Opportunity International Canada is a microfinance not-for-profit with a simple mission—to empower those living in poverty to transform their lives and their communities. In this next interview, Dan shares how Opportunity has had to pivot in order to continue to raise funds to support the needs around them in the developing world in places where people don’t live paycheque-to-paycheque but often live day-to-day.
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So what do you do when COVID-19 disrupts the global economy, unemployment is at the highest it’s ever been, almost everyone can say they’ve felt some level of financial impact, and you run an organization whose funding is entirely dependent on an economy that has left people and organizations with something to give back? Well that’s exactly what Dan Murray, CEO of Opportunity International Canada faced this Spring as COVID-19 began to disrupt business and commerce as we knew it here in Canada.
Opportunity International Canada is a microfinance not-for-profit with a simple mission—to empower those living in poverty to transform their lives and their communities. In this next interview, Dan shares how Opportunity has had to pivot in order to continue to raise funds to support the needs around them in the developing world in places where people don’t live paycheque-to-paycheque but often live day-to-day.
What’s remarkable about Dan’s story is the fact that they were already a remote company with staff spread out from coast to coast and yet like everyone else, they had to find ways to adapt their organization to the changing world around them. Dan talks about their strategy for ensuring his people are better connected to each other in this unprecedented time to how his organization is supporting the mental health of his people too.
Dan shares how he challenged his team to find a way to press on with innovation. The result? Running the largest events they’ve ever run with the most attendance they’ve ever had, with the widest reach across the country!
Dan also shares a few stories of how COVID has impacted the lives of their microfinance customers in places like the Dominican Republic and around how Opportunity is stepping up to ensure that there are resources available today, in arguably the greatest time of need, to those that need them.
One more thing that I need to say before we jump into it is that this next interview is a special one for us at Clearbridge because Opportunity International is our partner in the One-To-Many microlending initiative that we launched in November of 2019—you can learn more about that at clearbridge.ca/onetomany—and so it goes without saying that we’ve been working closely with Opportunity over the past few months as we continued to invest in each other to ensure operational stability, support for each other, and success in our individual missions.
Without further ado, let’s jump in to learn more about Dan’s story with Opportunity International Canada.
Ryan Kononoff: Dan welcome to the entrepreneurs versus coronavirus podcast.
Dan Murray: Great to be here.
Ryan Kononoff: Thanks for joining me today. For those that haven’t heard about opportunity international, maybe let’s start there. Tell us a little bit about opportunity, what you do, who does the organization serve? How many people do you have?
Just give us a little bit of an introduction that way.
Dan Murray: Sure. Well, opportunity international is an organization that’s coming up on its 50th anniversary, actually next year. It was founded in 1971. There was actually sort of a Canadian American, uh, nexus that, uh, there was a fellow that was working in Columbia.
He was working with. The poor people in the country and a lot of the charity work was grant based, but he felt that it was just not sustainable. You always have to keep coming back for more. And he came up with the idea of a, of a small loan to a farmer, so he could buy a cow, repay the loan and move from there.
And it, it was just an amazing concept. It really caught on, he was back in the U S sharing. This caught the attention of a kind of wall street banker who suddenly felt that he’d found his life mission. And so he brought the discipline of banking, if you like, I sort of call it the discipline of a banker with the heart of an NGO.
And the concept is really quite simple. And it’s financial inclusion with dignity and training for people in the world who are living in poverty. Um, but have an idea, uh that’re entrepreneurs in their own right. But they simply are excluded from accessing financial services of any kind. And, you know, can you imagine trying to run your own business here without access to a revolving line of credit or a loan here and there.
But banking services, loans, savings, insurance, these things were simply not available to the poorest. And so the idea was micro finance. How do you bring financial services as well as training to people who didn’t have access to it? So they could basically create their own workspace and provide for their families. So that that’s simple concept.
Opportunity International Canada has been around for about 21 years. We started in 98, 99 and, um, we’re part of a global movement. There’s five countries, US, Germany, Australia, UK, and Canada, that together are working in about 22 countries around the world. And our vision is really a world in which all people have the opportunity to achieve a life free from poverty, with dignity and purpose.
And we accomplish that by providing financial tools and training access to things like loans and savings and insurance to empower people, living in poverty to transform their lives and their children’s futures. And in fact, entire communities.
Ryan Kononoff: Fantastic. And so in a nutshell, if I can simplify that it’s this idea of a financial institution or a bank or an insurance agency to the poor.
Dan Murray: Yeah. There’s a classic book out there called bankers to the poor written by Muhammad Yunus who won the Nobel peace prize for, um, for his work in micro finance in Bangladesh. And it’s, uh, I recommend the buckets. I read it to summer before I joined opportunity just to immerse myself a bit, but really it can be a small loan.
