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50 for 50: Our History, Chapter 2: David Bussau

By Opportunity International

Opportunity International's story began in 1971 with the vision of Al Whittaker and the relentless entrepreneurial spirit of Carlos Moreno, a small business owner in Colombia.

As Al was beginning his work in Latin America and raising support for microloans in Washington DC, another innovative humanitarian leader was exploring similar opportunities on the other side of the world.

David Bussau grew up in an Anglican boys' home in Australia and began his own entrepreneurial journey by renting a hot dog stand when he was 15 years old. He loved running his small business, and over the course of the next 20 years, he launched several successful enterprises.

In 1974, he and his family had reached what David called the "economics of enough." Because of their business success, they had more than they needed and were in a position to serve others, so they decided to travel to Darwin, Australia to help the victims of Cyclone Tracey. Soon after, David went to Indonesia to help with an earthquake recovery program. It was an experience that shifted David's perspective—and his future.

In Indonesia, David saw that conventional aid and development programs were limited in their ability to break the cycle of poverty. In the same way that Al decided to offer a loan to Carlos, David gave a small loan to an Indonesian farmer named Ketut Surwiria. Ketut and his wife used the $50 loan to purchase a sewing machine and start a small tailoring business, and David had officially become a pioneer in microfinance.

Ketut's business grew and he was able to repay his loan. Years later, he had developed into a successful businessman who owned a fleet of taxis, giving other people in his community employment, too.

Meanwhile, David realized that this new form of economic empowerment worked. He provided loans to 20 other people, and these fledgling small businesses gave families an income that could cover their basic needs, as well as much-needed confidence.

"When a person's entrepreneurial potential is released, we see a great deal of empowerment," David shared. "They are more confident, take up a more prominent role in their communities and become a key decision-maker in their families. They are empowered to choose a better life for their children and that is a tremendous improvement."

This insight also sparked the beginning of a new chapter in David's own life.Inspired by the people he was serving, he sold his own business and established Maranatha Trust to provide small loans to people living in poverty, equipping them to become entrepreneurs in their communities.

He continued to serve families in Asia from his home base in Australia as Al Whittaker served families in Latin America from the United States. In 1979, the two joined forces to form what we now know as Opportunity International—a global network of partners that is serving nearly 15 million people around the world.

Since those early days using entrepreneurship as a creative solution to poverty, David Bussau has been celebrated as a leader in microfinance. He was awarded the Order of Australia, named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2003, chosen by The Bulletin magazine as one of "Australia's 10 most creative minds," and named the Senior Australian of the Year in 2008.

His vision and belief in the potential of small business owners around the world has opened doors and created opportunities for millions of families to break the cycle of poverty.

To read more on David's fascinating journey, you can read this inspiring biography.

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. 

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