Opportunity International Canada - Global Microfinance Leaders gather in Vancouver

    VANCOUVER, Feb. 21 /CNW/ - Delegates from 34 countries converged in
Vancouver this week for a conference on microfinance, a poverty-reduction
strategy that enables the world's poorest people to create businesses through
small loans and other banking services. Held for the first time in Vancouver,
the four-day Opportunity International Network Leadership Conference is a
forum for senior microfinance leaders to share best practices and to assess
current industry trends. Keynote speakers include Elizabeth Littlefield, one
of the World Bank's senior spokespeople on microfinance.
    "Vancouver is focused on hosting the 2010 Olympic Games, but it also has
a role to play in hosting events like this which seek to improve quality of
life for the next century," notes former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen. "This
conference is bringing together the global leadership of Opportunity
International to focus on a solution to global poverty."
    During the event, some 200 senior leaders of the non-profit organization
Opportunity International will join representatives from other microfinance
providers such as Kiva, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and
World Vision.
    Immediately following the conference, the current Mayor of Vancouver,
Sam Sullivan, will attend a dinner with the Director of
Opportunity International in Africa, Colin McCormick, who will discuss how
microfinance impacts those on the lowest rungs of economic development. It is
estimated that more than 500 million people have yet to benefit from basic
banking services such as microloans.
    Microlending remains the most recognizable form of microfinance.
Opportunity International currently has more than 1.1 million loan clients,
who obtain the capital without collateral and use it to start or expand a
small business such as a market stall. While most of the world's poor are
overlooked by traditional banks, microloan recipients pay back their loans 98%
percent of the time, a repayment rate higher than most commercial banks. As
loans are paid back, they are lent out to other deserving entrepreneurs.
    "With microfinance there are no losers," observes Owen, "everybody wins."
    In recent years, the field of microfinance has expanded, branching out to
other banking services such as savings and insurance. One topic for discussion
at the conference is a recent $24.2M grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation to Opportunity International for the expansion of "micro-insurance"
offerings in Africa, Latin America and Asia. These new insurance services are
designed to protect small businesses from collapse in the event of illness,
death or crop failure.

    Opportunity International serves more than 1 million clients around the
world, helping them find their own way out of poverty through small loans,
savings, insurance and business training services. For more information,
visit: www.opportunityinternational.ca

For further information:

For further information: Media Contact: Jacob Buurma, Opportunity
International Canada, (416) 444-2448, jbuurma@opportunityinternational.ca

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