In the heart of Australia’s busiest and most cosmopolitan shopping precinct stands Pitt Street Mall. Huge banners sweep along church-like ceilings and words are emblazoned along the shop windows in electric yellow, asking you to ‘Find What Defines You.’ If capitalism was a religion, the shopping mall would be its temple, a well-oiled machine. But, for many, this rotating consumer world that tends to encircle us during the holidays, enlightens us to think bigger and bolder, beyond society’s preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods. Importantly, it’s a time when we’re requested to consider the significance of donating our time, talent and treasure to the betterment of the world.
At the mall, flamboyant music and dazzling lights scream from stalls supporting various charitable causes. All these charities are wonderful causes. Yet, it’s the juxtaposition of charities and profit-generating machines of consumerist Australia that prompts the question: ‘Could these philosophies be merged?’ How could we charitably enable local enterprises in developing nations to lift communities out of poverty, despite a myriad of barriers?
Last year, I watched the Australian Story episode about David Bussau, the founder of Opportunity International Australia, and realised there’s a solution. David’s story is remarkable. Despite growing up in an orphanage, he accumulated significant wealth as an entrepreneur only to then give it all away and pioneer the concept of microfinance.
Microfinance is a sustainable means of poverty alleviation, leading to lasting economic and social change in communities. Donations from generous Aussies enable Opportunity to give small loans to families to grow income producing businesses. Opportunity also provides financial literacy training and mentoring on vital business, leadership and life skills. The small loans and training help families earn regular incomes, repay their loans, put food on the table, send their kids to school and save for emergencies. As loan recipients create successful businesses, their profits have a ripple effect, lifting them and their communities out of poverty.
This concept is golden. Microfinance helps support long term financial security. It’s not a hand-out, but a hand up. It’s a transaction between equals. Imagine making your donation at Opportunity’s shopping mall stand. Think how you’d feel when very time you return to it in the future you find a new family is using your support to break the cycle of poverty. Since loans are repaid (98 per cent repayment rate) and recycled, your donation remains at work and its impact is multiplied.
There’s another reason why Opportunity hits home runs—95 per cent of loan recipients are women. You might ask, ‘Why is this important?’ In developing nations, a woman is a change agent. She can build her business. Raise her kids. Employ her neighbours. She can create a new story for herself, her children and her entire community in a sustainable manner. Women are also most in need. According to UN Women, 70 per cent of those living on less than $2 a day are women and girls.
Those in extreme hardship are also resilient. Once a loan is granted to a woman, it’s her hard work that enables the business to succeed and it succeeds because the livelihood of her family depends on it. These women are hardworking. They will climb mountains to repay their loan.
Tom Perfrement, Opportunity Ambassador
Volunteering offers a unique combination of connection and a sense of purpose, the importance of which I can’t overstate. By joining Opportunity, I’ve joined a family. Individuals contribute to Opportunity in a variety of ways. Travelling on an insight trip provides the chance to experience a new culture and see the impact of Opportunity’s programs firsthand. Corporate sponsors enable businesses to support families living in poverty, not to mention the chance to increase staff morale. In addition to donations, Opportunity Ambassadors play an important role in expanding the reach of the organisation. Through their passion in 2017, Ambassadors hosted movie nights, food events and engaged their local communities.
The next time your disgruntlement with modern day consumerist culture boils over, simply remind yourself that we can use capitalism as a force for good. In a world often relying on government solutions to charity, the work of Opportunity in pioneering enterprise solutions is refreshingly powerful. As Australians, we are some of the luckiest individuals on Earth. We’ve won the lottery of life compared to the other 7.6 billion who share our small blue dot orbiting the sun. Let’s play our hand of cards in the right way, by perpetually shifting the odds for others who need it most.