How an abandoned child became a champion of the poor!

David Bussau

‘I don’t know who my parents are. In the orphanage I was brought up in, the emphasis was on self survival … one would come up with different approaches to solving life’s problems.’
David Bussau, ‘Opportunity International’

David Bussau is an inspiring social entrepreneur who has been hailed for his innovative approach to solving world poverty. He challenged the conventional wealth redistribution model of development by pioneering a unique process known as micro enterprise development (MED), addressing the root causes of poverty through responsible wealth creation.

Bussau is the co-founder of Opportunity International (OI), an organisation that provides small loans to budding entrepreneurs in 27 developing countries, empowering them to start or expand their own small businesses.

Bussau is a successful entrepreneur himself who started life in an Anglican boys’ home and launched his business career at 15 with a rented hotdog stand. Twenty years later, at the age of 35 and with numerous successful businesses to his credit, he “retired”, having reached what he refers to as the “economics of enough”. In 1974, Cyclone Tracey hit Darwin and, answering a call for help, Bussau moved his family north and headed up a national movement to assist the victims. Soon after, Bussau began aid work in Indonesia and eventually endowed a private foundation committed to responsible wealth creation and entrepreneurship, believing this was the best way to alleviate global poverty.

Bussau challenged the conventional thinking that poverty is inevitable and hopeless. Instead he adopted a view that there are many creative and talented people among the poor and they do not have to be perpetual dependents.

“Each of us has the capacity to be incredibly productive and those who realise this are the ones who make the difference in the world,” says Bussau. “For me the challenge is to find ways to release that incredible potential in human beings, to enable that creative force and drive to be expressed.”

Recognising that the key to building any small business is access to credit, OI has distributed over one million loans since it began nearly 30 years ago. Since 1997, OI has created more than 2.4 million jobs and in 2003 alone the organisation distributed over $200 million to 700,000 loan recipients creating or sustaining over 920,000 jobs.

According to the World Bank, by tackling the causes of poverty at the grass roots, this method has proven to be one of the most effective and sustainable ways to solve poverty. A Manchester University study has shown that for each job created, on average six people are permanently taken out of poverty and 13 people in the community benefit, so over five million people were potentially helped by OI in 2003 alone.

In December 2003 David was named the Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year. He will now go on to represent Australia at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo in May 2004. In 2001, he was featured on the ABC television series “Australian Story” and was awarded the Order of Australia for services to International Development. In 2000, he was chosen by The Bulletin magazine “as one of Australia’s 10 most creative minds” because of his innate capacity to respond to poverty in a new and creative way.

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