Entrepreneurship in the 3rd world
- Thursday, August 26, 1999
Opportunity International is a nonprofit micro enterprise development organization that provides lasting solutions to poverty. By offering loans, training, and counsel to poor families in third-world countries, Opportunity International gives these families a chance to create their own small businesses. In 1998, the organization's 124,000 loans created 162,000 jobs.
Their approach is self-sustaining because instead of handing out fish, which can cause dependence and loss of dignity, Opportunity International teaches the poor how to fish. Then they lend the money for the fishing poles -- all in the name of Christ.
This interview with Charlie Dokmo, Executive Director of Opportunity International, explains the ideas behind community development, another approach to ethical investing.
of Opportunity International
Tell us about Opportunity International
Our mission is to transform the lives of the poor through micro-loans for starting or supporting small businesses. We give them the tools they need so they can climb out of poverty. When people have jobs, they take care of themselves and their families, and work to help their communities.
We're a Christian organization that is ecumenical in the sense that we come from a diverse group of Christians from different backgrounds. Our intrinsic motivation is Christ's calling to serve the poor.
The first question we're asked when working in poor areas is: "Why in the world are you here?" It's a very normal answer to say that we're here because of a Christian motivation.
We openly identify ourselves as a Christian organization, and then seek to demonstrate His love through our actions. Cultural distrust is pervasive throughout Eastern Europe. This distrust is fueled by various secret police organizations, which have destroyed the normal fabric of the communities. But as a Christian agency, we say, "We trust you." This concept is like having a rock concert in their kitchen.
Because we're serving the poor with good results and we refuse to discriminate, a lot of people like us. We come to serve in the name of Christ.
What type of loans do you make?
When we go into a country, we work to set up an Opportunity Partner, which represents us as a non-profit charity. We make loans to the poorest of the poor through "trust banks," while offering training and business counsel. Loan sizes are anywhere from $25 to $150. Once the loans are repaid the money is lent out again, and the interest goes to pay the salaries and expenses of the local partner. So it's a sustainable approach.
People occasionally ask, why do you charge interest? From the point of stewardship, if we gave money away without any interest, it would not help the businesses understand the real cost of money in the marketplace. We generally charge lower market rates to the poor, which is very good. The poor normally have no way of otherwise getting credit. Sometimes they cannot physically enter the banks. So our loan programs are very exciting to them.
How does the religious landscape or even the political environment of these countries influence your decisions on where to go to set up partnerships?
The political conditions certainly have some influence, but because we have such an economic focus, we have not had any serious issues. We've been working in Java, Indonesia. We've been in Bali for almost 20 years.
How can Christians help with this mission?
I'm a firm believer in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." If a person wants to help one of the first things they might do is make donations. Secondly, you can also read about poverty in the scriptures. Or take a look at local poverty by going to the other side of the tracks, walking in the neighborhood, and seeking God for solutions. Third, I'd like to encourage those interested in this work to call for more information, or see what we do overseas on an Insight trip.
If someone is considering making a donation, how far will that contribution go?
Our repayment rates last year were 94.7%, and that's in the midst of the Bulgaria and Asian flu. The poor are a good credit risk. They can be trusted.
Opportunity International is a non-profit organization that takes donations -- as opposed to deposits -- so that the loans given to the poor in the name of Christ can be recycled continuously. For more information, call 1-800-7WE-WILL or check them out at http://www.opportunity.org.
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