This global network, devoted to creating employment and business development opportunities for poor people, grew out of an international partnership between two successful entrepreneurs in the 1970s. In the United States, Al Whittaker, then President of Bristol-Myers International Corporation, gave up his position to found an ‘Opportunity’ programme in Latin America. At much the same time David Bussau, an Australian construction entrepreneur who was working on an earthquake rehabilitation project in Indonesia, decided to sell his business and create a trust to provide start-up loans for micro-enterprises. In 1979, the two men joined forces, laying the foundation for an international network that now has ‘support partners’ in seven countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and USA) and ‘implementing partners’ in 27 developing countries.
In China, OI is working on a pilot project to expand opportunities for small traders and business people in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui Province, by improving their access to finance. Clients of the programme include laid-off workers and migrants from rural areas who have established small market stalls or services, but who lack money to invest in and so expand their businesses. OI does not itself lend money: rather, it guarantees loans made by the Hefei City Bank to clients who OI identifies and judges to be creditworthy, based on their character and capacity. OI expects that clients who have repaid an initial loan (of up to CNY 5,000) will be considered by the bank as eligible for future loans even if they are not fully guaranteed. In this way, OI hopes not only to help those small entrepreneurs involved in the project, but also to help the bank recognise the wealth-creating potential of small entrepreneurs and so create appropriate loan products for them.
In September 2008, OI China was granted a license allowing us to distribute microloans directly to the poor in the Suyu district of Suqian, Jiangsu. Opportunity International Suqian opened its doors in March of 2009 as one of only two Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise (WOFE) microfinance institutions in all of China. OI Suqian provides crucial financial and business training to all clients who take out a loan. These services include training in financial management and small business development, counseling for family life, and courses teaching the importance and use of credit. Furthermore, client’s children, many of whom have never had formal English training, are given quality English courses from native English speakers. At this location, we provide a mobile banking service to cut down on clients’ costs and time spent using our service. Our mobile bank vehicle meets the clients in their villages, where transactions are completed. Most of our loans in this region are given to small groups of clients who co-guarantee each others’ loans. Members from the local community come together to form these groups.