“When you start at the bottom,” says freshly minted Manilan entrepreneur Ana Serrano in a video illustrating her dramatic personal transformation, “you appreciate where you came from.” For Serrano, a petite woman with high cheekbones and an easy smile, that was a Philippine slum, where she and her siblings survived as scavengers.
“It was everyone for themselves. Each of us would have to find a way to eat. I thought I’d always remain in the dump, and that if I stayed there, I was worthless.”
But Serrano’s worth was not only recognized but fostered by Opportunity International, a Toronto-based microlending program that provides women just like her access to savings, small business loans, insurance and training so they might escape a poverty-stricken Third-World existence.
Of the developing world’s population living on less than two dollars a day, an estimated 70 percent of them are women. But a $180 loan from Opportunity International can finance a female-led business, thus breaking the cycle of poverty, forced labour and violence. What’s more, when it’s repaid after three months, that same $180 is loaned out to the next woman.
A raft of studies demonstrate that equipping disadvantaged females with access to financial services can dramatically improve the quality of life for their families. And the gains that women achieve through these monetary injections are typically invested in their own children. That sets up a powerful generational multiplier that accelerates economic growth.
Opportunity International was founded in 1971 by a man named Al Whittaker. While travelling in the developing world, Whittaker asked a group of locals what they needed. “Work,” they told him. “With jobs, we will solve our own problems.”
Over the past 15 years, the organization has created 10 million jobs through $6.8 billion in loans to more than 10,000 businesses. As of 2013, Opportunity was providing a wide range of financial services and business training to more than five million underprivileged souls in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. These small-scale businesswomen use these funds to launch or expand companies, provide for their families and those of their neighbours, and elevate their lives to a place of dignity and joy.
But millions of people in the Philippines remain trapped in poverty. You can help rewrite their stories by making a donation to the FundRazr campaign in Opportunity International’s name. Or you can start a fundraising sub-campaign of your own on behalf of the organization, as Chris and Arleen Raper did, raising $4,700 more than their $10,000 goal; or Jeff Lucas, a Victorian who donated his $3,890 in Tour de Victoria pledges to the cause.
Today, Ana Serrano owns and operates her own little candy and snack store in Manila. “When I wake up in the morning I’m so happy,” she gushes from behind her streetfront counter. “I can’t believe I own my own business.”