As I move into a new role at Opportunity International as Global Executive Director, I’m reflecting on the past nine years of leading Opportunity International Australia. What stands out to me is the hope, dignity and purpose I’ve seen in the families Opportunity helps to break the cycle of poverty.
The hand up Opportunity gives to families in developing countries through small loans to grow businesses gives them hope of a better future. They gain dignity as they use the hand up to break the cycle of poverty themselves through their own skills and efforts. And it gives them purpose because they can focus on growing their businesses, putting food on the table and sending their children to school.
Parents everywhere want their children to have a better future and be good people. It’s a universal aspiration. Remy Mendez, a loan recipient I met a few years ago, lives in the northern part of the Philippines in a very poor rural area. Remy’s husband was a tricycle driver and Remy and her husband have two daughters. When the girls were young they often went without dinner because there was no money to buy food.
Fifteen years ago, Remy received a loan of $125 from Opportunity’s program partner in the Philippines, ASKI, and bought three piglets. Over time, Remy built a piggery and earned enough to send her children to school. One of Remy’s daughters, Amina, excelled at school and went on to study at the University of Philippines, with the support of a scholarship from ASKI.
Remy and Amina Mendez and their family
Amina excelled at university and finished her degree in the US with the support of a scholarship from a philanthropist in the US. Amina went back to the Philippines and worked with ASKI for five years to help other families like her own. A couple of months ago, she won a scholarship to study international development in Washington. She also recently won a prestigious Peter Drucker essay competition, The Business of Overcoming Poverty and will soon travel to Vienna to receive her award.
I’ve often heard parents say: “Our daughter is the first girl in our family ever to learn to read,” or “the first girl to go through high school.” And this is invariably true because the women we are speaking to can’t read, didn’t finish high school and probably barely finished primary school. These parents often expect to live out their lives in poverty but they don’t want children raising their families in poverty. It’s always about generational change. It’s almost always about the children. It’s about educating the children and helping them have a better future.
I feel blessed that as a business person who wants to see a better world, I’ve had the chance through my roles at Opportunity to see that take place. I was in Delhi a few months ago and met a couple named Sunita and Bharat. They make small clay lamps that are used in ceremonies. They make 600 lamps each hour and earn $3.55 a day selling them in the slum in which they live. After they pay their two employees they have enough left over to pay for their children to go to a good quality school. I’ve heard this story many times before. Parents keep telling me how important it is for their children to be educated. They believe education is the most important investment they can make, especially for girls. It gives them a future full of hope, dignity and purpose and that’s gives me, as a business guy who wants to see a better world, a great sense of hope.