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Issue no. 1 - 2014 Governor Community Connection

A Message from the CEO

Happy 2014! I pray that we share a sense of excitement, energy and hope for all that is possible in this new year.

Last year was one of Opportunity International’s best ever: through the partnership of Governors like you, we reached more than 5 million clients in 22 developing countries. With your help, we’ve been able to expand and improve our agriculture, economic development and education programs to reach families in some of the world’s most isolated and impoverished communities. We truly could not do it without you.

This year, our team will be working hard to build on that success. We will continue to focus on developing effective leaders who will bring energy and ideas to our global mission. In this newsletter, you will learn how our Global Director of Leadership Development and Training, Pat Boyle, is revolutionizing how we cultivate and challenge our employees -- our frontline as we serve our clients.

In addition, we are thrilled to kick off 2014 with a newly redesigned website at opportunity.org. We believe it captures Opportunity International’s spirit, vibrancy and critical work in a new and exciting way. It also features a space uniquely designed to feature and grow our dynamic Governor community: opportunity.org/join-a-community/governors

Every new year is full of hope and promise; we’re excited to begin 2014 with such good and faithful supporters as you. We hope you will mark your calendar for our 2014 National Summit in Chicago on October 2-4 where, together, we will discover new ways to love and serve the poor and support their determination to live lives of dignity and purpose. We’re so glad you’re a part of Opportunity International – I look forward to working alongside you in the year to come.

Best regards,

Vicki Escarra
Chief Executive Officer
Opportunity International

Growing Community and Impact

It’s impossible to overstate your impact on Opportunity’s life-changing work as part of the Governors community. In 2013, your community grew by 142 new families, for a total of 724 Governors. And with new members, your power to bring about lasting, positive change is multiplied.

Last year, your generous support provided more than 133,000 clients with loans – many for the first time. That translates into help for at least 534,000 people when you consider our clients’ family members and employees! Thank you for your continued partnership, which truly makes a difference every day.

What motivates an Opportunity International Governor to join this community? Here are two reasons from members who joined in 2013:

Partnering with Opportunity International provides an excellent platform for my family to serve those most in need.  Your model to serve and honor the poor has encouraged us that we truly can be part of an enduring solution.”

Jeff Toadvine of Florida

“I became inspired on an insight trip, seeing the work Opportunity International does with its clients in Rwanda. Furthermore, seeing the impact of the leverage of these loans and, more importantly, the dignity and pride it provides to the clients, is something that is transformational.”

Rita Mansour of Ohio

Recent Highlights

Opportunity for Continued Education

Education can make or break communities. Unfortunately, across much of Sub-Saharan Africa, a good education is not available to the vast majority of children and young adults: at least 58 percent never make it to secondary school, and only 6 percent of Africans continue to higher education. This lack of preparation and skills training has a dire result: 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed population is young people, which increases economic challenges on the world’s poorest continent.

Opportunity is helping brighten those grim statistics. As of June 2013, we’ve provided 2,583 Continuing Education loans to hard-working young people that are determined to attend college or vocational school. That’s a dramatic increase from 2012, when we gave 135 Continuing Education loans.

Over the last six months, we’ve continued to expand our outreach in countries including Ghana and Rwanda. Our loan officers are working closely with clients to determine their unique needs and circumstances, as well ensure a high rate of on-time loan repayments.

Higher education increases an individual’s income by an average of 18 percent per year, giving young people a greater chance to succeed and pull not just themselves, but their families and communities free from poverty. Together, we’re bringing bright students in some of the world’s toughest places a chance they’ve never had before: the opportunity to stay in school, learn, dream and plan for their future.

Growing Hope in Malawi

Malawi is consistently one of the world’s poorest countries; in 2012, it ranked as the world’s ninth-most impoverished nation by gross domestic product per capita. That same year, Malawi suffered a serious setback, when political and economic turmoil gutted the country’s exports, including sugar and tea. 

Opportunity International is helping Malawi back from the brink. Last year, our programs in Malawi:

  • Disbursed 4,425 loans to farmers – since 2009, we’ve helped more than 46,000 farmers build their assets and improve their incomes;
  • Built and maintained strong partnerships with local extension agents and service providers who help farmers with high-quality seeds, loans and crop insurance for our clients; and
  • Developed an alliance with Lujeri Tea Estates to lend to at least 3,000 farmers, helping shore up that critical sector.

In 2013, Malawi boasted a 5.7 percent national growth rate – up from just 2 percent in 2012. You’ve helped farmers sow the seeds of hope, which not only keeps their children in school and puts food on the table, but also leads their nation toward a full recovery.

Opportunity in the News

CEO Vicki Escarra was interviewed on Bloomberg's "Money Moves," in which she discussed Opportunity's work to provide financial services to the developing world and the value of job creation.

Both MSNBC and CNN published op-eds written by Vicki that highlighted the role of microfinance in the long-term rebuilding efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.

Vicki also appeared on the Chicago Tribune's "Blue Sky Innovation" segment to discuss Opportunity's innovative products and services.

2013 Regional Summits Recognize Key Partners

Each year, we recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to Opportunity's global mission, as well as strategic partners. In 2013, we celebrated just a few of your fellow Governors and corporate partners at four regional summits.

Dennis and Lavon Chorba received the Whittaker Award for their commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty:

The Whittaker Award went to Walter and Darlene Hansen for their work with the Rivendell Stewards' Trust in supporting our global transformation leadership training initiative:

The Weberg Award was awarded to Jim and Judy Bergman for their leadership in developing our banking strategy throughout Africa. They are pictured here with Gail Bradley (second from left) representing the Weberg Foundation.

