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In July 2007, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking announced a long-term partnership with Opportunity International, a charity dedicated to providing financial services to some of the poorest communities in the world.The charity is a pioneer and global leader in the provision of 'micro finance' services that enable its customers to develop small businesses in a way that fosters economic and social growth in their communities. It is this vision that makes Opportunity International an ideal long-term partner for us.It’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense - a UK-based bank teaming up with an international organisation crying out not just for financial support, but also for kinds of skills and expertise associated with the provision of financial services. Over the past few years we have been raising funds (and continue to do so) for live projects in Ghana and Malawi, as well as providing training to Opportunity’s customer facing staff on the ground in Africa.In Spring 2011 our partnership was shortlisted as a finalist in two separate categories at the Business Charity Awards – ‘long-term partnership’ and ‘overseas project’.
2010 was the year when our long term charity partnership really started delivering benefits. Since July 2007, employees at Lloyds Bank had built solid fundraising foundations for Opportunity International - and last year saw their commitment and dedication pay dividends, with real tangible results for the charity in Africa. Opportunity International is a pioneer and global leader in the provision of microfinance – financial services that enable its clients to borrow, save, insure – and develop small businesses in a way that fosters economic and social growth in their communities. It is this vision that makes the charity an ideal long-term partner for Lloyds Bank. The partnership makes a lot of sense: a UK-based bank teaming up with an international organisation crying out not just for financial support, but also for the knowledge, skills and expertise associated with the provision of financial services.
Photograph by Zsofia Molnar
By April 2011 we had raised almost £1 million – enough to fund two new branches and a ‘mobile bank’.
GHANA May 2010 saw the official opening of the Mankessim branch of Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd in Ghana, the first concrete target of our partnership, and £316,000 was required to achieve this. This new branch is the only one in Ghana where the land, bricks and mortar are fully owned by Opportunity International. At the end of November 2010, the customer base of the new branch had grown to 2,836 savings clients and 1,621 loan clients. The charity calculates that for each loan client, five people will be positively affected (five is the average family size in Ghana). This means that the new branch has already had an impact on over 8,000 people in the region. The branch boasts the latest equipment and uses “eZwich” fingerprint recognition technology, meaning that clients do not need to be literate to access their accounts.
MALAWI It is equally exciting that at the end of 2010, we had also raised the funds required (£440,000) to build a new branch in Mulanje, Malawi, supported by a 4x4 mobile bank to serve the surrounding rural communities. This includes funding to provide the branch with two years’ worth of ‘seeding capital’ to enable it to start-up efficiently. Construction is underway and the branch is set to open officially during 2011
BEYOND 2010 Looking ahead, our next target is to raise the further £350,000 required to fund the construction of two more ‘spoke' branches to support our ‘hub’ branch in the Mulanje region. One of the most striking aspects about Opportunity's work is the way it helps people to develop a vision for their own future. A key component of its work with loan clients in projects supported by Lloyds Bank in Ghana and Malawi is financial education and practical training. This enables clients to learn to think beyond today and plan for tomorrow. Opportunity's vision is a world in which all people have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, and to build a fulfilling life. Hearing both clients and staff speak proudly of how Opportunity is helping them to work little by little towards making their dreams a reality - even in the midst of challenges - is indeed inspiring. The fundraising and skills transfer efforts of Lloyds Banking Group colleagues are creating opportunities for thousands of people across Africa to create wealth and vision at grass roots.
Our Head of Credit has also been actively involved in the partnership and has made numerous visits to Malawi in recent years to upskill local teams. His most recent visit was in September 2010 to deliver a series of credit workshops to Opportunity International Bank of Malawi (OIBM) colleagues. He and his team delivered four separate credit skills workshops in three different locations in Malawi, attended by 65 people – bringing to almost 100 the number who have received and completed our Credit Skills training during 2010. The workshops are designed to support the development of Credit Officers and contribute to a strong culture of Loans Quality, covering a broad range of practical credit-related topics and drawing on real case studies and solutions. Feedback has been extremely positive, with participants consistently rating the workshop content and delivery as ‘excellent’. It is great to be supporting the charity in ways over and above fundraising, sharing our skills and experience to ensure the success of our overseas projects.
It is a genuine, long-term partnership and we are now beginning to see the positive results of our efforts. Our partnership has grown during tough times. One has only to think of Northern Rock and Lehmann Brothers as examples of how challenging the economic climate is, not to mention Lloyds Banking Group’s acquisition of Halifax Bank of Scotland and the subsequent stake in our business taken by the government. It is testament to our people, their hard work and their understanding of Opportunity International’s vision that the partnership is thriving – a truly ‘great fit’. And at a time when the populist perception of UK banks and their staff tends to be negative, there’s a real feel-good factor within our business as our efforts bear fruit and give so many people a chance to work their way out of poverty.
We employ some extraordinarily imaginative people and the money was raised by them giving up their time to do all manner of crazy and astonishing things. The money we have raised is an impressive sum when you consider that the majority of it came from the pockets of our colleagues, friends, family, customers and suppliers – the remainder made up by our company’s match funding scheme. In a short space of time, our efforts have made a big impact on people’s lives. Our single biggest fundraiser each year is the “Corporate Markets Challenge” – a one day event involving teams of four competing in a variety of activities in an outdoor location. The event we held in September 2010 attracted over 400 competitors, who raised £133,000 in sponsorship in preparation for the day, which was held under the watchful eye of quadruple Olympic gold medallist, Sir Matthew Pinsent. We’ve also had success in 2010 with “the Microfinance Challenge”, a test of entrepreneurialism, designed to give participants an idea of how microfinance works and deepen their understanding of the work of Opportunity International. It involves taking a small loan (in this case £10) and transforming it into a profitable enterprise. Winners are judged not only on the amount they raise, but also their business idea, how it replicates the customer microfinance experience, the way they went about their task(s) and what they learned. Our first Challenge raised over £16,000 in three weeks, with the winning team securing a speaking slot at the House of Commons.
For Lloyds, the partnership has given our staff a shared challenge with tangible goals; a distinct feelgood factor from our achievements; a real means by which we bring our Group’s values to life; and opportunities to get involved / empathise with the daily realities of the people whose lives are affected in Ghana and Malawi. As an example of what the OI branch means to the local traders in Mankessim, they partied in the street at the opening ceremony because they were celebrating the ability to manage and plan their own finances. For most people, it is the first time they have been able to bank their money and save – the common alternative being a hole in the ground or under a mattress.
The hugely positive reaction to the new branch – endorsed by local chiefs and the Bank of Ghana - demonstrates just how important it is for so many people to be able to take control of their lives. Seeing so many happy faces, no longer worrying about being robbed or conned by local money sharks, was a significant reward for everyone at our bank. You really can see the difference our workers' efforts have made. That is a benefit to us that cannot be measured in money.
Photograph by Zsofia Molnar
Edward Fox, Chief Executive of Opportunity International UK, summarises: “Our partnership with Lloyds should be held up as an example of best practice. We are continually overwhelmed by LBG colleagues’ creativity, innovation and hard work – and their determination to deliver our shared vision. 2010 was an incredible year for us and we look forward to working together in pursuit of our 2011 and 2012 targets. I could not speak more highly of the team at the Bank, from the top down, who support us in so many different ways. Thank you.”