World Entrepreneur’s Day is a chance to celebrate the tremendous ingenuity and resilience of the millions of entrepreneurs in developing countries who are delivering an end to poverty for their families and local communities.
How can it be that in 2018 on World Entrepreneurs’ Day, one in three people live on only US$3.20 a day? That’s A$4.34 – the cost of a large cappuccino in some Australian capital cities.
And it’s all they have to buy the necessities we take for granted – food, clothes, safe shelter, healthcare, medicine and education for their children. Can you imagine making $4.34 a day stretch far enough to provide all your family’s basic needs? I can’t.
These same families often don’t have toilets or access to clean drinking water, which means they constantly suffer from debilitating preventable illnesses that keep them trapped in poverty.
This is why Opportunity, by providing microfinance loans, is equipping 5.8 million entrepreneurs in Asia to build businesses, earn regular incomes and create a future for their families. These borrowers start a small business in their village and demonstrate real entrepreneurial skill to not only create a successful business, but to overcome the challenges of their environment. Those challenges range from a lack of community infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools, exposure to extreme weather conditions; even inefficient transport for raw materials and finished goods.
It’s unacceptable that in the 21st century so many families in developing countries lack access to the basics the Western world takes for granted.
Yet, despite all these challenges, the entrepreneurial spirit is so strong that the Opportunity microfinance partner portfolio repayment rate is an amazing 98 per cent. This ensures that funds can be recycled after the loan is repaid, and the impact of our initial investment can create future opportunities.
When I was in India with Opportunity’s Board at the beginning of this year, I was inspired by the enterprising women living in rural villages who were building businesses using Opportunity loans: businesses like food stalls, dressmaking, kiosks and making papadums and tiffen (small boxes filled with a spicy lunch). Each of these women is determined to end her family’s poverty. They are driven to educate their children, so they can live dramatically different lives to their own.
An aspect of equipping families to end poverty is to help them prevent the debilitating illnesses that stop them working in their businesses. That’s why Opportunity trains women in India and Indonesia to be health leaders, empowering them to educate families in their local communities about ways of preventing illness and improving their health – by washing their hands, drinking clean water, building toilets, using sanitary napkins, growing vegetables, breastfeeding and giving birth in hospitals.
Healthy families are more able to journey out of poverty because parents can work to earn a living and kids can go to school, everyday, rather than constantly missing out because of constant illness.
We know that education is a powerful tool to help families end poverty, so Opportunity provides school fee loans to parents, enabling them to educate their children. We also provide loans to school leaders – who are often groups of entrepreneurial parents – so they can build classrooms, buy textbooks and computers, recruit qualified teachers and continually improve the quality of the education they provide to children who are eager to learn.
So, on World Entrepreneurs’ Day, lets honour the microentrepreneurs in developing countries who are turning around their lives through hard work, ingenuity and passion. Like us, they want the best possible future for their children, so let’s empower them to do just that.
Meredith Scott, CEO, Opportunity International Australia