Eric Weaver was in an unusual position in 1994. He was a newly minted MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, but he couldn’t find a job that interested him. The kinds of places where he hoped to work didn’t recruit at business schools back then, so he was on his own. He was passionate about economic justice, and had visions of using the problem-solving acumen of business to affect change. It was the very reason he went to business school. Prompted by his experiences working with refugees in El Salvador and tenants' organizations in Washington, D.C., he saw how social justice efforts would benefit from business best practices.
To his surprise, it was a bank that came calling, actually a consortium of banks led by Silicon Valley Bank. The bankers knew that enhanced enforcement of the Federal Community Reinvestment Act under President Clinton meant they would need to ramp up investments in low-income communities. They hired Eric, put him in a cubicle at the Community Foundation in downtown San Jose, and asked him to create Opportunity Fund.
"I thought we might put together a million dollar fund and make a few loans and help a few people," Eric recalls. He had no idea what he was about to launch.
The tool the young Opportunity Fund first used to fulfill its mission was microlending – small amounts of capital, combined with business advice, to finance business startups and expansions. In 1995, Opportunity Fund made its first loan to Rick Juncker, lending him $25,000 to open his café in Sunnyvale. The amount was too small for a bank but more than he could borrow from family and friends — in other words, perfect for Opportunity Fund!
A few years later, Opportunity Fund looked at the other side of the banking equation, asking “Could we use savings to help individuals create the sound financial footing they would need for a lifetime?”
With support from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we began our microsavings program in 1999, offering savings incentives to families and current and prospective college students. This donor-supported program matches every dollar of savings with two dollars of incentive, helping people like Hazel Yabes, one of the very first savers, pay for community college. The program proved an essential boost to people like Hazel, empowering them to reimagine their futures. The donor community has embraced the vision of enabling all Californians – even the poorest of our neighbors – to save by seeding more than 4,600 new savings accounts.
STATE WIDE SCALE AND IMPACT
In 2000, Opportunity Fund started a new chapter when we became an independent, nonprofit organization. Today, we are the premiere microlending and microsavings champion in the nation, and among the fastest growing. Our donors continue to multiply right alongside the ambitions of our savers and borrowers.
Opportunity Fund leads California’s microfinance movement. We’ve grown from a cubicle in downtown San Jose to a team of more than 60 dedicated individuals advancing opportunities in the Greater Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles regions. Thanks to you, thousands of people like Rick Juncker and Hazel Yabes have been able to invest in their dreams.
Reaches $1 million in microloans
Converts from for-profit to non-profit
Receives Skoll Award for Innovation in Silicon Valley
Opportunity Fund is born
Provides first microloan, Erik’s DeliCafe
Opens first micosavings account
Opens 1,000 savings accounts and makes 1,000 microloans, since founding
Expands from San Jose to Greater Bay Area
Recognized by CNNMoney! as a “Top 10 Microfinance Company”
Expands microlending from Greater Bay Area to Greater Los Angeles
Convenes the Microfinance USA national conference with 800 attendees
Approves loans at the rate of five per day, investing $8,000 per hour
Celebrates 20th Anniversary. Impact since founding: $16 Million in microsavings by 4,635 savers; $50 Million in microlending to 2,237 entrepreneurs.
CEO Eric Weaver celebrating 20 years of Opportunity
Peter Xu, San Francisco, 2009 client
Opportunity Fund's Lending team, San Jose
Opportunity Fund's Saving Team
2013 Taste of Microfinance
2013 Taste of Microfinance
It's been an amazing 20 years, and now it’s time to celebrate! Just wait until you hear our plans for the next 20 years, and for decades to come!