The mission of Going Global is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
OAK BROOK, Ill. – Opportunity International in Oak Brook, Ill. strives to reach the world’s poorest people through its microenterprise development programs. Its mission is to provide opportunities for people in chronic poverty to transform their lives.
John Kamperschroer joined Opportunity International in July 2000 and is its vice president of marketing. He is involved in recruiting, training and managing several major gift fund-raisers. He is also involved in the areas of planning, communications, marketing and donor acquisition and serves a major donor portfolio of his own.
International expert Michael Muth sat down with Kamperschroer to learn about the organization’s international partnerships.
Michael Muth: In which countries have you been most successful? Why?
John Kamperschroer: We’ve been very successful in the Philippines. Nearly 60 percent of our borrowers are there. We’ve been there for 25 of our 33 years.
We have nine partners in the Philippines. Therefore, we have nine times the potential. The government has been supportive and has been loaning money to our partners. The partners have exhibited healthy competition and excellent leadership with one other. Nicaragua, Ghana and Russia are countries where we’ve also experienced significant success.
MM commentary: Leadership is key wherever you go in the world (even in Malawi and Zimbabwe).
MM: What percentage of your donations come from outside the U.S.?
JK: About 40 percent comes from our other network partners in the U.K., Australia, Canada and Germany. Of that 40 percent, about 60 percent to 65 percent comes from their respective governments. We tend to be 60/40 private to government in the U.S.
MM: Are there any technology business opportunities in the countries where you operate?
JK: Software in India and chip production in the Philippines.
MM commentary: I’ve got to believe these are no surprise to any tech entrepreneur who hasn’t had his head in the ground for the last five years.
MM: Why does Montenegro get 80 percent of the money Russia gets with less than half the number of clients?
JK: Montenegro makes fewer but larger loans in a larger business segment while Russia gives smaller loans to smaller businesses. The varying loans reflect the beauty of our work with autonomous organizations and with local leadership and staff who understand the challenges of their particular country and culture.
MM commentary: The bottom line here is different partners can operate with different philosophies to optimize their operations in different countries. It’s no different in business.
MM: Why do you have so many customers and loan so much in Ghana?
JK: Leadership. Also, we have 18 branches that really grew with a big scale up. It’s one of the more stable economies in Africa.
MM commentary: Economic stability in Africa is difficult to find.
MM: Why are the loan dollars per client so much smaller in Nicaragua and Colombia?
JK: Our average loan is $225. In Mexico, our average loan is $200. It’s $65 in Nicaragua and Colombia. Mexico is almost a second-world country while Nicaragua and Colombia are still third-world countries.
MM: Why are you still active in Eastern Europe?
JK: We’ve been there since the early 1990s and started the partners there with private funds and grants. There have been a lot of changes since then. That area is not our main priority today. Our primary focus is on Africa, the Philippines and Latin America.
MM commentary: Because Poland is already a member of the European Union, there’s little role left for Opportunity there. Croatia is doing relatively well, too. Russia is one of their success stories and it’s big enough to have room for many players. Opportunity should probably stay there.
MM: Why didn’t you enter China and Mexico until the last year or two?
JK: It’s been a long process with many hurdles. China is a different model for us. We had to establish a local guarantee fund to be used as collateral to borrow money from a local bank to loan to poor people. The loan fund had to come from the communist bank.
It took us a long time to work out that relationship. There, to borrow from someone who isn’t in your family is a “lose face” issue. Families will come together to buy things together. We’re establishing capitalism in a communistic society. Historically, because China has been an entrepreneurial society, you’d think we’d fly. In reality, it’s been a slow go. Stay tuned.
MM commentary: This is just another example of adapting to the local market and how different it is to do business in China when compared to the rest of the world.
MM: How do you work together with your counterparts in Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom?
JK: They are all equal partners within the network (just as with the implementing partner). They are also autonomous organizations raising money in their own markets. We get together from time to time to share best practices and learn from one other. There is a network umbrella organization that oversees everyone with a separate board of directors from both the supply and the demand side represented.
MM commentary: Opportunity International is quite progressive in adding many interest groups to its board and not requiring that the largest contributor of dollars has a proportional number of seats on the board. Boards are typically manned by locals from the country in which they’re headquartered. With all the talk of the global economy, Opportunity is one of the few organizations where their board matches different constituencies both from a functional and geographical point of view.
MM: How does each country contribute to Opportunity?
JK: Germany is the smallest because it’s newer. The U.K., Australia and Canada are about equal. Opportunity U.S. and Australia have been around the longest and the U.S. raises the most funds.
MM: What about the New Zealand Tearfund?
JK: They’re our only associate partner in the network. One of our founders (who is from New Zealand originally) has his own foundation called the Tearfund. There are certain projects that are associated with Opportunity that he contributes funds to.
MM: How religious is Opportunity International?
JK: We’re motivated by Christ’s call to serve the poor. We are a Christian organization. We don’t discriminate when we loan money and serve all beliefs without prejudice.
We’re in Indonesia, which has the largest population of Muslims in the world, and we’re in India, which is mostly Hindu. We are not evangelical. We’re ecumenical. Many of our donors are Jewish, have a nominal faith or are agnostic. Our core values are a commitment to the poor, respect, integrity and stewardship. They are the common thread through everything we do from top to bottom.
MM commentary: While adhering to Christian values, they don’t appear to be zealots. Still, I don’t know them well enough to say for sure.
MM: Why should local entrepreneurs support Opportunity?
JK: Our world is getting smaller and smaller day by day and yet we are very insular here in the U.S. We have the resources to make a difference around the world that ultimately affects us. That’s the best thing we can do: empowering people politically, economically, socially and spiritually.
This helps stabilize local communities, which affects our lifestyle here in the U.S. We’re part of the solution to world poverty. Entrepreneurs should be into supporting other entrepreneurs.
MM: How did you get into this?
JK: I studied television and radio at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. and was a DJ for nine years. I then realized I was neither good enough nor willing to make the sacrifices necessary to hit the big time. That’s why I moved into sports marketing with a few major league sports teams and with Infinity.
Five years ago, I felt the calling in my heart to something more significant. There was a position open at Opportunity International, which was an organization doing work that really resonated with my heart. Though I make about half what I was making in sports, I’m doing much the same thing now (except the end result is transforming lives of the poor versus filling stadium seats).
I have a stable of about 75 major gift donors and manage four people with similar portfolios. My work is gratifying. I serve as a conduit between the wealthy in the U.S. who’ve been blessed with a lot and I show them how they can use their resources to transform thousands of lives.
MM commentary: Please register with Opportunity International and answer their questions to qualify for the Ebinger Family Challenge. If you just sign up, they’ll donate $10 in your honor and it doesn’t cost you anything at all. Happy holidays!
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.
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