On Saturday, February 20, 2021, we presented the first of a series of 50th anniversary awards. The first Founders Circle Awards went to a group of Opportunity International pioneers who helped us innovate our strategies and programs to better serve clients. These awards celebrate the earliest days of initiatives that have come to define Opportunity's work—and we are so excited to go back and remember how these programs began. Enjoy the first spotlight on a winner:
In 2005 and 2006, then-Opportunity CEO Chris Crane found himself at the intersection of the big picture and the specific story.
The big picture was from Dr. James Tooley of the International Finance Committee, who had discovered the power of low-cost private schools that were springing up to bridge the gaps and failures of public education systems.
In a pivotal study in 2001, Tooley found that, "In many developing countries, government schools are in a parlous state. But the poor don't just sit by, waiting for the government to make their schools better. Some of the most disadvantaged people on this planet vote with their feet, exit the state schools and move their children to private schools, set up by educational entrepreneurs to cater to their needs."
This struck a chord with Crane, who had recently spent time with an Opportunity International Trust Group in Ghana. In this group of women, Crane came face-to-face with the specific story: mothers who were putting the first dollars they earned toward their children's education. He also talked to two women who operated schools and wanted to access loans from Opportunity, but they knew that Trust Group loans weren't a good fit.
After bringing these stories to his team, Chris and the Opportunity leadership at the time selected the Ashaiman branch in Ghana to pilot a new program that would tailor loan terms to small, low-cost private schools.
These loans to what Crane referred to as "edu-preneurs" were Opportunity's first foray into what would later become Education Finance.
Over the last 15 years, what started as a "microschools" idea has grown into a full Education Finance portfolio that helps parents cover school fees, school owners improve their facilities, and teachers improve the quality of education they offer.
Crane personally believed in this vision so much that when he ended his tenure with Opportunity, he went on to found Edify, an organization that helps low-cost private schools grow their outreach and ensure high-quality Christian education.
Meanwhile, at Opportunity International, the EduFinance program has become one of our most successful and transformational initiatives. By 2020, the portfolio was releasing $93.8 million, reaching nearly 2 million children; 1,716 schools were part of the EduQuality program; and 6,386 schools received financing.
Best of all, millions of students were receiving a high-quality affordable education—opening doors for their futures and helping them break the cycle of poverty.
Congratulations to Chris Crane for receiving the Founders Circle Award for his contributions to millions of children around the world.
Each week for the next 50 weeks, we will share a piece of Opportunity’s history—major or minor, sobering or inspiring. We have gotten to where we are today by facing some of the world’s greatest challenges, with you by our side. Please join us in celebrating the many significant moments that have built the foundation on which we will embark on our most audacious vision yet: ending extreme poverty.