Opportunity, MasterCard, Gates Foundations partner to provide financial access to rural poor in Africa

Opportunity International has announced a programme co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Less than 10 per cent of people in such areas have access to comprehensive financial services.

Opportunity will use the $16m joint grant to provide over 1.4 million people with access to savings accounts, including 950,000 in rural areas. It will also roll out financial services to more than 90,000 smallholder farmers living in poverty.

For both agricultural and non-agricultural borrowers and savers in rural markets, Opportunity will deploy a range of cost-effective delivery channels, including satellite branches, kiosks, mobile vans, ATMs and point-of-sale devices to expand the number of banking outlets. Beginning in Malawi and Ghana, the program will be expanded to two to three additional countries over the next five years.

Opportunity's strategy will go beyond simply providing agricultural credit and will create a model designed to increase the farmer's chance for success while mitigating risk. As a key component, Opportunity will develop strategic partnerships with extension service providers to equip farmers with training and market linkages that can help to improve crop productivity and household income.

Reeta Roy, president and CEO of MasterCard Foundation, said: "The MasterCard Foundation believes that Opportunity International's innovations in microfinance will prove to be key contributions to helping Africa's poor and rural families become self-sustaining."

Kadita AT Tshibaka, CEO of Opportunity International, said: "Opportunity International is grateful to The MasterCard Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support which will help developing agriculturally-based communities transition to thriving and diversified economies.

"We hope this tremendous partnership will encourage other individuals, foundations and corporations to join this effort. Opportunity is committed to raising an additional $15 to $20m over the next three years to increase food security, alleviate poverty and enable long-term self-sufficiency for the people of Africa."

Tamara Cook, programme officer for the Financial services for the Poor Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "Access to savings accounts and other financial services help poor people manage life's risks and take advantage of life's opportunities. Opportunity International is creating new, sustainable business models and scaling up its programs, helping bring financial security to more people in Africa."