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 Entrepreneur's Day, one in three people live on only $US3.20 a day? That’s $AUD4.34 - the cost of a large cappuccino in some Australian capital cities.

Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Engkom in Indonesia who makes handbags out of recycled coffee bags. PICTURE: Opportunity International Australia.

 

"[O]n World Entrepreneur's Day, let's 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

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. 

JOANNA WHITE, former managing director of business banking for the Commonwealth Bank and current chair of Opportunity International Australia, reflects on a meeting she had with Marie in The Philippines...

What a great opportunity to be reminded of the courageous among us who see the opportunity to make the world a better place and step up to the challenge.

I have been very fortunate to meet several quite amazing entrepreneurs in both my career in business banking and my involvement, currently as chair, with Opportunity International Australia.

The driving motivation for me across both my for-profit and for-purpose career has been the opportunity to play a role in helping others to grow, be it on a professional or personal level.

What has struck me are the similarities between the business owners and entrepreneurs I’ve met as a business banker in Australia and those I’ve met through our microfinance partners in India, the Philippines and Indonesia - while their ideas and their businesses may all be different, their motivations are similar and often focused on providing a better life for their families. The primary driver for many of the female entrepreneurs who receive small loans from Opportunity is improving education outcomes for their children. 

A few years ago, I was very fortunate to meet Marie in the Philippines, who owned a small sewing shop. Through loans provided by one of Opportunity’s microfinance partners in the Philippines, Marie was first able to purchase a sewing machine for herself then grew her business to nine machines, enabling her to employ other women from her village. She was also able to support her husband’s screen-printing business, enabling him to work in the village whereas previously he’d had to work overseas. Marie was thrilled that she could support her family in this way, with her children able to go to a good school - previously Marie indicated she frequently had concerns about being able to feed her children and she often went hungry herself when funds were tight.

We are fortunate to have many Australian entrepreneurs support the work of Opportunity - effectively entrepreneurs supporting entrepreneurs. I believe encouraging and celebrating these contributions is worth celebrating this World Entrepreneurs Day!

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 Entrepreneur's Day, let's honour the micro-entrepreneurs 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.

If you would like to equip families and communities to end poverty donate here.     

Meredith Scott is the chief executive officer of Opportunity International Australia.