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Poverty-Fighting Ministry Opportunity International Completes Divestiture of Banking Operations

In 1971, Opportunity International began its ministry to provide “financial solutions and training” and empower “people living in poverty to transform their lives.”

While pursuing this laudable mission, the ministry has seen a downward trend in revenue for a few years, but its chief financial officer Marge Tomasik told MinistryWatch the major reason for the trend is that the ministry has changed directions in recent years. 

While its revenue dropped from almost $60 million in 2016 to $21 million in 2020, its debt also decreased by over $100 million. 

In 2015, the Board of Directors made the decision to begin divesting itself of majority ownership in banking operations.

Back in the 90s, Tomasik said Opportunity International established banks, especially in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, to help provide capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses. 

She said as commercial banks started joining the markets and governments started regulating banks with higher capitalization requirements, Opportunity International decided it should change strategies to reach more people. 

“We call it more asset light but impact heavy,” Tomasik said of the strategy change, pointing out that at one point Opportunity International had nearly $500 million in banking operations.

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It is still the majority owner of one bank in Ghana, she said, but other banking interests it still holds are now minority interests between 2-20%. She added that Opportunity International found mission-aligned investors to take the ownership reins.

The revenue numbers are therefore reflective of the discontinued operations, like divesting its interest in the Bank of Serbia in 2021, Tomasik noted.

Tomasik also pointed out the nonprofit changed its fiscal year in 2020 so it now ends on September 30. The financial reporting numbers for 2020 include three fewer months of the year than prior years.

Audited financial statements, which separate banking activities from charitable activities, show its charitable activity assets have remained more steady as its banking assets have declined.

Opportunity International is still involved in many ministries to those in poverty, 80 percent of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. It also has operations in Asia and Latin America.

In 1971, Opportunity International made its first loan to an entrepreneur in Colombia. 

While it is still working in Colombia, it has expanded its programs to include education and agriculture financing programs.

Many poverty-stricken areas of the world don’t have readily-available public education options, so Opportunity International helps parents access financial resources to pay for private education for their children by facilitating partnerships with financial institutions. 

Opportunity International also provides school improvement loans to finance the building of more private schools.

Over 2.8 million students have benefited from its educational finance programs, according to Opportunity International’s website.

It also works in the agricultural sector to train farmers in more productive techniques and how to access markets, as well as providing financing and insurance to help farmers succeed.

To date, Opportunity International has helped more than 540,000 farmers in sub-Saharan Africa build resilient livelihoods for themselves through small-scale farming,” it claims.

It is part of the group’s strategy, “demonstrate[ing] that God’s concern for the poor is not just to meet their economic needs, but to empower them to meet their own needs.”

Tomasik said COVID-19 delayed implementation of some of Opportunity International’s programs, but in general, its revenue went up during the pandemic as it conducted campaigns to help areas struck by the disease. It used some of the money to purchase personal protective equipment and send it overseas.

Earlier this year, Opportunity International hired a new philanthropy officer, Michael Chitwood, who worked for World Vision for 20 years prior to the move.

When asked about the addition of Chitwood, Tomasik said he has “strengths that will help the ministry.” While Opportunity International has a “solid donor base,” according to Tomasik, Chitwood can help expand it. 

MinistryWatch gives Opportunity International a donor confidence score of 70, meaning donors can “give with confidence.” It receives a transparency grade of C because it is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

Tomasik said the group considered joining, but decided against it. She mentioned that while Opportunity International is a Christian ministry, it “serves a broader clientele than just Christians.”

The ECFA does not require that ministries only serve Christians in order to join as members.

Opportunity International publishes its IRS Form 990s and audited financial statements on its website. 

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.

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