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Freakonomics Co-author Lights up the Night with Opportunity International

CHICAGO – October 29, 2019 – Award-winning economist and best-selling author Steven Levitt believes a key element of Opportunity International’s determination to end extreme poverty is the organization’s willingness to learn from its mistakes and to refine its operations serving those living in extreme poverty in developing countries.

“It’s so hard to do one thing well,” Levitt told an audience of 220 at the organization’s recent benefit at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Light up the Night. “But to come back and do one thing after another. And to acknowledge your failures. It’s been an amazing privilege to be able to understand and to vicariously enjoy the amazing and remarkable success accomplished by Opportunity International.”

Prior to Levitt’s remarks at the October 4 event, Opportunity Chief Executive Officer Atul Tandon spoke about the organization’s history and its renewed focus on alleviating extreme poverty. 

“We have been relentless over the past 48 years in the pursuit of finding the best means possible to reach out to people who have been either left behind or left out of the global economy,” Tandon said. “As we now look to the future, what is ready to scale and go forward is agriculture finance. Of the people today who are left out, 80 percent of the extremely poor people, those living on less than $1.90 a day, or about 700 to 800 million people, are smallholder farmers.”

Like Levitt, Tandon also cited the organization’s mistakes as a means to improve its operations.

“We’ve had more than our share of failures,” said Tandon, a former executive of Citibank, both in the United States and his native India. “But the reason we have seen success in innovation is that the core of our model has stayed consistent. We basically do three things: We make sure the poor have access to financial services, training they need to use those services, including technology, and support systems.” 

He noted that of the organization’s 10 million clients globally, approximately 50 percent access their financial accounts digitally, and 85 percent are women.

Levitt is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago. In addition, he is a co-founder of TGG Group, a consultancy of leading economists, psychologists, and behavioral scientists serving corporations and non-profit organizations to increase productivity, reduce costs, and drive growth.

Please visit opportunity.org/light for videos and hi-res photos of Light up the Night. 


Opportunity International is a global microfinance non-profit committed to ending extreme poverty and promoting quality education for families in need. Since 1971, Opportunity has helped millions of families work their way out of poverty by providing financial resources, training, and delivering ongoing support to start small businesses, earn living wages, and feed their families. The organization provides loans to families seeking tuition and educators who want to improve local schools to get more children into better quality schools. In 2018, Opportunity International issued $1.9 billion in loans, reaching nearly 10 million clients in 24 countries, and helped fund 6,343 schools serving 1.8 million children. Discover more at opportunity.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.




Jennifer Winter

312.487.5038 | [email protected]










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