all of the challenges we continue to face, we are making significant progress. We are working toward a world in which all people have the ability to feed their families, put a roof over their heads, and send their kids to school—and this is no longer just a dream. This progress is worth celebrating every day.
2. Mothers who can now care for their kids
Sorany Garcia lives in the mountains of southern Bogota, Colombia. When she was 16, Sorany became pregnant and was forced to drop out of school and leave her family’s home. She knew that she had to find a job, but she didn’t know where to turn for support. When she was introduced to a local Opportunity staff member in southern Bogota, she received a small loan, training, and the most important thing of all: an opportunity to build a future for her family.
Today, Sorany and her husband Andres live with their two-year-old daughter, Sofia, in a warm, safe home. Sorany runs a beauty shop from her front room, and earns enough to support her family. Life is still challenging for Sorany and her family, but it is also full of hope and opportunity.
Sorany’s story is the reason we do what we do—and it is a great honor to celebrate her as she cares for her family.
Opportunity International has worked in Colombia serving women like Sorany since our founding in 1971. Nearly fifty years later, we are still committed to serving the people and communities that have been displaced by violence and conflict, left behind by other support systems, or excluded from the formal economy.
3. Entrepreneurs who are transforming their communities
I am forever grateful that I met Linda when I was in Ghana this fall. Years ago, she began a business on the side of the road, selling a few loaves of bread from a basket on her head. With support and encouragement from Opportunity, Linda has steadily grown her business, first building a bakery, then expanding her shop, and eventually employing her neighbors.
Today, Linda is the proud owner of Linda’s Bakery—an enormous bread factory in Accra. She has created 40 jobs in her community and has built an entirely new life for her family. Her business, family, and future have been forever changed.
In Ghana, we work with hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs like Linda—women and men who are movers and shakers in their neighborhoods. We also invest in the next generation by funding schools, ensure sustainable livelihoods by providing customized resources for farmers, and promote financial inclusion through outreach and awareness programs.
Working alongside entrepreneurs like Linda reminds me of the power of an entrepreneur and the community-wide transformation she can create when given the opportunity.
4. The Opportunity to be a part of this work
Inspired by these women and so many other mothers like them, I have spent the past few weeks reflecting on the transformation that has occurred in my own life since joining Opportunity just over a year ago.
I have been forever changed by the clients I have met and the simple fact that ending extreme poverty is within reach. This reality has ignited an urgency within me to lead Opportunity toward this goal. Together, we can look toward the future with hope and purpose, steadily moving the needle on one of the greatest challenges facing our world today. What an honor to be called to a purpose such as this.
More than anything this holiday season, I am grateful for each of you. You—the people who make Opportunity’s work possible—who celebrate with us, support us, and encourage us. Who push us to innovate and lead as we end extreme poverty—YOU deserve unending thanks. I am so grateful to work alongside you.
As I’ve spoken with various Opportunity supporters from around the country, I’ve come to learn that the powerful transformation that our clients experience extends far beyond the countries in which we serve—it finds its way to each of our donors and friends as well.
It turns out that being a part of a global mission—playing a role in the important work of ending extreme poverty through time, talent, or treasure—not only sparks change around the world, but impacts our own lives as well.
As I look to the year ahead, I am grateful for all that we are doing together and eager for a new year full of hope, hard work, and opportunity. We are situated at a unique point in human history: fewer children are dying from preventable diseases than ever before, 70% of people now have access to clean water, and extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990. We are witnessing God at work, and being invited to serve Him by serving our neighbors as we seek to end extreme poverty once and for all.
My prayer is that you will join in this transformative mission. That you will allow your perspective, priorities, and very self to be changed. That you will spark transformation in our neighbors around the world by creating the opportunities they need to thrive. And that in so doing, you will be transformed as well.