Opportunity International (OI) is a non-profit microfinance organization established in 1971. Over the last 42 years OI has provided $6 billion in microfinance loans and has reached over 5 million clients in 22 countries. In 2009, The MasterCard Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with OI and co-funded a $16 million project to expand access to saving accounts and agricultural loans in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, OI and The MasterCard Foundation plan to enter phase two of this partnership as they announce a $22.7 million expansion in funding, The Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative. The extension promises to support an additional 7 million people by providing access to loans, saving programs, and other financial services through institutions in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.
“We chose to expand this partnership with Opportunity International because they have proven themselves to be a strong partner and a leading microfinance institution,” said Reeta Roy, President and CEO, The MasterCard Foundation. “It’s rare to find an organization that is able to think outside the box, develop innovative approaches and still deliver such solid results.”
Jason Reindorp, Communications Director at The MasterCard Foundation, added, “The Foundation is open to working with smaller and newer social entrepreneurs, but feels those relationships are best served for innovation, and rarely scalable.” According to Reindorp, microloans make it possible for farmers to have a macro effect. He foresees financially sound individuals creating a rising tide effect within the close-knit communities.
In the second phase of this particular initiative the scale of training, services, and analysis will increase dramatically. OI will focus on providing agricultural loans to farmers for specifics crop purchases, expanding saving programs, developing mobile banking, and establishing branchless banking. There are plans to assess the project’s impact on the region’s poverty index.
Vicki Escarra, Opportunity International CEO, told FORBES, “ All aid is great, but microfinance is empowering. We create jobs and nothing is better than creating jobs. ” Escarra was CEO of Feeding America from 2006-2012 and prior to that she served as CMO at Delta Airlines. She explained, “While each experience has been extremely different they all involved leading a network–first planes, then food-banks, and now banks.” Opportunity has established a network of 16 banks and has partnered with 32 other local financial institutions.
Escarra is confident that the additional funding will allow the organization to quickly further its mission. OI currently serves 30% of Africa’s populations and has disbursed loans totaling more that $29 million since 2009. Agricultural loans often enable farmers to increase income, and in some cases they are able to achieve a 60% increase in crop yields. This boost allows farmers to invest in their family’s health and education. Escarra attributes OI’s past success in Africa to three things: the 17,000 employees on the ground who reflect the nonprofit’s values, the wide suite of services they provide, and the sustainable nature of the work they are doing.
All parties involved are hopeful about this new chapter. “Results to date have been very encouraging so we look forward to scaling the partnership to reach 7 million people in these 5 countries,” said Roy
Credit: Prerna Sinha (Forbes Staff)