As we look excitedly to the year ahead, set bold goals, and dream up new innovations, it’s so important that we take a moment to pause and reflect. Our global community—a community that includes you—has accomplished so much in the last 12 months. What’s more, our clients have built their businesses, grown their savings, and achieved countless milestones, resulting in remarkable transformation for themselves, their families, and their futures.
When our global team, donors, and partners come together, we do remarkable things—so today, we invite you to look back with us and celebrate. Together in 2023, we…
Invested in innovations in agriculture
Recognizing the enormous risks natural disasters and climate change create for smallholder farmers, we focused on climate resilience in 2023—training farmers on regenerative agriculture and developing The Climate Collateral Alliance to promote agriculture activities with the potential to help communities weather climate crises.
Opportunity International was also selected for the Catalytic Climate Finance Facility—leading a $75 million initiative to mobilize blended capital to smallholder farmers and agriculture MSMEs facing the brunt of the climate crisis. Smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in developing nations while also facing the greatest risk from the increasing frequency of climate catastrophes around the world. As part of this initiative, we will help local financial institutions innovate and invest in the transformative solutions that smallholder farmers need to adapt to increasing extreme weather events.
In Malawi, we developed and piloted a ChatGPT-based service that provides answers to farmers’ questions based on specific, localized farming information. Farmers can ask the app detailed questions about their particular crops (i.e., given my conditions, should I use an herbicide or a fungicide?) and get region-specific responses and advice—all from the convenience of their phone through WhatsApp.
Finally, through new digital tools, we were able to dramatically streamline farmers’ access to loans, which they use to purchase seed, fertilizer, and other essential inputs. This important innovation was featured in the Financial Times: “In Uganda, Opportunity International agents equipped with iPads can access credit scorecards and behavioral analytics to run credit checks while on the farm. This has cut loan approval times from 60 days to four,” says Timothy Strong, Opportunity’s Head of Agriculture Finance.”
Received an incredible commitment to fund education in Ghana
In February, Opportunity International received a $14M commitment from USAID to fund education in Ghana. As USAID Deputy Mission Director Lang said, “A quality education should not depend on where you live or which school you attend. We want every child to have access to a quality education. The $14 million activity we are launching today will support low-cost private schools that serve rural and disadvantaged communities. The activity will support those schools to improve education access, quality, and learning outcomes for students, and increase private sector investments in northern Ghana.”
This work with USAID is yet another huge step for our Education Finance program, which reached a remarkable milestone last year of serving 12 million children around the world. Through an ever-growing network of partners, we are helping students go to—and stay in—school and helping schools improve the quality of their facilities and the education they offer.
Launched Team Opportunity
In October, five runners crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon as the inaugural members of Team Opportunity—our new endurance challenge program.
Team Opportunity invites adventure seekers to participate in extraordinary running, climbing, and hiking events worldwide to build awareness of global poverty and raise money for Opportunity’s work supporting women living in extreme poverty in Malawi. Through the marathon, Team Opportunity put their passion into action by raising over $42,000!
Next up, Team Opportunity is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2024 and hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to River in the fall.
Brought donors together to celebrate, advocate, and invest in our future
All year long, donors gathered to celebrate our progress out of poverty and commit to tackling the challenges ahead. With support from incredible members of our community, we hosted a Summer Soiree in Minneapolis, a celebration on the roof of the Old Post Office in Chicago, a powerful night at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington DC, two intimate evenings in Southern California, and events in Naples, New York City, and more throughout the year.
In addition, our seven Donor Trust Groups continue to gather, involve their communities, and spark significant transformation for our clients. A group led by Jeannie Burns Buckner reached their goal of serving 20,000 refugees in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, and the group led by Jill and Steve Smith traveled to Colombia to see their impact in action.
Expanded many of our key programs
In 2023, we expanded Education Finance and onboarded 815 schools in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, India, and Pakistan to our EduQuality program. Today, 2,725 schools in 13 countries are part of EduQuality, and we are currently impacting over five million children in 24 countries in partnership with 99 financial institution partners.
We also expanded our proven Graduation Model, launching the program in Colombia. Mary Luz Marimon (pictured above), a mother of four in Cartagena, is one of 250 families participating in a two-year program where they will begin income-generating activities, receive robust training and a monthly stipend, and be part of a savings group. Mary Luz shared, “I am happy and proud to be part of this program…I need the help…I want to have a better life.”
We are also expanding savings groups in Africa, creating more opportunities for farmers to build their savings together, and piloting digital savings groups to increase efficiency, trust, and transparency. Patricia Moloson is a member of a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) and was recently elected secretary. As she cares for her four children and her late sister’s four children, she is building her savings for the future. She explained, “I save $0.50-$1.00 per week…I am putting aside savings so that my children can all attend school.”
Presented at events around the world
In September, Simona Haiduc, Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships, and Andrew McCusker, Head of Education Finance, spoke at events surrounding the United Nations General Assembly. In two panels, Simona highlighted the significant role of women and youth-led SMEs in global economic progress and the immense potential that technological advancements have for the least developed nations—places where Opportunity has decades of experience. Later in the week, Andrew brought together distinguished panelists from organizations like Luminos Fund, Street Child, and more for a conversation centered on the future of global education.
Opportunity team members Greg Nelson, Paul Essene, Ama Akuamoah, and Tim Strong joined Webster Jassi, the Minister of Agriculture in Malawi, and Anders Gunderson, CEO of Sensonomic, for a panel at Financial Inclusion Week to discuss increasing digital financial inclusion for rural smallholder farmers through AI and machine learning. The conversation channeled futurist William Gibson’s famous words: “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
At the Cracking the Nut conference in Washington DC this summer, our team joined organizations like the Visa Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), CGAP, and Aceli Africa to brainstorm new solutions to build farmers’ resilience and identify opportunities to increase investment in our clients.
Thank you so much for being part of the Opportunity community and helping make these milestones happen. We are grateful for you—and we’re so excited for all we will achieve together in 2024!