PEOPLE often get the wrong idea about what international development actually means.
Yes, some of it is about giving emergency help following natural disasters or humanitarian assistance to people whose lives are turned upside down by war. But that’s only part of the picture.
In the last few decades there’s been a real shift in thinking from hand outs to hand ups. Helping people to help themselves is at the heart of my Department’s work as this is the only way we’re going to tackle poverty in the long term.
Harnessing the power of the private sector is one of the best ways to help people make their way out of poverty.
This is a philosophy that Opportunity International well understands. The microloans, saving facilities and financial education they offer help to create jobs and generate income for thousands of people.
Last year’s City A.M. appeal made access to financial services a reality for some of the poorest people in Malawi helping to increase their income and take control of their own lives. City A.M. readers were clearly impressed by Opportunity International’s work and responded with huge generosity, helping to raise a total of £1.58m.
DFID supported this campaign and I am delighted that we have done the same again this year, matching pound for pound all public donations up to 14th February 2013, to help people across sub-Saharan Africa.
One particular thing makes Opportunity International’s work stand out from the crowd - it knows that there is one group of people who work smarter, make investments go further, and with a bit of support can transform whole communities. That group of people is women.
Women account for 60 per cent of the world’s working poor. Discrimination at work and home can often stifle women’s entrepreneurial drive yet investing in women can be revolutionary. Finance linked to assistance can help make women economically independent and less susceptible to gender inequalities and reduce HIV/AIDS infections resulting from violence against women.
Eighty-four per cent of Opportunity International’s clients around the world are women. And experience has shown they are more likely to invest proceeds from their business into health, education and welfare of their families and wider communities. This kind of financial empowerment also helps to bring women dignity and respect within their local communities.
If we are to eradicate poverty we need to put in place the building blocks of prosperity – what the Prime Minister has referred to as the “Golden Thread” of development. These are the key building blocks that make up open economies and open societies that are richer, freer and fairer. And as the Prime Minister has said, “where the potential and perspective of women are locked out of the decisions that shape a society, that society remains stunted and underachieving”.
So, just a small investment in an individual to help them move forward their lives can have a tremendous domino effect that ultimately benefits the wider community.
This year’s appeal has already received great generosity, but with just a few days left to Christmas now is the time to help someone alter the course of their life by giving them the opportunity to make the decisions that many of us take for granted.
Justine Greening is secretary of state for International Development