I mean, I’ve heard amazing stories of a $10 loan being the beginning of an amazing journey where an entrepreneur, she’ll invest that, make some sales, repay the loan, take out a bit more, grow her business and just move from, and it’s the empowerment and the dignity. I mean, for me, it really speaks to dignity and empowerment.
You know, if you think about. Coming to somebody and asking for food. So you can feed your family. I mean, if you have to do that to survive, you do whatever you have to do. Right. But if you can gain access to a small loan so that you can start or grow your own business and pay the loan back, generate enough revenue to.
Feed your family, and to invest a bit back in the day, isn’t it. So that it keeps growing. You suddenly have power over your future. So you multiply that by millions and it has just an incredible impact at a global level.
Ryan Kononoff: And speaking specifically about, uh, Canada here, how large is your team and where are you based out of here in Canada?
Dan Murray: Yeah. Well, the Canadian operation a couple of years ago actually went completely virtual. So we shut down the one office we did have in Toronto because only about three of the them 10 to 12 staff, uh, were using that office. Our team is. Distributed across the country. There are 14 of us at the moment. So we’re fairly lean and mean team.
Uh, we have staff from Eastern Ontario all the way to Victoria and working in a variety of roles from fundraising to no back back office, operation and program design and implementation and monitoring.
Ryan Kononoff: So you were, you were ahead of the curve as far as, as far as the whole transition to remote operations goes.
Dan Murray: No, it’s kind of funny. A few of my colleagues were, were joking a bit where we’re sort of becoming quite tired of the, the words unprecedented and pivot, but you know, this truly was an unprecedented kind of event that all of us have encountered and everyone was forced to pivot and we’ve had to pivot on so many levels.
But the one area we didn’t really have to pivot is our regular operations because we’ve been using zooms since I joined the organization. I remember I w I left, uh, another, um, not-for-profit to take the helmet to opportunity Canada. In November of 2018. And I had my first staff meeting zoom when there were 14 faces around the screen.
And I remember going into that thinking, how is this possibly going to work? But it was interesting within five minutes. It’s like, I didn’t even notice, you know, On a computer, it kind of felt like you’re around the table and you know, the fact that you can see people’s faces and, and share. So, I mean, it does have some limitation, but it’s been great for us.
It’s allowed us to operate in three time zones right across the country. And yeah, we have staff meetings, team meetings, group meetings, meetings with donors. Yeah. Everything is done on zoom. So that you’re absolutely right. We didn’t really have to pivot in that regard.
Ryan Kononoff: Fantastic. So let’s talk a little bit
about your fundraising models and, and then maybe how, how you deploy that capital or cash flow to, to help serve
Dan Murray: Um, you know, we are a charity, so all of our operations are funded through fundraising. Uh, people make donations to opportunity to national candidate. I do receive a tax receipt for that. Uh, we are largely focused on what we call the major donor and corporate partner side of things, as well as, uh, events.
They have a small number of, uh, what we call smaller monthly donors that also help. You know, there are, people are just a believe in what we do and maybe, you know, give us $50 a month or something like that. But the, the lion share of our work is really focused on entrepreneurs, uh, business people, people who really, we understand the idea of microfinance, the power of it.
And, um, and so our fundraising model is largely a relational. Um, it’s presenting the concept of opportunity. Often we look for ways to give people an experience. We conducted these, uh, visits to the field that we call insight trips. Or 10 to 15, um, you know, people will join a staff member and head down for five days, uh, to one of the countries.
It’s where we serve have a chance to meet our microfinance Institute partner there, as well as meet some clients and hear their stories. Nobody who attends one of those. It comes back unchanged. It can be just incredibly inspiring and impactful to see. So we look for a variety of ways. We have a power, our host fundraising team, very proud of them.
They’ve uh, they’ve pivoted, you know, at the beginning of March, uh, when it was obvious that things were being shut down, I called a staff meeting and I said, look, I’ll travels canceled. All of our events are going to have to go virtual. Uh, you guys are going to have to think your way through this. Some find a way to either virtualize existing events or come up with completely different concepts.
All of your meetings with donors are not going to be over coffee anymore. They’re going to be by zoom and they’ve jumped into that with so much passion, enthusiasm. Um, great team led by a VP of philanthropy doors, all of a sudden whose it lives out in BC. And she has a team of directors across the country who worked by province and they’ve done amazing things.
