Henri Nouwen wrote: “I discovered God’s preferential concern for the poor…I discovered for the first time that those who are marginalized by our society carry within them a great treasure.” (Discernment, Ch. 7)
Since joining the amazing team at Opportunity International Canada I have been on a very steep learning curve, with amazing new discoveries at every turn.
I wrestle with the tension between wanting to make an immediate contribution and the need to pace myself for long term impact, and have thus committed to a period of intentional listening and learning.
Over the next few months I plan to share my gleanings with you, aware that I will without doubt be “preaching to the choir”.
Early on in my reading I was struck by a couple of profound ideas:
- The dignity of a hand up vs. a hand out
- The sustainability of microfinance.
Muhammad Yunas in Banker to the Poor noted that financial instruments were not available to the poor because they have no equity, are often illiterate and have no credit rating. However, he made the equally compelling argument that the working poor have learned to survive in very difficult circumstances and that all they need is an opportunity – they will know how to make the most of it. This has been proven over several decades with loan repayment rates in excess of 95%!
Mark Lutz in UnPoverty argues we have much to learn from the working poor. They combine a powerful work ethic with a drive to provide for their families, resulting in incredibly creative and entrepreneurial microenterprises that transform their families and communities.
I find it to be absolutely astounding that the first loan funds that Opportunity International Canada placed into a branch of ASPIRE in the town of Altagracia, Dominican Republic, more than 15 years are still in circulation. Hundreds of emerging entrepreneurs and their families have been helped as the funds were loaned, paid back and loaned again and again. And this is repeated everywhere Opportunity International works.
In the process our clients, mostly women at the bottom of the economic ladder, develop confidence and self-esteem as they acquire financial literacy skills and sharpen their business skills, and as they grow their enterprises so they can feed and house their family, put their kids through school and provide jobs for their neighbours.
I have witnessed this first hand, observing the dignity in the eyes of newly empowered entrepreneurs, such as Doris, a former domestic maid in the Dominican Republic who owns and operates a successful re-upholstering business with her son - all thanks to a loan just 6 months ago that enabled her to purchase her own industrial capacity sewing machine.
I find this all so very inspiring, providing energy and motivation for the challenges ahead as we look to expand the impact of Opportunity International Canada so we can help bring real change and play our role in making poverty history.