“Hope,” says writer Rebecca Solnit, “is a belief that what we do matters . . . an understanding that the future is not yet written.” To me, this is the spirit of Opportunity International Australia’s mission: to enable families in the developing world to end poverty and govern their own destiny.
But for many, hope seems frivolous. Unhelpful. Naïve even. When Obama in 2008 announced ‘Hope and Change’ as his campaign slogan, many scoffed. Hope? What good will that do?
And sure, hope isn’t tangible. Hope doesn’t turn your problems to dust with the wave of a magic wand. What it does do though, says psychologist Charles R Snyder, in his ‘Hope Theory’, is it gives you the will to enact change, and the pathways to do it. Hope is a motivational system that recognises there is room for change. As Saneesh Singh, Managing Director of Opportunity’s subsidiary in India, Dia Vikas Capital, says: “Hope is a mother seeing a way out of her various challenges . . . her problems . . . the issues she faces.”
For the families Opportunity serves, hope is the striving towards a better life. A life where resources are accessible. A life where kids are educated. A life where a mother can make the meaningful choices that allow her kids to thrive—to have the opportunity to live a better life than her generation. Hope is the vision of a life freed from the challenges poverty brings. This is the spark of light, the will to enact change, that keeps families in poverty moving forward. And the pathway? A small loan from Opportunity to build a business like a samosa stand, kiosk or spice stall.
A small loan can be transformative for a family living in poverty. By enabling a mother to build an income-generating business, her confidence increases. With this confidence comes visibility. Women may be seen, for the first time, as meaningful members of society. They contribute financially to their families and wider community and become role models to other women. Local leaders. These are all incredibly powerful sources of hope for women who for generations have led lives dependent on male family members. “Typically, in India, a patriarchal society, when women start contributing . . . it ignites an increased position in the family . . . they have greater stock . . . they become decision makers,” Saneesh says. They are now businesswomen, valued for their economic contribution. They are empowered to stand up and say ‘no’. They say: ‘My daughter will stay in school to get educated. I am earning.’”
These shifting dynamics that break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, can be the hopeful light that motivates them, in the words of Saneesh: “To grow their businesses . . . build a roof and a proper house, to send their children to good schools and pursue higher education.” These are stories of hope and empowerment. From that tiny seedling of hope, comes the strength and resilience for families to grow. To flourish. Thrive.
As for the future? Saneesh remains full of hope. The kids of loan recipients have the education, tools and technologies their mothers missed out on. “This next generation . . . they’re much more confident in their ability to take their careers and lives ahead,” says Saneesh. ‘They’re motivated to live out the dreams of their parents. To bring their mothers’ hopes and dreams to life.
Reflecting on hope, Saneesh tells me that, “Dia means light . . . of kindling hope.” This is a reminder of the light that hope can bring to the lives of families living in poverty. The hope of a better future that comes with the achievement of providing for one’s self. The achievement that comes from helping your kids have a better life than you did. Hope that their children can write their own future and govern their own destiny.
And that’s the beautiful thing about hope: it’s a glimmer of light to guide us. It shines bright as a beacon, illuminating the pathway out of the issues that we face. It’s something to reach for and hang on to. Hope is the belief that our actions do have impact, that we can create change. Sure, hope may find itself at the centre of the unknown—but it gives us the confidence we need to write the script of our own futures, and what could be more powerful than that?