They took a, a Calgary golf event and they changed it. They said it’s not a divot. It’s a pivot. And actually did an hour long online golf event where we went hole by hole. Right. It was all virtualized telling different stories about the work we do. But what’s interesting is we had more people attend that then would actually show up at a golf event and it was actually quite engaging and inspiring.
And the next thing they’re doing is they’re actually doing a virtual insight trip. So. In August, we’re going to give our donors and experience that they will not forget. They can buy first class business, class, economy seats. Um, they’re going to get an experience box in the mail that kind of connects them with the countries that we serve.
And we’re going to visit. All of the countries where we serve. So Haiti, Dominican Republic. Yeah. Groggy, Honduras, Colombia, India, and Ghana. And, uh, over about a 80 minute period, it’s going to be quite an immersive experience. And what’s interesting for me is that I think we’ll probably retain that. Post pandemic because we expect 250 people to participate in this.
Whereas, you know, we can maybe invest the time, bring 15 down on an actual, real inside trip. We’ll still do those, of course, but for now I’m just really proud of the team. So, you know, the job of fundraising as you know, is to connect the inspiration of the mission itself. The, the changed lives that happened because of this work with people that have the resources to help us make it happen.
So our goal owners are really partners. In this work, we couldn’t do it without them. They, uh, in some ways we’re like an extension of them. This is their vision and we help carry it out by designing these programs in the field. So we raised money through private donations, through corporate partners. We have corporations who will choose to work with us, um, because it gives an opportunity for their employees to directly engage in something meaningful.
It’s a bit of a CSR commitment. Um, but this can be very, uh, And engaging experience for employees, which if you’ve read the book, corporate karma, you know, is a really important part of the sort of bottom line. There’s more than just a dollar profits, but there’s a, what’s the purpose of the company from the point of view of giving back to society.
And so I look at us as providing an opportunity to companies to have a happy. A social meaning and social impact in addition to the very important profit goals that they have as well. We also run, as I said, a series of events, these funds come in and, uh, we, uh, we use them to work in the countries where we serve.
So I’ve mentioned a number of those countries and. The funds can either be used as loans. So we’ll send loan funds down. There’ll be an asset that sits with a microfinance partner everywhere we work. We partner with a local organization, a microfinance institution. They are usually, they’re always either an NGO or a bank.
They exist to serve the poor and their values aligned with us. And so we work with them. We’ll provide access to loan funds. So maybe transfer down, you know, $250,000 of loan funds, which becomes an asset. Those funds are then loaned out. Um, they have a series of, uh, relationship and loan officers who, um, almost like a combination banker and social worker who are out in the field, connecting with our clients who are sometimes the, you know, the poorest of the poor, but they have an idea and they just need access to some funds.
So these funds become part of that loan portfolio. In addition, we’ll send down, uh, funds that can be used for, uh, operations, like, uh, training, uh, maybe a branch expansion we’ll partner with these organizations to help them expand their reach in the rural community so that you can reach more people that, uh, with, with the work we do and then design training programs.
So all the clients who receive loans also receive training and financial literacy sometimes depending on the country. It’ll be other things like hygiene and nutrition and you know, other life skills that are important, but also how to run a business, how to market, how she, how to grow your business, how to be an employer.
And a, and so, you know, those funds will basically help hundreds or thousands of small, um, working for to start their own business, generate an income so they can provide for their families.
Ryan Kononoff: That’s remarkable. And Dan, just before we get into Corona virus, can you give us a bit of background on yourself?
Like how did you get into the role that you’re in today leading the Canadian operation for opportunity introduction?
Dan Murray: Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, this little for me feels like the convergence of everything I’ve done in my career up to this point. My background is actually electrical engineering. I did that.
Bachelor masters in electrical engineering at the university of Waterloo, I started working in the hearing aid industry, a master’s degree, and then the left, the foreign service. But before I left the hearing aid company, I had started a little research group and I was invited back as a founding precedent of a spinoff tech company.
The lobster company in Waterloo, Ontario called DSP factory, which, uh, develop the first generation digital hearing AIDS for about five years when we had our breakthrough. I just felt that, um, you know, I wanted to get involved in the not-for-profit side of things. So I joined an organization in a sort of a second in command role to help them with a restructuring, um, was there for about five years, moved to a national action recovery charity.
Started as their chief operating officer and then came the CEO in 2013. But after seven years of the, uh, addiction organization, I knew it was time for a change and up pop opportunities, international Canada. So I threw my hat in the ring and I’m really blessed to have been given the opportunity to lead this amazing team forward to the next level.
So, uh, that’s how I found myself at the helmet. OYC.
So let’s talk about coronavirus here. Dan, what were your immediate thoughts when coronavirus and COVID-19 started to hit the media and started to have an impact here in Canada as well?
