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Issue no. 2 - 2014 Governor Community Connection

A Message from the CEO

After a long, hard winter for many, springtime has finally arrived and I am grateful! During this season of rebirth, your generous support of our Opportunity clients is one more reason for gratitude.  Thanks to you, every day, hope and change come alive for one more family. Restoration, renewal and growth are apparent in our clients' lives from those rebuilding in the Philippines to those embarking as entrepreneurs in India to those transforming their farming communities in Africa.  

You and your fellow Governors are equipping millions of people with the tools to begin to break the cycle of poverty. In this issue, we’ll introduce you to three entrepreneurs who have faced staggering challenges and still persevered with the help of Opportunity. And among our progress updates, you’ll read about how we’re reaching one of our most important technology goals – to give clients banking access through their cell phones. None of these achievements would be possible without your steadfast support. 

Organizationally, we are going through our own season of renewal and growth. In recent weeks, we have grown stronger and more unified as a global organization enabling closer collaboration in the service of our clients and in the stewardship of your investments. We have also grown in our important partnerships, recently announcing an important expansion with the Mastercard Foundation to launch a $22.7 Million Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative. The five-year program will expand access to loans, savings programs and other critical financial services to help 7 million people in poor rural African communities. More broadly, we’re also increasing awareness of our life-changing work through a robust media relations program and our new, redesigned website. Our goal is to expand our Governor community and help even more people around the world break the cycle of poverty, transform their lives and strengthen their families.

Stay in the know on opportunity.org. Take a look at our latest news. Learn more about our sustainable approach. Join in our spring campaign focused on Investing in Women.  With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to honor moms everywhere.     

I’m so grateful to have you in our Governors community, and so appreciative of your continued support. Please let us know what we can do to improve your donor experience. Please share your candid insights, visit us here.

Best regards,

Vicki Escarra
Chief Executive Officer
Opportunity International

Growing Community and Impact

As a member of the Governors community, you are delivering incredible resources – and momentum – to Opportunity’s clients worldwide. This year so far, your gifts have provided 11,660 clients with loans.

If you are one of our new members, welcome to this powerful group of committed change-makers.

Your investments are advancing entrepreneurs all around the world. In Central America, for example, woodworker Francisco Aleman is a member of Opportunity Nicaragua’s Artisan Community Program. For the first time, he’s been able to export his products to other countries thanks to the technical assistance and loan funds made available by this program. With expanded sales and revenue, Francisco and his brother have recently hired additional workers from the community – sustainably growing their business and teaching fine woodcraft to their neighbors.

Recent Highlights

Boosting School Performance in Ghana

The most powerful tool for breaking free from the cycle of poverty can be summed up in one simple word: education. However, for the 67 million children worldwide who aren’t in school, getting a quality education is much more complicated than it seems.

Opportunity’s education initiatives target ways to not only get those children into school, but also keep them there, through high-performing teachers and schools. With guidance and instrumental support from the Governors community since 2008, together we have served more than 1,000 schools in Ghana. Opportunity loans have empowered schools to hire teachers, purchase books and classroom supplies, build new classroom space and improve school infrastructure.

We’ve heard firsthand about the remarkable impact the changes have made for the children and their communities. Opportunity’s recent analysis of Ghanaian government data confirms that these critical investments, made possible by the Governors community, are making a real, measurable difference in children’s lives.

Our evaluation looked at how schools that received Opportunity loans fared in a nationwide assessment conducted by the local government. We compared school ratings before and after a 2.5-year lending cycle – and the results are heartening.  

The government of Ghana rates its schools on four levels, and the lowest-performing schools are deemed “ungraded.” Among the schools that received Opportunity loans, we measured highly significant improvements. First, 96 percent of the ungraded schools improved enough to become rated schools. Second, the Opportunity-funded schools that were already rated then improved by more than one full level on average.

Furthermore, schools receiving Opportunity loans experienced an increase in student enrollment – they’re now able to educate approximately 20 percent more students on average. This means that precious children are now in a classroom instead of on the streets.

In addition, Opportunity-supported schools were able to hire enough teachers to keep up with increased student demand. This way, the growth of a school’s population does not diminish the quality of the education the children receive.

Mobile Data Improving Farmers' Lives in Five Countries

In developed countries, we are accustomed to life in a digital world, but in many rural Opportunity markets, paper-based processes are still predominant. In five African countries, however, Opportunity is introducing new technology to more efficiently deliver loans and technical assistance to farmers. 

The program has been piloted in Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique and will soon be rolled out in Malawi and Tanzania. In these areas, our agriculture loan officers are using GPS-enabled tablets and phones to map the farms and capture a rich set of data about the land and the farmers. Opportunity uses this data to create customized recommendations for the farmers regarding their agricultural practices.