Janelle Lassonde received the Women's Leadership Award for helping raise $30 million over the next three years:

Dorsey & Whitney LLP received the Whittaker Award for providing critical pro-bono legal support. Attorney Alysia Zens accepted the award on their behalf:

The Caterpillar Foundation, which is celebrating 20 years of partnership with Opportunity International, was given a Corporate Award for supporting our vision to educate and empower girls across the world. The award was received by President Michele Sullivan and Manager Jennifer Zammuto:

The UPS Foundation received a Corporate Award for providing nearly 35,000 loans for Opportunity International's clients, in addition to training for more than 5,200 clients. Frank Romeo, Vice President of Foundation Programs and Corporate Relations, accepted the award on their behalf:

Additionally, The SAJE Foundation (not pictured) was awarded the Whittaker Award for its continuous support to lift families from poverty and injustice.

The Opportunity to Lead

Leadership at Opportunity International isn’t limited to a specific role – instead, it’s an integral part of the culture. It’s a way to find future leaders, develop skills and encourage upward potential. And it’s critical to the success of the work we do.

Last year, we identified 50 global leaders for succession training – simply put, those who demonstrated qualities that put them in a position to assume their bosses’ jobs or a broader role in the organization in two years’ time. These staff members are learning how to be better managers, lead teams and make a difference for families in need.

Opportunity believes that leadership begins with living and exemplifying our values. When an employee starts working with us, we give them a small booklet entitled “Living Our Brand the Opportunity Way.” Through this guide, they learn the standards that set us apart, including:

Commitment - to our clients and their transformation
Humility - a spirit of serving in all we do
Respect - 360 degrees of consideration and teamwork
Integrity - living our values with transparency and consistency
Stewardship - accountability, innovation and urgency
Transformation - our ultimate goal in ourselves and others

Put together, these values lead to transformation – certainly for the lives of the clients we serve, but also for our futures leaders. We believe in keeping our leadership development in-house, so that we can personalize activities according to business needs, staff interests and goals. This unified strategy for growth gives Opportunity’s best and brightest the chance for challenging assignments, as well as the chance to push themselves – and their organization – to new heights.

Recruiting - and Keeping - the Best Talent

Pat Boyle knows what it takes to build strong leadership. Over 30 years in the business – including 25 years at the Royal Bank – Pat has created and managed a wide variety of programs to help international staff reach their full potential.

For the last five years, she’s served as Opportunity’s Global Director of Leadership Development and Training. In this role, she’s witnessed increased scrambling for exemplary employees in developing countries.

“Our CEOs in Africa face fierce competition for their talent,” Pat explained. “We must rapidly identify talent in Africa, and begin to plan how to enrich our people and give them developmental experiences.”

This competition is one reason Pat has led implementation of ambitious three-year strategy that brings future leaders on board and quickly immerses them in Opportunity’s entrepreneurial culture. The strategy helps staff achieve a series of milestones through activities including mentorship, classroom learning, peer coaching and personalized development plans.

“We believe that our onboarding program is best in class,” Pat said. “When I speak with some of our young professionals at Opportunity and I ask them what they find most exciting about working here, they consistently tell me it’s because they are given early challenges in their career. They’re given responsibility, they are promoted quickly and those are things that they really value and haven’t experienced in previous roles.”

While the strategy has started with focus on Africa, Pat’s team is also responsible for strategic investments in learning across Latin America and Eastern Europe. She believes the success they’ve experienced so far in Africa will help inform discovery and development of new leadership across Opportunity’s 22 countries.

“When staff comes to Opportunity, they feel like there is a difference; they are asked to lead very early in their career, be good communicators and give feedback,” she said. “What we feel is significant is that we’re asking our new hires to show initiative and the kind of attitude that we want them to bring to our clients, which is ‘we’re here to help you’.”

Governor Spotlight: Encouraging Success Through Leadership

Mary Fox believes that leadership is born from the right combination of drive, encouragement and potential. This philosophy has powered her business and strengthened her connection to Opportunity International’s work.

Mary started her business, Tenacity Solutions, in Virginia, 10 years ago with her husband Leo. From a humble beginning in their house, they have turned their idea into a thriving enterprise: the company now has more than 120 employees.  She credits much of that success to the way their business develops leaders.

“Since the beginning, we have always felt that, in order to be able to grow, you’ve got to bring up that next generation of leaders,” Mary explained. “The culture of our company is very important to us, and we’ve definitely brought people up through the ranks.”

This February, her business is starting a new leadership training program that focuses on the company’s inclusive, collaborative culture. It’s centered on Mary’s leadership philosophy of “try something and, if it doesn’t work, try something else.”

“If somebody [an employee] has a really great idea, we’re more than happy to say ‘go try that’,” she said.

That spirit of giving people a real chance to prove themselves is something else that connects Mary to Opportunity International.

She first learned about the organization at a fundraiser given by a close family friend. Mary had recently read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which opened her eyes to the cycle of poverty so many women in developing countries face – as well as the ways women like her could come to their assistance. Since then, she and Leo have taken their commitment to an even higher level as Governors.

“I think the leadership skills that Opportunity is developing – there’s half the world out there that hasn’t had the opportunity to show what good leaders women can be,” she said. “People should never be afraid to raise up more and more leaders. There’s so much potential out there that’s untapped.”

“Sometimes it really doesn’t take very much to make a huge difference,” she continued. “The model just works, and as a businessperson, it’s something I can feel good about asking people to give money to.”

How are we doing?

We're here to serve you and always welcome your feedback on how we're doing and how we can do better. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] at any time with your comments and suggestions.

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