Dan Murray: Well, you know, I think like everybody we in the early days could see it unfolding in China and some on the back of our mind felt this was coming, but still, I don’t know.
Uh, when I could see it all unfolding, I just thought. You know, there was a lot of fear. There was a lot of uncertainty. Uh, I knew we had to act fast. I called our team together on a zoom call and that’s, you know, as I alluded earlier, I just told everybody, you know, canceling all international and domestic travel until this thing settles down.
You know, we already know how to work in zoom, where we’re going to have to bring that to everything we do, whether it’s partnering with our partners in the countries where we serve, or whether it’s a, you know, the fundraising activities that we’re engaged in, we’re going to have to figure out a way to pivot.
I was obviously worried as things started to snowball, when the economy started to shut down. We live on donations and many of our donors are hit by, does she know there? The companies are shut down. Their revenue is reduced. The wealth was reduced with the hit that the stock market was taking. So there was a fair amount of uncertainty as to what would be the impact for us.
Fortunately. We are fairly lean and we had a very strong 2019. So we entered into 2020 in a historically healthy position. And, um, you know, we kind of felt that we were on a bit of a, uh, I move forward to grow the impact of be able to help more people with the work we do when. Suddenly we were hit by a COVID.
What we have found is that, um, we had some strong supporters early on who said, yes, we’ve been hit, but we’re, I’m gonna stand with you anyway. You know, in other words, they’re willing to sacrifice a bit to stand with us as we’ve moved, moved along on this journey, we found that there are organizations that are actually actually thriving in the pandemic.
And there were other organizations that are really hurting. We’ve tried to work with our owners with. So compassion. And our first thought is, how can we help you? How can we work with you? How can we support you? And, and for those that, that can help us great for those that can’t, you know, we understand.
And so it’s been interesting to watch, but the other pivot we made is that, um, our clients and our partners are hurting far more than we are. So yes, this is a health crisis here. It’s a health crisis globally. It’s also an economic crisis and it’s impacted the countries we serve far more dramatically than it has impacted us.
So our microfinance partner are suffering from liquidity and cashflow problems because the thousands clients they have, you know, can’t, can’t make loan payments. If they’re not working. Uh, they can’t feed their families if they’re not working. And so a lot of the portfolios were frozen. So we had to very quickly adapt as well.
Let’s say, you know, all the other programs that we were looking at supporting in the coming year, we really just want to back off on those and focus primarily on raising funds to help our partners, uh, survive this and, and our donors responded. So we’ve actually had a. We’ve had a giving level so far this year that, that exceeds giving levels in previous years, a year to date, as people have responded so that we can step in and send funds down to, to our partners, to help them with their liquidity, which, which in turn helps them to be there for their clients.
And there’s just been a lot of great stories of. Clients who are most of our clients are women. A lot of them are, we’re fairly new clients say in the Dominican Republic, uh, with the micro leasing program we have there, they had just started their little business and, and they weren’t making enough to even make ends meet.
And so our partners were putting, you know, uh, grocery care packages together to provide, you know, some, some food and that sort of thing. So I would say we, we, we didn’t know what we’re facing and, um, We just jumped into it with both feet and delighted to say that our, our supporters have been standing with us through it.
Ryan Kononoff: Thanks for sharing Dan. So before the crisis hit. As an organization, what was your biggest challenge? And by your, I mean, for opportunity to national, what was the biggest challenge that you were facing coming into this?
Dan Murray: Yeah, certainly before the pandemic, um, you know, as I’ve taken on the helm, we as an organization have, you know, we’ve been at the same, more or less level of.
A mission impact. If I put in dollar figures, it’s in the eight to $10 million a year, about half of that from government funded projects, half of it through privately funded projects and the real goal for an organization like ours is, you know, how can we do more? The need is so much greater than we’re able to meet.
And so we were really embarking on a journey of figuring out how we could expand the, the size of our funding base. So there’ll be, could do more. And we actually launched a new three years strategic plan in January, and it was focused on, you know, restructuring a little bit so that we focused our resources in the best way possible, raising more funds and having more mission impact.
It was just simple as that. That’s where we that’s where the money your team was really focusing a lot of their energies that we’d, we’d launched a brand new, a, what we call a program perspective, the level line, the number of project initiatives we wanted to launch into this year. It was hot off the press in, um, February.
Yeah. And then covert hit. So it just. It’s like running into a wall at that point,
Ryan Kononoff: you talked a little bit about the shifts that you had to make, and I think you alluded to it a bit earlier. In some ways we’re probably all a little bit tired of hearing about, you know, pivot and shift and adapt, but I mean, that’s ultimately what we’re all doing, um, and what needs to happen.