Not only is this electronic system more efficient for capturing and transferring information, but it ultimately helps farmers make better decisions about what to grow, how to maximize crop and livestock yields and how to manage risk.

“We can serve each client in their community with the most targeted products and services," explains John Magnay, Opportunity’s Head of Agriculture.

The mobile field data program is already paying off big dividends, with some Opportunity staffers logging electronic data for more than 100 clients per week. We thank all of our Governors who make Opportunity’s technological innovations possible.

Opportunity in the News

The following articles and segments boosted our efforts to increase brand awareness and the credibility of our work. More details on the following stories can be found here.

Forbes, Crain’s Chicago Business, DevEx, Reuters, Yahoo! Finance, The Chicago Sun-Times, among many others, featured Opportunity International's $22.7 million partnership with the Mastercard Foundation to launch the Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative.

CEO Vicki Escarra was a guest on Bloomberg Bottom Line, a business show with more than 3 million viewers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The Shriver Report published “International Women’s Day: We Still Have a Long Way to Go, Baby,” an editorial by Vicki.

In March, Vicki wrote an article, "International Women's Day — How Empowering One Impacts Many," for the Huffington Post’s Impact Blog.

Spotlight on Mobile Money

Providing Mobile Money Services: Your Questions, Our Answers

In Africa, we’re on the road to making mobile-phone-based banking a primary delivery channel for all Opportunity operations. Clients throughout our network will be able to use their mobile phones to transfer bank account funds, conduct balance inquiries, pay bills withdraw cash, submit loan applications, purchase mobile airtime, send loan repayments, deposit savings and purchase microinsurance. We’re first bringing our work to scale in Uganda.

Why is Opportunity focusing first on Uganda?

62% of Ugandans lack access to banking services – and the great majority of Opportunity’s clients fall into this group of "unbanked" people. Without bank accounts, they are hard-pressed to operate a functional, modern business. In the short term, they don't have a secure place to store and earn interest on their business profits, making it difficult to manage their unpredictable cash flows. And in the longer term, they can’t build a household safety net, nor can they create new jobs in their communities.

Why are so many Ugandans go without banking services?

Most people living in poverty simply don't have the minimum amount of money needed to open an account at a traditional bank. They may also lack required documentation such as birth certificates. Furthermore, 85% of Ugandans live in rural areas, which are hard to reach with traditional brick-and-mortar banks.

What has been accomplished so far?

We launched Opportunity's mobile money service in April 2013 through a partnership with Yo Uganda Limited, a mobile money aggregator connected with Uganda’s top mobile operators. As of January 2014, more than $2 million in transactions had been made by Opportunity client via mobile money. This strong adoption rate indicates that Opportunity’s entrepreneurs are eager to use the technology.

What’s next for mobile money in Uganda?

Already, Opportunity is the only development organization in Uganda that offers fledgling entrepreneurs a full suite of mobile banking features. To further scale our mobile-based services here, we will invest in more training for staff and clients. We’re going to combine peer-to-peer direct training with print and multimedia resources to ensure that people with varying and often limited educational backgrounds are comfortable using mobile money.

Technology Highlight: Transformation in the Palm of Your Hand

If you have a mobile-banking app on your phone, Opportunity International’s Justin McAuley probably had a hand in creating it.

For ten years, Justin worked for some of the world’s leading technology companies – including IBM, Oracle and Monitise – to bring mobile banking to developing countries such as India.

In Fall 2013, he decided to take on a new challenge, assuming the role of Opportunity International’s Director of Branchless Banking. Justin’s decision was deeply driven by a belief that technology can change millions of lives for the better.

“Spending so much time in India gave me a real desire to help the majority of the population in developing countries, who have little access to financial services at all,” he said. “This coincided with a personal conviction that now was the time in my life when I really needed to start giving back.”

He and his team have made huge advances over the past several months. They are currently preparing a rollout for Mobile Money, which gives our clients access to savings accounts, loan disbursements, repayments and deposits over their cell phones.

His goal for the second half of 2014 is to launch Mobile Money in rural Tanzania for agricultural loans. This work includes deployment of new technology, processes and staff. But, as any visionary does, he’s already looking further into the future.

“We then want to expand the same approach to our other members to allow them to reach further into their rural communities, without the need for a physical branch building,” he explained. “It’s a transformational technology for peoples’ lives, and that’s what gets me up in the morning.”

The Power of Investing in Women

Mercedes Rodriguez’s workday begins before dawn. After getting her five children ready for school, she turns her focus from being a single mom to being a businesswoman.

Mercedes hoists a washing machine onto her back, and begins the arduous walk through her Colombian neighborhood to deliver the washing machine to the household renting it for the day. The rest of her morning is spent loading and delivering more washing machines, and in the afternoon, she collects them all and returns to her home. Her day ends with a session of cleaning and oiling the machines – so that she can repeat the whole process tomorrow.

