NEW: The West Foundation’s Impact on Opportunity International

Opportunity International designs, delivers, and scales innovative financial solutions that help families living in extreme poverty build sustainable livelihoods and access quality education for their children. We equip families with the tools and training they need to build their businesses, improve their harvests, provide for their families and send their children to school, all with the intent of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Opportunity International is proud to have played a role in reducing the number of people living in poverty during our 50-year history, and we are grateful for the strong partnership we have had with Emily West and The West Foundation for the past 15 years to support our work and mission. With this support, Opportunity International continues to create lasting impacts for families around the world to lift more people out of poverty.

From contributing writer Lillian Covington, Vice President of Philanthropy, Opportunity International

Our global impact to date includes:

  • Provision of Education finance for more than 7.3 million students across 24 countries to access low-cost, high-quality education.
  • Micro banking services that provide financial services, training and support to 14.7 million clients to help them save and be able to grow their businesses.
  • Agriculture financing to support 540,000 small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with tools, training and connections to improve their harvests and better feed their families and communities.
  • Innovative programs for economic empowerment for women, vocational training for youth, financial services for refugees, that are designed to provide a hand up for those living on less than $1.90 per day.

How has the most recent funding support from The West Foundation helped your mission? In what ways will you use the funding?

COVID-19 has suddenly shifted the momentum in reducing poverty and is hitting the poorest the hardest. The World Bank estimates that 150 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19.

As countries rapidly entered lockdown in 2020, Opportunity moved into rapid response mode to help our clients weather the pandemic. Movement restrictions impacted most of our program countries and triggered widespread business closures, farm-to-market disruptions, and school closures. We are grateful for the funding we received from The West Foundation which helped Opportunity to provide relief response services and help build resilience for our clients.

Some examples of our support included:

  • Providing shelf-ready meals for families in struggling neighborhoods using local businesses to provide and distribute goods while offering no-interest small loans for clients. food
  • Deploying health and prevention education on COVID in the communities
  • Providing fast-track water projects to enable handwashing.
  • Provided virtual trainings and learning while schools were closed.
  • Sharing preventative health messaging along with messages on how to bank digitally so that individuals had immediate access to their funds.
  • Providing Personal Protection Equipment for staff at work and in the field

What work lies ahead?

As we continue to witness the exacerbated impacts of COVID-19 on those already facing poverty, we are again called to help our partners and clients globally to overcome immediate and long-lasting impacts.

The current COVID-19 crisis that is unfolding in India is heartbreaking. With more than 1 million new infections every three days, prolonged business closures and collapsing health systems, the need is significant.  Opportunity is mobilizing our trusted local microfinance partners to pivot services to provide access to last-mile health delivery and emergency relief services.  We are currently working through 5 long-standing, local partners with an established current outreach of 4 – 5 million client households, which equals 10 million family members.

Our response includes:

  • Enabling isolation by distributing emergency food rations to 50,000 vulnerable households in need or in quarantine
  • Mobilizing the network of 2,340 female community health workers to reach 500-1,000 villages with the latest preventative measures and how to refer families for medical attention.
  • Partnering to provide ambulance dispatch to transport critically ill patients to medical care centers.
  • Providing 625,000 people in rural villages with telehealth, psychosocial support, and counselling consults for monitoring of patients, delivering support, and answering urgent questions at 336 clinics
  • Facilitating 500 vaccination camps and mobile vaccination vans in partnership with local governments and hospitals – using our footprint, outreach, and tracking systems
  • Providing mass awareness messages to 140,000 people daily through trusted microfinance staff to tackle damaging misinformation and mistrust.

Opportunity International remains committed to scaling its existing programs while continuing to innovate in order to meet the 2030 agenda and achieve Sustainable Development Goal #1 – to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Opportunity International will continue to adapt its proven approach to create catalytic change in key places that are particular hot spots of extreme poverty in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Our Education Finance Program, which The West Foundation has previously supported, continues to attract new financial institution partners in order to expand to new countries and areas of greatest need, increase numbers of loans to improve schools’ infrastructure and technology, provide more school fee loans so families can afford to send their kids to school, and help more children to continue their education.

Opportunity also remains committed to reaching those living in extreme poverty and ultra-poverty. For those living on less $1.25 a day, many services remain out of reach. With the goal of helping these families move from dependency to self-sufficiency, Opportunity is piloting a ‘Graduation’ program. The West Foundation has supported this program that is designed to meet the needs of families living in the most dire conditions. As part of the 18-month program, families receive an economic asset to help them build a source of income, as well as holistic training and coaching over time to help them build skills and confidence.

This year we are also launching a new pilot program that will combine all of Opportunity’s core areas of work to deliver a holistic, continuum of services to those living in extreme poverty. Through the simultaneous provision of microfinance, agriculture and education programs, our Opportunity Zone pilots in DRC and Colombia will meet many overlapping needs in a cost-effective, rapid delivery model.

As we continue to measure outcomes, we are continuing to adapt and scale up program to best meet the needs of our clients. The setbacks from COVID-19 have not been a deterrent to our focus, rather have been a motivating driver in continuing these important efforts so that more women, children, and families are on a path out of poverty. But we cannot do it alone. We invite those interested in learning more to visit