These are just the new buzzwords of 2020. So. Can you talk a little bit more about what that has looked like as an organization, as you look to serve and continue to provide an impact, how has your business model shifted from what it was or what you thought it was going to be focused on in 2020 to what it is today?
Dan Murray: It’s interesting. The word pivot. Really applies so well because kind of implies you are moving towards a certain direction and that in a very quickly had to turn and move a slightly different direction. And so like every other organization has had to address the challenges of COVID. We had to figure out what that looked like for us.
And I, you know, the pivot has happened before operationally it’s happened in our fundraising. It’s happened in how we target the supports for our clients. It’s happened in our partners’ lives and it’s happened in our client’s lives. So everything that. That we do is actually been impacted by the, uh, and probably more by the economics challenge than, than the health challenge of COVID-19.
And so, as I’ve, as I said before, we had to, we had to stop all of our, um, in-person fundraising activities. We, and a lot of charities are in the same situation where they have large events. Plant and they were just canceled. Fortunately, our team is very creative and it turned many of our in person events into online, virtually Wentz.
And that’s continuing throughout the summer. We also are very relational on our fundraising. So, you know, what we’ve found is that people are. Available, especially in the early days. And people are tired of hearing about COVID now, but you know, in the early days, if you needed to meet with a donor, you worked for weeks to find a time to have lunch or coffee or something.
And now it’s a quick email. Hey, can I meet you over zoom? And you’ve got a meeting the next day. We also are found we can do larger. Events where we can get more people to attend, because we’re just asking for an hour and a half of the time. It doesn’t matter where they live. So it’s actually enabled us to leverage much greater impact in terms of reaching people with, with the work we do.
So, so we’ve had to pivot on how we fundraise. We’ve had to. I’ve stopped a lot of the work that we were doing on our strategic plan and the operational operationalization of that to focus strictly on keeping, you know, the team, keeping the morale up, uh, you know, invest for the first, uh, three months of the year.
We’ve doubled the number of all staff staff meetings. Uh, all the various sub teams meet on a regular basis. And I tried to sit in as many of those meetings as I. You know, as I could, we brought in a psychotherapist to talk to us for an hour or one of our staff zoom calls, just to talk about, you know, healthy ways of dealing with the stress of this that everyone was experiencing.
We, you know, we had to look at our own financial picture and make sure that we were healthy. Um, I was prepared to take a pay cut and. Do whatever we had to do, we had to do it fortunately up to this point, we haven’t had to, we did benefit a little bit from the government subsidies on the wage side of things for a few months when our fundraising was down.
But since we made our appeal to help our donors and to help our partners, rather through this time, the fundraising has been so strong. We don’t qualify for the, for the, uh, The wage subsidy for a few months there, but you know, that’s probably good. Anyway, work we do in the field is the most important thing, you know, in our, when you think about a micro bank serving 15,000 clients and all of a sudden for three months, those clients aren’t working, there’s a line in the work we do that said stay at home means start at home.
And, you know, as often many of the clients we do have, uh, the work that they do that day is putting the food on the table that night. And. So if they can’t feed themselves, they’re not making loan payments as creating, you know, massive financial challenges for our micro bank partners, because they’re not like large banks with huge reserves.
So the loans that they issue and the interest on those loans is what pays the salary of the staff. You know, so it’s a sustainable model, but when it takes the hit of, of, of the pandemic, it’s created stresses all along. So that’s why we totally pivoted our program orientation towards helping our partners survive through this time.
The best thing we can do for our partners is to stand there with them and provide the funds that they need so that they, you know, they can get those, that money into the hands of their clients so that they can start working. Again, people have a lot of energy, a lot of drive. They, uh, people that we serve, they’ve learned how to survive in situations far, tougher than any of us could have.
I say that if you know, microfinance is one of the most sustainable ways to journey out of poverty, and if it was important before the pandemic. It’s even more important post pandemic. Uh, there’s a risk that this pandemic will introduce more than a hundred million people back into, uh, severe poverty, the kind of poverty worry, you know, you don’t have enough to eat.
And, um, we just, we just don’t want to see, we don’t lose a decade of gains that were made in poverty reduction.
Ryan Kononoff: When we talk about, uh, you know, how this. Started to hit us in March and, you know, day by day, we were, we were learning more about the impact that this was having and the impact this was going to have as things started to shut down.
And now that, uh, we’re coming into summer and by the time summer wraps up, we’ll be into this for six months as far as, as, as Canada’s concerned. What do you see as your greatest challenge when you think out six months or out another 12 months as we start hearing about. The second wave or, or what this may look like as far as the future of our global economy and, uh, banking and lending and just the general change around society as a whole.
