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Chicago, IL 60607

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© 2022 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit. EIN: 540907624.

50 for 50: Looking Back at 50 Years

By Atul Tandon

When Al Whittaker made a tiny loan to Carlos Moreno a street spice seller, in Colombia in 1971, he could not have imagined the tidal waves of impact his one small action would spark. Al’s start in Latin America, combined with David Bussau’s similar efforts in Asia, launched Opportunity International—which now has reached nearly 250 million people over the past 50 years.

Carlos Moreno, Colombia
Carlos Moreno, Colombia

For five decades, Opportunity has stayed committed to its founding principles: serving those no one else wants to serve, giving them a hand up, not a handout, so they can stand on their own two feet and earn a living with their own two hands. Responding to God’s call to serve the poor and emulating the example of the Good Samaritan, Opportunity has sought to serve all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. The only criteria and sole expectation being that our clients will work hard to invest their time and resources in building businesses, getting jobs, earning a living, and escaping poverty. We come alongside them with the kindling of financial resources, training, and support—they supply the wood and fuel which gets the fire of well-being going! And thanks to an incredible community of supporters, staff, clients, and partners, we have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of our founders. To echo Eugene Petersen’s evocative words, our journey has been characterized by a long obedience in the same direction.

Linda Nyarko (left) and one of her employees at her bakery in Ghana
Linda Nyarko (left) and one of her employees at her bakery in Ghana

This year, as we celebrated our milestone anniversary, we have looked back at the programs, initiatives, and people that have shaped our story. From the earliest days of microloans and savings products to Trust Group lendingto the more recent Agriculture Finance and Education Finance; to our work in AfricaAsiaEastern Europe, and Latin America; to the founders who paved the way for growth and impact—these stories remind us just how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

With support from this incredible community, we have been unwavering in our mission, clear in our calling to the poor, constant in building local partners and networks, yet flexible in the methods and means of implementation for 50 years. We have innovated, pivoted, and grown while remaining fixed on our ultimate goal: serving families living in poverty.

Looking Back with Awe and Gratitude 

Over the past 50 years, Opportunity’s incredible global community has transformed hundreds of millions of lives. With faithful support from donors, partners, and staff, we have:

  • Extended 54 million loans

  • Provided the means and methods to save to tens of millions more clients

  • Loaned $12 billion
  • Issued 55 million insurance policies
  • Helped 8.1 million children access high-quality education 


Opportunity launched trust groups, discovered the power of lending to groups of women,
 
built bankslaunched the world’s first microinsurance agency, and recently pivoted to rely on an asset-light, partner-heavy model that allows us to increase the leverage of donor dollars, reduce risks and reach even more families with better products.

Since then, Opportunity developed innovations, including lending for education, building tools to serve small-scale farmers, launching powerful digital tools, developing services for refugees, and now financing for technical training and graduation programs.

 

Auilda Cruz (left) with her husband and their children outside the school she started in the Dominican Republic
Auilda Cruz (left) with her husband and their children outside the school she started in the Dominican Republic

Recognizing the power of local people building local solutions and investing in their futures, Opportunity established a network of local partners who deliver these solutions each and every day, ensuring that we respond to the unique needs of our clients and building tools that work locally.

To support its work, Opportunity pioneered groups of supporters who encourage and champion one another. Through groups like the Women’s Opportunity Network, Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, Governors, and our new Donor Trust Groups, Opportunity supporters have come together to raise support, tackle bold challenges, and advocate for our clients.

Over the years, Opportunity’s work experienced its share of setbacks. Hurricanes and famines, economic dysfunction and collapse, wars and civil disorder, political violence and pandemics—our progress has been threatened to halt time and time again. Yet through it all, our partners, supporters, and staff stayed the course and refused to give up. Resilience that was drawn from a deep well of faith, hope, and love helped move the needle on hungereducationpovertyand so much more. We are grateful.

 

High school graduation in Nicaragua
High school graduation in Nicaragua

Looking Forward with Great Expectations

In this 50th anniversary year, we have spent time looking back at our history—but we are also looking ahead to our future. Because our work isn’t done yet. In many ways, it’s harder than ever—a world free from extreme poverty, where everyone can go to bed with a full belly, sleep with a roof over their head, and wake up to a day of meaningful work.

Because of the economic impact of lockdowns and market closures, global progress against extreme poverty moved in the wrong direction for the first time in decades. An estimated 100M more people were added to the 700 million now struggling with extreme poverty. Food insecurity spiked, leaving 2.3 billion without an adequate ability to feed their families. And more than 168 million children were out of school for at least an entire year.

Scolaca (right) with a customer at the beauty salon she opened in Nakivale Refuge Settlement in Uganda
Scolaca (right) with a customer at the beauty salon she opened in Nakivale Refuge Settlement in Uganda

Opportunity’s work had always been to help families thrive—but the crisis forced us to pivot to ensure they could survive. It was a new challenge we never could have imagined, but one that we had no choice but to address. And it taught us countless lessons, including how to pivot quickly, pilot effectively, and rally a diverse group of stakeholders within a matter of days.

Opportunity’s 50th Anniversary, coupled with the severe challenges of the pandemic, raised an important question for us: Where do we want to go from here?

The answer was simple: We are staying the course. We are continuing on our journey to serve the unserved and the left behind, to give struggling families the opportunity to succeed. We are working to end extreme poverty in our lifetimes!

Here is where we know we’re headed:

  • Reaching extremely poor clients worldwide with financial services, training, and support to start small businesses, create jobs, and increase household incomes and assets
  • Expanding Opportunity’s agricultural finance services amongst smallholder farmers in Africa and Latin America
  • Rapidly increasing the availability of quality education for millions of the poorest children on the planet, financing both schools and families

For all of this—the opportunity to walk with those who have been left behind and cast aside and to see their lives restored to a fullness which God intended—I am grateful. Grateful for His continuing faithfulness, for our incredible global community, and for each and every one of you. It is an honor and a rare privilege to do this work alongside you. Thank you!

 

A farmer in Haiti
A farmer in Haiti

As we look to the years ahead, I invite you to join us in what promises to be the most exciting journey ever undertaken—a journey that ends with children in school, families with food on the table, meaningful livelihoods, and the end of extreme poverty as we know it. A journey of a long obedience in the same direction!

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