Sam Bickersteth started as Chief Executive of Opportunity International UK on 1st October 2019. Sam has been working on agriculture, livelihoods and climate change challenges in Africa Asia and Latin America for more than 30 years.
This last week has been Financial Inclusion Week looking specifically at questions around the purpose and approach for microfinance through the lens of financial inclusion. Being new to Opportunity International I’ve been delving into the figures around microfinance….Recent figures indicate that an estimated 140 million people take loans from micro-finance organisations in developing countries. The majority of these borrowers are women and many are smallholder farmers. The good news is that access to microfinance services continues to grow and provide better life choices for these women and their families. But, despite this progress, there are still over 2 billion people living in poverty with no access to financial services.
I am thrilled to have joined Opportunity International and to build on our impressive legacy of providing crucial financial inclusion services to those who are left behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Opportunity International UK particularly focuses, financial inclusion remains a key issue to solve alongside access to markets, information and technology, poor infrastructure, insecurity and climate change. I believe that working “at the last mile” with its 10 million clients Opportunity International can continue making a huge difference.
Hearing the stories of our clients shows me the power and relevance microfinance and financial inclusion has in elevating poverty. Stories like Leila’s illustrate how access to finance and training lifts someone out of poverty. It enables someone to move from a hand to mouth existence towards a thriving livelihood that feeds the family, educates the children and gives hope for the future.
The majority of Opportunity International’s clients, like Leila, are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. 80% of Africa’s food is produced by smallholder farmers and increasingly these farmers, whether coffee producers or maize growers, face new threats from climate change and volatile weather patterns – more frequent droughts, intense storms and floods, extreme temperatures and new pests. I have spent the last 10 years working on the challenges of climate change, including its impact on smallholder farmers, and I look forward to bringing that expertise to our programmes. Working with our partners, we will look to build the resilience of farming communities to cope with these changes.
With the increasing pressures of climate change and with Africa’s population set to double by 2050, there are many challenges ahead but we can be confident in the power of Opportunity to transform people’s lives and lift communities out of poverty. I’m excited to be joining you and our partners in giving people the hand up, not hand out, that they need.