Dan Murray: Yeah. I think we’re all sort of in this waiting period to see just how bad it might get, what the second wave. We don’t know what the economic recovery is going to look like. Nobody does. It’s definitely not going to be a V. Certain sectors are thriving. Others are gonna, there’s going to be permanent structural change and, you know, sad, this whole groups of people that are unemployed that are going to have a real tough time.
I think it’s going to introduce major social changes. You know, things like a guaranteed minimum income is which would have been like politically impossible perhaps to make, you know, even a year ago. I saw an article where I think. Former prime minister by Mulroney was recommending, you know, that that’s your government actually considered guaranteed minimum income things like the Serb, if you pull them away.
And then suddenly people aren’t able to pay their rent and put food on the table and not for lack of trying to find a job. So we’re probably looking at social structural changes in our country that. Um, well, perhaps maybe for the better, it depends on your perspective, but, um, I do believe the economy will recover.
I think people are entrepreneurs in particular are very creative and, um, you know, we’re resilient. Canada’s a resilient country. Uh, you know, I, I, I do believe we’ll bounce. The partners that we work with are very resilient as well are our supporters and donors. And so I’m, I’m mildly optimistic that we’ll make our way through this.
And well, they kind of keep things together and be there for partners, but I’m obviously concerned like everyone else, but if, if there’s a. A second wave. And if, uh, if the economy continues to lag, that’s obviously gonna affect our ability to do the work we do. And, uh, so in the back of my mind, I’m always concerned about what’s that going to mean for us?
So we’re just trying to stay ahead of the curve, you know, it’s yeah. We’re not a business, we’re a charity. Uh, we need to be as entrepreneurial and, uh, Creative as anyone else. And so we’re, we’re doing everything we can, you know, virtual inside trip, I think is a brilliant idea that our teams come up with.
And, uh, and, and I think it’s going to tap into resources that we wouldn’t otherwise see available. We’re looking this fall during a number of, of events, a sort of a hybrid blend of, uh, virtual events and in person and where possible there’s a whole. Extreme of things called dine with dignity, which might be a small group of 10 people getting together and hearing stories about what we do.
We’ve created a video that talks, that was the story of a, of another client in a really compelling way that, you know, I think nothing really communicates what we do. Yeah. Better than hearing from one of our clients directly as to how, you know, the, the access to these services has changed there life and made it possible for them to provide for their family.
So we’re just determined not to sit back and wait for. The things to hit us. We want to get ahead of the curve on this stuff, because at the end of the day for us, it’s the mission. Like if, if we can’t do our job here and raise the funds we need to do. Then our clients are the ones that are going to suffer.
We just simply can’t let that happen. So we know the resources are out there. Uh, we’d set to find different ways to access them. And, uh, we’re going to turn over every rock and try everything possible well that we can within the limitations of, of social distancing, uh, to get the word out is what we’re doing and, uh, and grow that base at least keep the base the same so that we can all stand with our partners during this time.
Ryan Kononoff: So Dan you’ve talked a lot about innovation or adapting pivoting. We use that word a few times.
How are you maintaining that mindset as an organization around innovation, like how are you rallying your team? Because I know you’ve got a great team behind you there at opportunity, but how are you doing driving that innovative mindset forward on a day by day basis inside the organization?
Dan Murray: Things I really find is really important is empowering and encouraging the team. No, that they, they already their way, right. Better position than I am to come up with the creative ideas that they need. I, you know, that’s their job. And, uh, and they are a dynamic, uh, creative, energetic, entrepreneurial bunch.
And so the best thing I can do sometimes is, you know, encouraging get out of the way. And, uh, and so. We do, you know, we do meet regularly and you know, it’s important to celebrate the wins, but I think everyone in our organization does what we do because we absolutely care about the clients we serve. And I think that’s probably what drives the innovation.
You have to have a why. Right. And, and for all of us, our, why is any number of clients that we’ve met personally and seeing the difference that the work we do makes in their lives. And we know that if we don’t do it, our job, then they’re the ones that they’re going to be left behind. And so I think that that is the sort of engine of innovation that makes us go that second mile to find that different idea that.
Different way of doing it, and it’s not rocket science, but it does require a certain passion and a certain drive and a certain commitment. And, uh, you know, I, I can’t say enough about the team that I do have. I’ve often said if it, if it dependent on the leader, uh, if it depended on my skills, then we’d be done as an organization.
