As we approach 45 years since Opportunity International founder, David Bussau, first arrived in Indonesia, it’s an opportune time to reflect on what has grown from those early beginnings.
Early into his success, entrepreneur David Bussau, a millionaire at 35, realised the ‘economics of enough’.
“I reached a turning point. I started thinking how much is enough. I had 15 different businesses and I was just going through the process of building and selling potential. But where was that taking me? I didn’t need a yacht, a mansion or a vacation house. How was I going to use the resources God was giving me? Having been abandoned as a child and having no resources, I came to realise everything I had, I had been blessed with.”
David gave away or sold all but the essential equipment and took a leap of faith. In 1975 he moved his young family to Darwin and organised a team of volunteers to help rebuild in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy, which had left 20,000 people homeless.
As that project reached completion, the minister of the local church reached out with a need: An earthquake had shaken Bali, killing 600 people. Communities needed help to rebuild. The family moved to Bali in 1976 to support the Christian community of Blimbingsari.
David, now in his 80s, has been recognised as an EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2003, Senior Australian of the Year 2008, and Order of Australia for services to international development.
Following the devastation, the villagers were able to rebuild their lightweight homes, with traditional alang alang straw roofs, but they struggled with the loss of the heart of their community –a white timber church. In converting to Christianity from Hinduism many people had lost their culture and were ostracised from other villages.
David, with his construction background was the perfect man to help. He recalls blindly answering the call to help, not knowing what he was getting himself and his young family into by moving to a remote tropical forest far from the world they had known. “This was my first real exercise in faith,” he says. “Even when I’m out of my depth I like to take on a challenge. I jumped into it trusting and believing that God would redeem if I screwed up.”
David spent much of his time in Indonesia in the late 70s traveling from village to village by bike to work on projects
Locked in a daily struggle
Microfinance institutions need to be concerned with other aspects of clients’ lives and their health.”
The move was confronting; Bali wasn’t the tourist haven it is today. Desperation hung in the air. People lived hand to mouth and were vulnerable to every natural event. David was disturbed by what he saw. He thought initially that it was only a lack of resources that brought about hunger and poverty.
But, during his first year in Bali, he started to understand the complexities of poverty. “I was shocked by the number of people I met who were locked into cycles of generational debt. Seeing the conditions and tyranny of systemic injustice that people living in poverty experienced, and that tyranny was deeply infused in the system, that was the trigger.”
As David pondered with local colleagues and friends, it became clear that loans, rather than straight charity would be beneficial in the long term.
With smaller amounts, they knew they could reach more people, and those who were the poorest. It was also very important that the loans came through existing and trusted community structures rather than from outsiders.
Pak Nyoman Yusef from Blimbingsari was one of the first to receive a loan for his coconut business.
Serving 6.3 million people today
You can see God’s stamp all over Opportunity International.”
“After making tens of thousands of loans you realise that the economics is only part of the process. Economic development, without focusing on other areas like health and education is meaningless. It’s just a transactional relationship that you have. Microfinance institutions need to be concerned with other aspects of the client’s lives and their health,” says David.
While David has since established 15 other organisations that contribute to social justice, and he has travelled all over the world for his international development work, these original principles still guide Opportunity today, as we serve 6.3 million people throughout Indonesia and India.
“Our original intent wasn’t to set up an international organisation, it just grew. That’s the way God works. Do what He puts in front of you, the more doors he opens up. The result is that God is glorified through it. You can see God’s stamp all over Opportunity International.”
While he doesn’t claim this founding work as his own to pass on, David has no doubt left this legacy of opportunity: Opportunity for people with business ideas and a strong work ethic to leave poverty behind for good, and to give the next generation a brighter future.
Learn more about David Bussau and and Opportunity International Australia's beginnings.