Opportunity International: Fighting Poverty Through Job Creation
The nonprofit organization Opportunity International is fighting poverty through job creation. Its goal is to create and sustain 20 million jobs by the year 2020 in an effort to end global poverty.

Founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker and David Bussau, Opportunity International helps people in developing countries work their way out of poverty by providing them with small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training. The organization was one of the first nonprofits to identify benefits in offering financial services to people in developing countries living in poverty. They have clients in 24 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Opportunity International goes by the motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.” They suggest that the traditional method of fighting poverty can lead to a vicious cycle. Donations of food, money and other basic needs improve lives, but only temporarily. Once the donation is used up, people’s needs return and the cycle starts again. The organization proposes that providing people with access to small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training can change their lives for good.

Ninety-five percent of Opportunity’s loans go to women because, they say, women are poor in disproportionately greater numbers than men. To be eligible for a loan, a person joins a trust group and undergoes four to eight weeks of training to learn how to create a business plan, how to budget and how to save money. The trust group members take a pledge to guarantee each other’s loans and support one another’s businesses. This means that if one member of the group misses a weekly payment, the rest of the group has to cover it. This approach has led to 98 percent of loans being repaid and has proven to be an effective grassroots approach to tackling poverty.

According to the organization, the method that they use leads to a cycle that is different from the traditional method of fighting poverty. A woman grows a business, which increases her income. She is then able to feed her family nutritious meals, improve their housing, put money away in a savings account and purchase insurance from Opportunity to reduce her family’s risk. At the same time, she is able to hire her neighbors, giving them a chance to provide for their families. This system also transforms the community, hence their motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.”

Opportunity International’s strategy of fighting poverty through job creation has made an impact. The total amount of loans given is $838 million, they have 4.9 million clients with savings accounts and have supported 16.7 million jobs.

Kristin Westad

Photo: Flickr