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Issue no. 2 - 2014 Governor Community Connection

The Power of Investing in Women

By Opportunity International

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.

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