But if you take the, uh, the sum total of the team and the individual skills and contribution that everybody brings, and if you can find a way to set that free, you know, the organization isn’t can, can be on rocket fuel. The mission drives our team, or, uh, you know, you, when you sit on staff calls and people start sharing clients’ stories, um, number of tiers you see around around the zoom screen is pretty amazing.
And this has gotten somewhat personal, um, You know, we have a, a long time part or in Nicaragua that we’ve been working with for about 20 years. In fact, I believe opportunity canvas first partnership with a microfinance institution was in Nicaragua and, uh, and the CEO is a guy named Juan LOA who. It was in the seventies and is considered the Dean of microfinance.
And that in America, just a wonderful gentleman, former banking career, decided to shift into the, the not-for-profits sphere to help the poor and his country. And he’s had tremendous impact over that 23 years, he served at that organization, but COVID took him. He passed away last month. From Colvin. I had the privilege of meeting him last August in Columbia when we got together with the CEOs of all of our Latin American partners and just a, a wonderful, inspiring man.
And, uh, you know, we were working with him on a strategy to get to rebuild this portfolio. Cause it had been hurt by some of the unrest Nicaragua two years ago. And, um, right up until he was admitted to the hospital, we were looking at a business plan product and to get a local partner back on their feet.
And he says you, yeah, I’ve got a bit of a flu, um, uh, I’m going into the hospital and. Two weeks later he was gone, you know, so it, it struck home. Um, and our, our team was devastated because the connections go way back, but it’s also made us more determined than ever now to preserve his legacy by helping that partner, uh, grow and thrive.
And, uh, so we need to inject the serious, uh, you know, set of funds, uh, to help them rebuild their portfolio. And when they rebuild the portfolio, you’re talking about. Thousands of small loans to people who otherwise don’t have it chance. And, um, I’ve sort of said, you know, this people will say a microfinance is, it’s not a handout, it’s a hand up, but I’ve said, you know, it’s not even a hand up, it’s a hand shake because is it’s really a, a transaction equals.
Right. And, and it’s, and the dignity of that is something that I just find unbelievably inspiring.
Ryan Kononoff: So when we talk about what’s next for opportunity, I mean, you’ve shared some great inspirational stories. You know, there’s a whole lot of virtual next. There’s a, perhaps a, you know, as you’re, as you’re enabled to there’s some, some, you know, resumption of physical gatherings or meetings as you’re, as you’re able to, what’s got you most excited when we think about the future of opportunity national Canada.
Dan Murray: You know, I want us to, um, hit our mission, uh, far beyond what people think we’re capable of. I don’t believe we we’ve come close to scratching the surface of what opportunity Canada’s capable of doing as part of the global movement here. So I’m, you know, I’m, I’m quite excited for us to build on the platform of success we’ve had, uh, to see some more significant, um, Government funded projects like the, the massively transforming project we’ve been running in Ghana for the last three years.
Um, and, and kind of building on the success of that. I want to see our fundraising team probably double the level of fundraising that they’re able to accomplish. And the whole point of that of course, is so that we can just have a much greater footprint, um, of impact and see more lives changed. So micro finance, uh, has this incredibly leveraging power and we’ve seen it now, uh, venture outs and what I would call moving laterally as well as vertically.
So vertically, you know, down into the ultra poor, as I talked about in Haiti. But also up into what we call micro SMEs, where, you know, it’s a small business, a small to medium size enterprise, a micro level where we’re helping one person run organizations grow so that they are able to hire three or four of their neighbors.
And this. One of my colleagues has a saying that is know not everyone’s an entrepreneur, but everyone needs a job. You move up the economic ladder jobs and communities, but it also branches out into sector specific area. The power of microfinance has over the last eight to nine years is leveraged a, a dramatic growth in schools in areas where there was no access to education is created, uh, opportunities for.
Uh, several million students over 5 million kids so far been able to access quality education that they couldn’t otherwise just by, uh, helping a small entrepreneur, start a little private school in a rural area. These people aren’t doing it to get rich. They’re doing it to bring educational services to their communities.
We find the same thing in Agra finance, you know, we’re small landholder farmers that have, you know, just a few acres, but by investing in them with small loans and with. So access to aggregate better technologies, they can dramatically increase their crop yield. And as a result, you know, provide for the family girl, we’ve seen the same thing in the health sector, providing health services to remote communities, by tapping into the microfinance channels that are already in place a women typically in places like India and Haiti.
Now are trained in basic first level healthcare, they also are, are selling things like, uh, they, they manufacture their own sanitary napkins and can sell those, which has a dramatic impact on, um, on local health as well. And so these become sustainable, right? These women generate their own revenue, but they’re also bringing healthcare services to millions of people in rural settings.
