Offering a hand up rather than simply a handout is one of Opportunity International’s central messages, and it was partly this ethos that drew Kristine Braden to the charity.
Braden is the Citi country officer for Switzerland, Monaco and Liechtenstein, and the corporate and investment banking head for Switzerland. She has served as a trustee for Opportunity International and says of the charity: “They’re always looking for ways to empower people; to create a livelihood that is sustainable, and using financial products to help to do that.”
She also points to Opportunity International as “a charity that inspires trust”, with a large number of new clients coming specifically from word of mouth.
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“It’s not too broad in what it does. It’s focused, and as a result, I think it does what it does well,” Braden adds.
Opportunity International aims to create – and sustain – 20m jobs by 2020, with its central aim to tap into the power of entrepreneurs in the developing world. It does this by giving people access to financial services including loans, savings, insurance and other financial services and training.
Braden says a personal interest of hers was “going out and seeing the work, and hearing first-hand how lives are being changed and impacted”.
“I took my children and my husband to Ghana, spent about 10 days there, and during that time we were able to interact with the clients,” she said. “I’ve been a banker my whole life and I’ve been in the emerging markets, but what I haven’t done is actually interact with that degree of client, and to realise it’s not that different from what I do everyday.
“The experience is much like any other financial institution – it’s a wonderful feeling to know that we can actually directly impact on the economy and a person’s life,” she added.
Among the range of work being done by the charity, Braden cites the use of mobile banking to open up new opportunities for people as particularly exciting.
“A lot of the clients we work with are not fully literate, and in many cases, biometrics and other methodologies are just improving their access to financial instruments that help them,” she says.
Braden adds that most people the charity works with would previously be unbanked, “and because of their illiteracy, or less literate status, they would have a hard time accessing those financial services”.
“So by using, for example, a thumbprint or their mobile phone which they were used to using, we could actually bring them into the financial sector, and that makes a huge difference.”
“A small example of that would be just by using mobile phone technology, a particular woman who needs to deposit her cash in the financial institution wouldn’t have to take off an entire day to get into town and come back,” Braden says. “They were able to use mobile technology to immediately make their money secure.”
The Ghana trip, was she adds, also an insightful experience for her two children. “I love bringing my kids to places where they can learn a lot about a culture, about an economy, about the people there, about the circumstances that may or may not be affecting the living standard of the country,” Braden adds.
“I think what they also learned is charity’s fun, and getting involved is fun, it’s engaging, it’s sobering, but in a very small way you can actually impact somebody’s life.”