Microloans empower Colombian parents

by Opportunity International
Maria at her seamstress shop
Maria at her seamstress shop

This is Maria Fanny Martinez. She was forced to leave her home country of Columbia along with all of her family and friends she had there because she could not find employment there. She moved to Venezuela where she worked in a sweatshop for several years. After working at the clothing factory for a long time she became a skilled seamstress. She told her daughter to come to Venezuela to work at the factory alongside her and learn to be a seamstress too.

With Maria and her daughter’s newly acquired skills, they moved back to Columbia. They took out a loan from Opportunity International for $2000 and used it to start up their own seamstress shop in Columbia. Today, both Maria and her daughter make a comfortable living doing contract work for large clothing companies. On top of that, Maria formed a trust group called the Unofficial Seamstress Organization. The group is made up of several seamstresses from the area. Whenever one of the member’s businesses is doing poorly, the other members of the group come together to help that person out.

The loans Maria and her daughter received from Opportunity International have not only improved the quality of their own lives, the loans have gone towards helping other women in the area as well. Maria’s story is an example of how the loans given out by Opportunity international not only help the clients they are given to, they help other members of the community, and help to make the whole country more sustainable. Maria is very happy with her life now. She feels good about her accomplishments and happy to be living again in Columbia. 

We want to thank you for your contributions to Opportunity International. Donors like you allow us to improve the lives of people living in the developing world. Your contributions have made a difference in the lives of many.

Lucy Estrada Vasquez
Lucy Estrada Vasquez

Because of you, we have much to be thankful for. Our new finance company in Colombia became a deposit-taking financial institution on June 22, 2012. You helped Opportunity make a lasting difference for hard-working entrepreneurs like Lucy Estrada Vasquez, an artisan from San Jacinto, Colombia.

According to Lucy, “My life is normal. They may not sound like much but before Opportunity, I found it impossible to find regular work and now I have learned something that changed my life. Buenaventura, my loan officer, helped me discover that everything I need to feed my family lies within me, right here in my own hands. I no longer rely on others to support my five children. I no longer think about what I need; now I think about what I can do for my neighbors. I have learned the craft of weaving hammocks and unique handbags and I have learned to turn that craft into a business that has grown, allowing me to pay for school, food and medicine. It has allowed me to save for the future. I think I am closer to God now because I spend more time counting my blessings.”   

Tulia Ledesma
Tulia Ledesma

As a widow with five children and 22 grand-children, Tulia Ledesma carried a heavy burden to support her extended family. Pursuing her talents as a seamstress with help from Opportunity, she now has a thriving sewing business. “I am head of the household – father and mother, grandmother and everything in between,” Tulia says, explaining she’s more of a mom than a grandmother to her growing brood. She has invested her most recent loan of $260 to purchase materials and a second sewing machine. “I taught myself,” she states proudly of her skills. Initially, Tulia made sheets, now she has the equipment to design and create full bedding sets. She has increased her profit to 40% of her daily sales by purchasing in bulk.

Tulia says she is not only prospering economically, she has also developed meaningful relationships with her loan officer and fellow Trust Group members. “We are very close in our group,” she says. “Very united.” Tulia’s business acumen and growing confidence have had a positive influence on the young women in her household. Two of her granddaughters have graduated from high school and plan to study business so they can achieve their dream to one day export their grandmother’s creations. On behalf of Tulia and thousands of other Colombian entrepreneurs like her, thank you for sharing in our celebration.  


As of June 30, 2012, Opportunity Colombia has active loans to 7,445 families. While Opportunity was focused on opening the new financial institution and the development of savings products which will soon be introduced, transformation activities continued in full force. In a bold new move toward innovative client transformation practices, in 2012 Opportunity Colombia AGAPÉ will become a parallel NGO working alongside the Finance Company. Jim Frantz will lead this organization which will integrate the existing transformation activities and develop new ones to complement the bank’s financial services.

