Micro finance: small money, giant effect

Mark Daniels with women from an onion farmers' cooperative in the Philippines.

Mark Daniels CPA sees it in action every day with Opportunity International Australia.

For the first two decades of her life, Ana Serrano spent every day at Manila’s garbage dump, scavenging through the rubbish, faeces and dead animal carcasses, looking for food to eat and materials to recycle and sell, scraping a meagre living to survive.

But Serrano was not resigned to this life of poverty.

“I strived and worked hard until I found someone that I could borrow money from and start my own business,” she says.

That local organisation was connected with Opportunity International Australia, a not-for-profit micro finance organisation that provides credit finance or insurance services to more than 100,000 small business people in the Philippines and millions more worldwide.

Australian-born Mark Daniels CPA is the country director for Opportunity International Australia in the Philippines, where he’s been based for the last five years. Daniels trained as an accountant and worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers from 1987 in business recovery and insolvency.

“I wanted to become a millionaire by the time I was 30,” he says.

“I saw dollars as the language of happiness.” But Daniels found himself becoming disillusioned with corporate life.

“When I was commuting down to Sydney from Gosford every day, I would always see some graffiti on a wall that said ‘You’re on a road to nowhere’, and I felt that was how my life had become,” he recounts.

So in 1992 he decided to pursue another dream: to backpack around the world and visit 45 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.

“My travelling gave me a real reality check. I realised that money is not everything and I fell in love with the developing world,” he says.

In 1998, he got a job at Opportunity International Australia in Sydney as a program officer and progressed through different roles. In his current position, Daniels provides people with loans – 97 per cent of which are repaid – and helps clients find markets for their products.

Recently he linked an onion farmers’ cooperative with a big fast-food hamburger chain and has seen the cooperative members’ incomes more than triple.

“We don’t give them a handout but a hand up,” he says.

He says going out in the field is the most enjoyable part of the job.
“I get a lot of energy walking through the slums and meeting all these mothers,” says Daniels.

“The way they work so hard to invest back in their families is so inspirational. Often it is not just only their family, but they transform their whole community. I believe I have the best job in the world.”

Back in Manila’s slum, Serrano’s general store is thriving. She repaid her loan within six months and now has enough money to buy her children adequate food and pay for their education.

About Opportunity International

Australian entrepreneur David Bussau founded Opportunity International Australia more than four decades ago, when he gave A$50 to an Indonesian farmer to buy a sewing machine and start a tailoring business. That farmer now runs an import/export business and owns a fleet of taxis.

Opportunity International Australia has assisted millions of people, mostly women, with micro credit, savings accounts, micro insurance, micro pensions, business development and financial literacy. It now operates in more than 20 countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but primarily supports projects in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Ghana.

In each country, the organisation works with local micro finance institutions that use local staff to advise clients.

Bussau, who was raised in an orphanage in New Zealand, was named Senior Australian of the Year 2008 for his philanthropic endeavours and was Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.

His organisation is part of the Opportunity International global network.
For more information visit www.opportunity.org.au and http://opportunity.org
This article is from the August 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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