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Governor Spotlight: Jeannie Burns Buckner

By Kelli Walker

Jeannie Burns Buckner, a member of Opportunity International’s Board of Governors, has lived all over the United States and Canada; she is a seasoned traveler; she studied sociology and anthropology. Thanks to the miles she’s clocked and her innate drive and curiosity, she has made connections—and commitments—across the globe that will impact generations to come.

Friends of Jeannie’s first introduced her to Opportunity International. She was drawn to Opportunity’s model of identifying those most in need, listening to their specific challenges, and offering solutions that create sustainable change—access to training, financial services, and support. She and one of her daughters first traveled to Ghana to experience the life-changing initiatives that enable people living in poverty to create a path forward; since then, she has visited at least eight Opportunity countries: “[Opportunity] helps people improve their lives [so they can attain] what is important to them,” Jeannie comments—a statement that underscores what we’ve learned over the last fifty years of service: for instance, microloan clients desperately wanted to send their children to school—education being a bedrock of moving out of poverty—so Opportunity launched our work in education finance to enable access to quality education.

As her relationship with Opportunity deepened, she became a passionate advocate for our work in Nicaragua, serving on the Opportunity Nicaragua board of directors and education committee. With seemingly endless energy for tackling new projects, Jeannie expanded her work to include supporting refugees in Uganda.

Uganda hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa and the third highest in the world. About 94% live in settlements alongside local communities. Opportunity works in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, supporting programs that create economic empowerment and self-livelihood. We offer customized financial education and work with refugees to secure formal savings accounts and working capital loans. To date, over 7,000 people have benefited from financial literacy training; over 4,000 individuals have savings accounts or microloans.

Jeannie recognized both the need and the potential for extraordinary impact in Uganda. She reached out to friends and colleagues with a project: a group of committed donors raising funds for a specific area of need—the Nakivale Refugee Settlement. Christened “Team Buckner,” Jeannie started the group with 15 friends—all women—and her team committed to raising an ambitious $896,500 over three years. Team members introduced the opportunity to their friends, expanding outreach and inviting others to join the initiative. The team held events both small and large, and traveled together; during a trip to Uganda this spring, the team met with HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, who serves as Patron of Opportunity International UK, and celebrated the opening of the Opportunity International bank branch in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement. Opportunity US augmented Jeannie’s leadership by providing assets and digital connections including a customized donation page; Opportunity UK provided project leadership and raised funds. As of the writing of this article, Team Bucker has achieved 99% of their goal.

Jeannie has taken the time to expand her world view, “looking beyond” her life to families around the world, other women working diligently to support their families under challenging conditions. Jeannie has found such joy doing this work, connecting her friends and family to families that may look and live very differently than we do, but share the same hopes, dreams, and longings for healthy, stable families. We are deeply grateful for Jeannie’s vision—underscored by action—to create impact in tangible and lasting ways.

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