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Omidyar Network Grants $4.5 Million to Opportunity International to Scale Technology-based Microfinance Services in Africa
Date:2/24/2009

OAK BROOK, Ill., Feb. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Opportunity International today announced it has received a $4.5 million grant from Omidyar Network. Opportunity will use the grant to design, create and implement new electronic and mobile banking technologies that will reduce transaction costs and make microfinance services available to more people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, has committed more than $90 million to microfinance programs since 2004. Omidyar Network provided the $4.5 million grant to Opportunity International because of the organization's leadership in developing and implementing innovative technologies that deliver financial services to the poor.

Opportunity International will use the grant to launch an "electronic wallet" strategy in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda -- countries where Opportunity has significant operations already, including banks and financial institutions. The strategy aims to develop the optimum mix of electronic banking technologies needed in each of these countries.

"Omidyar Network is pleased to be working with Opportunity International on this innovative microfinance initiative," said Matt Bannick, managing partner, Omidyar Network. "Opportunity International has made significant progress in modernizing microfinance delivery channels and openly shares its knowledge to help advance the entire industry. This collaborative spirit, along with a scalable, technology-based model, makes Opportunity International a natural fit for Omidyar Network."

Optimizing Technology Differs in Each Country

The first step of the effort is to establish new telecommunications solutions in each of the eight African countries mentioned previously. Opportunity will test and implement satellite and broadband Internet connectivity that enables faster, more reliable service connections to branch banks and provides the needed banking infrastructure to lower costs of servicing small loans and savings accounts for the poor.

In Ghana and Rwanda, Opportunity International will import its technology now in extensive use in the Philippines to connect to each country's developing national payment system. This capability will improve the availability of financial services, timeliness of transaction reporting and security of client banking, as well as reduce the cost of banking transactions.

"In countries where national payment systems exist, like Malawi, the Philippines and across Eastern Europe, we have been able to greatly expand services to the poor," explained Christopher A. Crane, president and CEO of Opportunity International. "Our clients can now make deposits at the end of the business day via ATM and retail point-of-sale outlets instead of having to carry cash home with them, which greatly increases their safety and security, not to mention their efficiency."

Cellular phone technology is an alternate method for performing banking transactions in countries that lack a national payment system. Opportunity International is developing mobile phone banking solutions to support the electronic transfer of deposits and withdrawals for its clients. Through its work, the organization expects to enable more than 250,000 clients to conduct 36 million transactions across five countries. In addition, loan officers will be able to carry mobile phone devices to collect bill payments and provide receipts and other services to its clients in rural Africa.

"Omidyar Network's expertise and partnership for determining the appropriate mix of microfinance delivery channels and technologies needed in the region is invaluable," Crane said. "Their grant will enable us to help more of the working poor across Africa lift themselves -- and their families - - out of poverty, faster."

Sharing Knowledge with the Microfinance Industry

The Omidyar Network grant also will enable Opportunity International to share best practices with the entire microfinance industry. The organization will host technology symposia with microfinance leaders, develop white papers and conduct speaking engagements to document the lessons learned and provide demonstrations of its work.

About Omidyar Network

Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm committed to creating opportunity for people. Established by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, and his wife Pam, Omidyar Network supports nonprofit and for-profit efforts that enable people around the world to improve their lives and make powerful contributions to their communities. Since 2004, Omidyar Network has funded a number of organizations in areas such as microfinance, social media and government transparency. To learn more about Omidyar Network, please visit http://www.omidyar.net.

About Opportunity International

Opportunity International is committed to solving global poverty. Serving approximately 1.1 million poor entrepreneurs in 27 developing countries, Opportunity International is a pioneer in offering small business loans, savings, insurance and training in basic business practices to women and men living in chronic poverty. Founded in 1971 as one of the first microcredit lenders, the organization provides small loans and other services that allow poor entrepreneurs to start or expand a business, develop a steady income, provide for their families and create jobs for their neighbors. OptINnow(TM), a new initiative from Opportunity International, connects people who want to make a difference with the working poor around the world. At http://www.optinnow.org, people can "opt in" -- for as little as $25 -- to fund a designated entrepreneur. As the loans are repaid, the money is loaned again and again to help other entrepreneurs. Opportunity International maintains a network of offices across the globe, with U.S. offices in Oak Brook, Ill., San Diego and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit http://www.opportunity.org.


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SOURCE Opportunity International
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