Its methods: “Opportunity International focuses on serving entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid,” says Jennifer Mitrenga, vice president of business development. Most of its clients are women with fledgling businesses. They need access to capital, a secure place to keep their money, and guidance on how to manage a business. By meeting these needs, the organization puts untapped assets to work. Its model is sustainable: donations and family savings accounts fund the loans—more than 98 percent of which are repaid, creating exponential impact. “Over five years, every invested dollar becomes six dollars at work in the hands of our clients,” says Mitrenga.
Opportunity International uses a client-centered approach, enabling it to devise and implement personalized, efficient solutions. For example, after realizing the demand for low-cost, non-government schools in the regions it serves, the organization launched its education finance initiative to provide business loans to private school operators to improve or expand their schools; loans to families to help them pay tuition; and insurance to cover school fees in the event of a parent’s death or income loss.
Opportunity International’s support for these independent schools fills a severe gap in the education landscapes of many impoverished communities. The organization serves regions in which public schools are difficult to access, are vastly overcrowded, have no materials, and are staffed by teachers who are frequently absent or who have been given the job as a political favor. What’s more, these public schools aren’t entirely free: parents pay for transportation, uniforms, and books. Given those conditions, parents in many communities are willing to pay for a quality education (about $200 a year) at local, non-government schools.
The organization also offers interest-bearing savings accounts to students and their families, management training for school proprietors, and financial literacy training for students.
Its impact: Since 2009, Opportunity International has made about 2,000 school improvement loans to low-cost, non-government school proprietors, enabling approximately 500,000 students to access a high-quality education. The organization has also made about 25,000 school-fee loans to parents, helping enroll about 71,000 students. Its investments also have a ripple effect by creating jobs for teachers and other school workers, and by boosting ancillary businesses, such as snack vendors and uniform makers.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: The foundation provided the seed money for the education finance program, as well as the ongoing support that has enabled the program to expand into eight countries. To date, the foundation’s grants have directly impacted 91,000 children. “Muneer is a strategic advisor to our executive leadership team,” says Mitrenga. “His business-minded approach to solving social issues is helpful to hear as we talk through issues such as scalability.” Launching a successful endeavor such as the education finance program takes time, says Mitrenga. “The Satter Foundation’s multiyear commitment allowed us to adjust to challenges and to dedicate time to raising funds from other sources.”
What’s next for Opportunity International: The organization will expand its education finance program into Colombia in 2015, which it hopes will bring it closer to reaching its goal of improving the education of two million children by 2018. Additionally, Opportunity International intends to enhance its education offerings by partnering with organizations that have expertise in curriculum building and technology use in schools. More broadly, the organization strives to create 20 million jobs in the developing world by 2020.