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.
In the early 2000s, Opportunity Bank of Malawi noticed a challenge facing the communities it was trying to serve.
In a country that is entirely rural, nearly everyone relied on agriculture to survive. But traditional microfinance wasn't designed with the needs of small-scale farmers in mind.
As bank staff began exploring how to better serve rural families, members of the Opportunity International leadership team were introduced to an agriculture expert who had spent decades in Africa. With extensive experience working alongside farmers, he had a wealth of both knowledge and relationships when it came to understanding the agriculture sector in the region.
After just a few hours of conversation, the team agreed: this expert's wisdom, relationships, and keen understanding of the sector could help Opportunity build a unique financial program designed specifically for farmers and rural communities.
And while his initial contract was written as only a 12-day engagement, he expert stuck around for years to help build the program that has become Agriculture Finance.
He worked alongside Opportunity International's leadership team, field staff, and program managers to design a program that provides targeted, finance-based solutions that help rural families transform their small farms into more productive and effective enterprises. Over the last decade, the program saw tremendous success—and even more potential. With support from partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Mastercard Foundation, and USAID, the Agriculture Finance grew—and by 2020, we were ready to scale.
Last year, the Agriculture Finance portfolio released $15.5 million to reach 311,050 people. Nearly 13,000 farmers were supported by Farmer Support Agents, and more than half of our Agriculture Finance clients were women.
Today, we deliver solutions like access to seeds and fertilizer, connections to buyers, and training on agricultural best practices. We provide technical assistance to financial institutions to help them launch and grow agricultural loan portfolios; we design special financial tools like production loans, crop insurance, and rural savings accounts; and we leverage technology to reach the most rural communities.
Now, we are growing the program even more so that farmers can increase their harvests, get their crops to market, and feed their families and neighbors.
For his agricultural expertise, creative thought, steadfast partnership, and unwavering commitment to farmers and their families, we were pleased to present a Founders Circle Award to John Magnay.
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.