Empowering youth through experiential training. In accordance with Opportunity Colombia’s commitment to create a better future for the next generation, its Youth Entrepreneurship program continues to make remarkable progress as it trains and empowers a motivated group of 440 of tomorrow’s leaders. Of the 440 participants, 223 youth finalized their training and group trial businesses while an additional 143 young adults have already taken the step to start a business employing what they have learned based on an approved business plan. The program operates in Sincelejo, Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cartagena and Magangue.

“This project changed my life in respect to how I think and express myself, and leaving my shyness behind. It helped me learn the ways and strategies to begin a business, to identify what I want for my life.”   - Edith Guerrero, Cartagena

Holistic training for staff and clients. Loan officers deliver relevant training to clients within Trust Groups meetings. Four of the ten-disc DVD series have been delivered and the next four in the series were piloted this summer. The last two videos are in the final stages of development. Training themes include values, stewardship, generosity, budgeting, the importance of saving and basic business management skills. Staff and client response to the new videos has been unanimously positive.

The videos are fun and yet very clear about the activities and controls that need to be implemented to earn a profit. I now know it is good to have a daily budget. I didn’t understand this before and now I know exactly how to get started.”

Improving health and quality of life. Opportunity Colombia is committed to helping clients improve living conditions, resulting in better health, water supply, sanitation, and housing. AGAPÉ has provided loans to 127 families for home improvement, through its Techo y Piso (Roof and Floor) and Cocinas y Baños (Kitchens and Bathrooms) initiatives. Clients use the loans to make structural improvements to leaky roofs and wood or dirt floors resulting in a significant improvement in family health and quality of life.  


Updates from Opportunity Colombia

Although new lending is temporarily on hold which has reduced the number of active clients with loans and the lending portfolio, you are funding activities that benefit clients, their families and the community including transformation.

Increasing focus on holistic transformation. Whereas in the past the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) partners of Opportunity International implemented both the microfinance and the transformational aspects of the work, in 2012 we will see the evolution of a separate NGO body implementing the transformation programs alongside the finance institution. This organization will integrate the existing transformation activities offered by Opportunity’s banks to complement the financial services.

 From the clients’ perspective, Opportunity will retain its identity as an organization committed to holistic support, business training, spiritual development and care for the whole person. From a structural perspective, there will be an efficient and professional relationship between a finance provider and a support NGO. The transformation staff will develop an array of programs, including: staff and client training, outreach to vulnerable groups (youth, disabled persons, and displaced persons), strategic alliance building with local organizations and community groups, and much more.   

Empowering youth through experiential training.  Now in its second year of operation, the Colombia Youth Entrepreneurship program is achieving remarkable success as it trains and empowers a motivated group of 440 of tomorrow’s leaders. A noteworthy example of what we accomplished with your investment in 2011 includes the expansion of the program footprint to include the cities of Sincelejo and Barranquilla in addition to the cities of Bogotá, Cartagena and Magangue. Participating youth in these regions have finalized training, developed profitable trial group businesses and are utilizing business management and entrepreneurial skills to prepare individual business plans.

In the fall of 2011 Opportunity collaborated with Compassion International to organize a “Market Day,” to provide 48 youth a venue to sell their products. The young entrepreneurs unanimously agreed the event was a success and they enjoyed the chance to exhibit their technical skills while selling handcrafted products valuing $1,225.

Improving health and quality of life. Opportunity Colombia has provided loans to 109 families for home improvement, through its Techo y Piso (Roof and Floor) and Cocinas y Baños (Kitchens and Bathrooms) initiatives. The loans, averaging $700, are repaid over one year and are used to make structural improvements to leaky roofs and wood or dirt floors. The program is having a tremendous impact on participating families, who report improved health and quality of life. 



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Organization Information

Opportunity International

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.opportunity.org
Project Leader:
Ian Haisley
Director of Online Strategy
Oak Brook, IL United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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