About this page
GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.
The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.
A note on this page's publication date
The last time we examined Opportunity International was in 2009. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it.
We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration.
The content we created in 2009 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about Opportunity International and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.
Published: March 2010
Opportunity International focuses on microfinance by working with partner microfinance institutions in a variety of ways (in some cases exercising ownership and in other cases having a less direct relationship).1
Our investigations of Opportunity International to date (details below) have not been able to answer what we consider key questions about an organization working in this area. These key questions include:
- What impact does Opportunity International's technical assistance have on Opportunity International's partner institutions (i.e., the banks it supports)?
- Is Opportunity International's due diligence on partner institutions answering the following questions:
- What are partner institutions' "true" repayment rates? (More on the "true" repayment rate on our blog)
- What interest rates do partner institutions charge and how do these compare to other available interest rates?
- How do partner institutions monitor clients' potential over-indebtedness? What steps do partners take to prevent potential intimidation of clients by loan officers?
- What are partner institutions' dropout and retention rates? (More on the importance of dropout/retention rates on our blog)
- What are partner institutions' methods for targeting the very poor, and can they demonstrate that they are successfully doing so?
Based on our evaluations, we cannot confidently recommend Opportunity International to donors.
Details of our evaluations
We have investigated Opportunity International at three times. Opportunity International applied for a grant in late 2009; we reviewed Opportunity International's website in mid-2009, and Opportunity International applied for a grant in late 2007. Details on each follow below.
Table of Contents
2009 grant application
We reviewed Opportunity International in late 2009 as part of our process to distribute $250,000 in funds to an economic empowerment organization in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Our review consisted of reviewing materials Opportunity International submitted in response to our questions and multiple phone conversations with Richard Spalholz, Regional Director.
The documents submitted during this process did not allow us to answer our key questions listed above.
Opportunity did stand out from other U.S.-based microfinance institutions for its survey of the standards of living of clients.2 This survey represents 33% of Opportunity's network of partner banks3 and gives some indication that clients served by Opportunity's partners are extremely poor.4 However, we could not obtain technical details regarding the survey--e.g., what questions were asked, how clients were selected to participate--and we therefore believe it's appropriate to consider these results with a modest degree of skepticism.
- GiveWell. Questions for microfinance charities.
- Opportunity International. Client development and tracking surveys. We do not have permission to publish this document.
- Spalholz, Richard. Opportunity International Regional Director. Phone call with GiveWell, November 6, 2009.
Additional application materials
- Opportunity International. Africa region update. We do not have permission to publish this document.
- Opportunity International. Funding priorities. We do not have permission to publish this document.
- Opportunity International. 2009. Trend review - Malawi. We do not have permission to publish this document.
- Opportunity International. Interest rate cost curves. We do not have permission to publish this document.
2009 website review
In mid-2009, we reviewed the Opportunity International's website as part of a process to identify top international aid organizations. (How did we identify charities for review?) We reviewed Opportunity International's website to determine whether it met either of the following two criteria, which we believe indicate whether a charity is likely to eventually be able to meet our full criteria for a recommendation: (Why do we rely on information found on a charity's website?)
- Does the charity publish high-quality monitoring and evaluation reports on its website? A charity meets this criterion if it freely publishes - on its website - substantial evidence regarding impact that (a) discusses how the impacts of projects or programs were evaluated, including what information was collected and how it was collected; (b) discusses the actual impact of the evaluated projects. (Why is monitoring and evaluation so important?) We seek enough evidence to be confident that a charity changed lives for the better - not simply that it carried out its activities as intended. Different programs aim for different sorts of life change, and must be assessed on different terms. We do not hold to a single universal rule for determining what "impact" we're looking for; rather, what we look for varies by program type. (For more, see, What constitutes impact?)
- Does the charity stand out for program selection? A charity meets this criterion if it focuses primarily on (or publishes enough financial information to make it clear that 75% of its recent funding is devoted to) what we consider "priority programs." These programs have particularly strong evidence bases, enough to lower the burden of proof on a charity running them. (Why do we look for charities implementing proven programs?) Such programs include administering vaccinations, distributing insecticide-treated nets, and treating tuberculosis, among many others. (For more, see our full list of priority programs.)
Opportunity International did not meet either of these criteria.
2007 grant application
We reviewed Opportunity International in 2007 as part of a process to provide a grant to an organization working to increase incomes in the developing world. Read the 2007 Opportunity International review.
Richard Spalholz, phone call with GiveWell, November 6, 2009.
Opportunity International, "Client Development and Tracking Surveys."
"Sample: 7,990; Client base: 2.7%; Partner clients: 296,545; Equiv. to 33% of Network." Opportunity International, "Client Development and Tracking Surveys," Pg 4.
The chart on Opportunity International, "Client Development and Tracking Surveys," Pg 4 indicates that about 60% of new clients live on under the equivalent of $2 per day, with over half of these living on under the equivalent of $1 per day.