We’re addressing things like a refugee camp. You know, you don’t think of a refugee camp. As having a local economy, but some of these refugee camps are almost like cities. They’ve been there for 20 years and they have a, an incredibly vibrant local and a microfinance can help people will move forward with their own financial independence.
The youth bulge on there’s a massive demographic shift in Africa, in particular where teens, um, you know, number adults, and, uh, as they graduate from school, there’s no jobs. And so how do you provide microfinance opportunities for. Uh, for young people, you know, to start their own businesses and move forward, climate change, you know, how do you help the poor be resilient in the face of traumatic climate events?
You know? And so there’s a lot of work being done on, uh, on resiliency and finding ways to, you know, print news, predictive technologies to look at. Maybe emerging drought areas and see, you can be smarter in how you’re working with the farmers. It’s just a lot of really innovative things. We just want to be a part of that and we want to be part of the solution going forward
Ryan Kononoff: so for those that they’re listening. oAnd Dan, maybe they’re struggling in their organization. Maybe it’s a, not for profit, but maybe they haven’t found a way to pivot or to shift or innovation just been really tough for them to come about what suggestions or resources. Have you used, or could you recommend, uh, to those listeners?
Dan Murray: That’s a great question.
Cause I think for me that, uh, if it wasn’t for the team that I had, I think we’d be in a much different situation. So I inherited a great team. And since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to add to that. Build that team and strengthen them and pour into them. So, uh, you know, I, I suppose my best advice would be pour into your people and, um, together, you know, you’re going to find the answers if you’re trying to do it all on your own.
Um, you know, I just don’t think that. That’s going to be successful.
Ryan Kononoff: Dan, I think that’s a remarkable recommendation, especially at a time like this. When we look at the businesses that are really thriving out there and even the ones that are surviving and maybe shouldn’t, they’re beating the odds. I think that the common thread that, uh, You know, that I’ve observed is the investment into people and reliance on people and their ideas.
And just showing up every day, you know, and asking the question, Hey, what, what can I do? How can I help? And, uh, and I think the human aspect is, is really, uh, an important one as we talk about, uh, Innovation and of course resilience.
Dan Murray: And that’s, I think that’s the best hope for us in Canada going forward too.
Right. Just figuring out a way to tap into that. Um, I, I just love the, um, a lot of the changes that have been coming about, or at least the pressures for change around, uh, black lives matter and diversity challenges that people seem to fear, uh, diversity. But, you know, I believe if you open up opportunities for people that haven’t had access to it, it actually causes the economy to grow and it creates more of.
Trinity’s for everybody. Right? So it’s, it’s not a zero sum game. I think people tend to look at things like it’s a zero sum game. It’s either I get the opportunity or you get the opportunity. But I think if we all get the opportunity that the pie grows and everybody gets a chance to kind of move forward and it’s very much about people and dignity and, you know, empowering folks that they feel like they have a seat at the table.
Ryan Kononoff: Absolutely. Well, Hey Dan, thanks for being on the show. Two final questions for you. The first one is how can we support opportunities for national? If someone’s listening, they want to get involved. What’s the best way to get involved?
Dan Murray: Well, certainly, you know, go to our website, which is opportunity international.ca and there’s lots of information there.
Um, there are events that are taking place across the country know typically Ontario and westward. Although now with many of the events being virtual, there’s no geographic limitation to participation in many of them, but again, on the website, there’s just a wealth of information there that you can read to learn more.
Uh, reach out to me or anyone else, if you want questions. And, you know, as you try to do your own research on the work that we’re doing, and of course, we’re always happy to, I take a donation, uh, but for us, the nation is just part of the journey. We really like to partner with people who believe in what we’re doing and, and find ways that we can help you to experience the amazing impact of, of helping to change lives around the world.
So, yeah, go online. If there’s an event that’s taking place place in your region that you want to. Join in and learn a bit more. Um, that’ll be, you know, you’ll meet a few people and here’s some stories and that’ll help you to understand even more.
Ryan Kononoff: Love that thing. Thanks, Dan. And so, uh, last question, uh, what’s the best way for people to reach you if they want to connect with, with you, Dan?
Dan Murray: Uh, certainly, uh, send me an email. If you want to dMurray@opportunityinternational.ca uh, happy to respond to an email, you can also go on our website and. And use the contact us a facility there and say, you’d like to reach out to me. Um, I’m, uh, you know, I’m an open door.
Ryan Kononoff: Fantastic. Thanks so much, Dan. Appreciate you taking the time today.
Dan Murray: Hey Ryan, thanks for having me on your show and, uh, this, uh, it’s great to be able to chat and I do look forward to meeting again in person once the once we’re allowed to do that.