What may sound like an exhausting exercise represents a triumph for Mercedes. Before receiving an Opportunity loan, she owned only one washing machine, which she rented out. With the purchase of additional equipment made possible by Opportunity, she has been able to greatly expand her business. Now, Mercedes is able to care for her children and give them the security and stability they would otherwise not have.

Having invested in millions of women worldwide, Opportunity has found that consistently, loan after loan, women entrepreneurs reinvest their earnings for the benefit of their families and communities. Loans and insurance made possible by Opportunity give women clients access to safe housing and good schooling, along with better health and nutrition.

“When you give a woman credit – in the sense of respect, dignity, and recognition of her talents – you unleash a force for greater change,” says Governor Betsy Perdue. “We have seen this happen over and over again in communities around the world.”

In Rwanda, Aurelia Mukakarangwa has leveraged Opportunity loans to help recover from the ravages of genocide that fractured her family in 1994. When her husband and child were killed, Aurelia fled to a Congolese refugee camp with her remaining five children. Life in the Congo proved to be perilous as well: one child died of illness and another went missing. When Aurelia was finally able to return to Rwanda, she brought only three children home with her – one carried on her back, and the other two holding her hands.

Living in post-war Rwanda without a spouse and lacking a steady source of income, Aurelia struggled to provide for her family’s basic needs. Fortunately, her life changed forever in 2009 when she heard from a neighbor about Urwego Opportunity Bank. The mission of Urwego – to assist widows in breaking out of poverty – seemed tailor-made for Aurelia. As an active participant in an Urwego trust group, Aurelia qualified for two loans to build up her retail food business. Aurelia has used her profits to rebuild her family’s home and put one of her daughters through secondary school. Discovering the business development resources of Opportunity International transformed Aurelia’s fortunes – leading her daughter to say, “I wish to achieve what my mama has.”

Many clients forge a long-standing relationship with Opportunity, allowing them to turn to us first if disaster strikes. In the Philippines, Rebecca Garcia has been an Opportunity client for 20 years. During that time, she used several loans to create and grow a small business that sells street food, earning enough money to put her three children through college. But when Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013, her mother and daughter were tragically killed by the sweeping waters.

Though she lost these beloved family members and saw her house destroyed, Rebecca is buoyed by her faith and commitment to her surviving family. Today, she is focused on moving forward to rebuild a life for her sons and to help the children in her community who were orphaned by the storm. To aid her during this critical recovery, Opportunity is providing Rebecca with new business loans and with access to microinsurance, which will help protect her against other losses in the future.

We hope that you, Governors, are as inspired as we are by these women. Through your community, you continue to ignite hope and renewal in their lives and those of millions of others.

Governor Spotlight: Helping Women Speak Up and Be Heard

A former teacher, Megan Tamte launched her company, Hot Mama, Inc., after having a baby and realizing that there was a tremendous unmet need for clothing stores that cater to mothers. “So much had changed for me – my body, my lifestyle, my schedule – and I felt like there wasn’t a store that addressed the needs of moms,” Megan explains.

Starting from a modest office in the basement of Hot Mama’s first store in Edina, Minnesota, Megan and her husband Mike now operate over 40 stores in 15 states, as well as a thriving online storefront.

In 2013, Megan was named Ernst and Young’s Upper Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year for retail, and her company is expanding rapidly. She sees her role as a Governor not only as an avenue for strategic, heart-felt philanthropy, but also as a catalyst for continued growth as a CEO.

An Insight Trip she took to Rwanda in January 2014 gave Megan a fresh perspective. “Going to Rwanda made me a better leader,” she says. “There are things I saw in the leaders there that inspired me, and I brought these insights back home.”

In particular, Megan recognizes that women often struggle with exuding strength in the workplace. A core value of her company is to encourage women to speak up and be confident. “At Hot Mama, we have 700 female employees, and we encourage them to be bold and have a voice.”

So when Megan sat in on a presentation by Rwandan Opportunity managers and clients, she took special notice of the female participants. “One woman stood up during the presentation and talked about how her business was doing and what she had done with a loan,” recalls Megan. “Then she asked a really strong and bold question to the leaders who were there. I loved that she was so smart and wasn’t afraid to ask a question and have her voice heard.”

Megan Tamte and her husband Mike became Governors in 2013. The parents of two children, they learned about Opportunity International via their church, Christ Presbyterian, near Minneapolis. Megan’s Insight Trip allowed her to witness the impact of her support as a Governor firsthand. Insight Trips create life-changing moments in your journey as a Governor. For details about upcoming trips (June through November), please contact Adele Nandan at [email protected]

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