Sunday, June 27, 2010

Something Better than Revival: Unity

The cover story of the June issue of Christianity Today was inspiring, encouraging and blessing to me. It covers the movement that is taking place among the churches and pastors in the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. All the pastors gather together to pray and fellowship together like many others in many other places. But what strikes me is that they go beyond this "fellowship ring." They actually do ministries together. There are many incidents that individual churches look at the interest of "the Church" beyond the interest of an individual church. This is the place where the "early churches" come alive and the spirit of "love one another" comes in action. Jesus told us to love one another so that the world knows that we are His discples. (John 13:34,35)

I hope you will be blessed and encouraged as I was by reading this article. It was refreshing to see something like this movement when we are living in the age of 'division' under the pretext of 'diversity' where in reality 'unity' is needed.

May the Lord bless you! - Jeffrey

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

KIVA Loans Posted and Fully Funded in Two Days...

After several months of planning, procedural development, staff training and client training, we posted 8 loans recently with Kiva website and all of them ($5,700) were funded in just two days! I was impressed by the effectiveness of getting the attention and interest from individual micro lenders around the world.

We plan to increase the posting gradually to $50,000 a month up to $600,000 in total this year. We are currently booking the loans for individual member loans within groups, but we plan to register agricultural loans and micro leasing products that generally carry highger risks than other microfinance loans.

Kiva loans are a good and cost-effective funding source for UOB and they are also an effective risk mitigation tool for loans of high risks. Viva Kiva!

Please visit if you are interested in learning more about the UOB loans on the Kiva website or Kiva program itself. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Speaking to New Members of KOICA...

Today, June 22nd, I had an opportunity to speak to the new members of KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency), Korea's international volunteer organization. With them, now KOICA has over 40 volunteers serving in Rwanda.

Most of them were young, but one member was over 60 years old and Rwanda is is the 6th country to which he has been assigned. After he retired more than a decade ago from the government post related to forestment management, he had been serving in 5 other countries, such as Indonesia, Guatemala, before his assignment to Rwanda. It was refreshing to see someone like him, knowing that many people of his age in Korea are wasting their experiences and expertise because the society is not prepared to accept them as work forces. Most of them give in to the societal norm, but Mr. Kim was different. He had a spirit of overcoming the challenges with progressive solutions. His spirit was high and his attitude was proactive.

There was another lady who appeared to be in her 40's. But she remained quiet and I could not learn more about her.

I talked about microfinance and UOB for an hour. After a question and answer session, I also talked about various other topics, such as Communication 101, Life Productivity Formula, Life Qudrants for Balanced Life, Priority Management.

It is always encouraging to interact with young people. May they bring constructive value to Rwanda through their services. - Jeffrey

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thurman Award to UOB's Client...

Hope International, a Christian microfinance network is giving out Thurman Award to the most transforming client story among all stories received from around the world. Thurman Award has been established in honor of Hope International's first CEO and his wife.

In 2010, this honor was awarded to one of UOB's clients, Chantal Nyiraneza. It was a great honor for Chantal as well as UOB.
The following article is quoted from Hope International's website.
Each year, the Thurman Award, established in honor of HOPE's first CEO and his wife, recognizes a client who demonstrates HOPE's values of perseverance, compassion, strength of character, and creativity. This year we are pleased to celebrate Chantal Nyiraneza: "one-lady business incubator."

As one of hundreds of thousands of orphans left in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Chantal Nyiraneza knows the necessity of relying on God’s care – and the joy of extending that care to others. Like so many Rwandans, Chantal found herself grieving the loss of her parents even as she faced the unexpected responsibility of caring for her two younger brothers and a cousin.

Rather than resenting her newfound responsibilities, Chantal saw them as opportunities to extend God’s love. In the 16 years since the genocide, she has continued to share this love, and the number of people she supports has only grown. Several years ago, she married another genocide survivor, whose two younger siblings joined the family. Together the couple adopted yet another orphan and had three biological children.

In order to help support their large family, Chantal started selling milk, sodas, and African tea to bicycle taxi riders and other passersby. A natural entrepreneur, Chantal soon saw that her limited menu was not attracting new customers. Undaunted, Chantal took out a loan of $35 from UOB. With this money, she slowly began to introduce various food items to the menu, including roasted goat meat, fish, and chicken.

Just as Chantal predicted, business has increased exponentially with this expanded menu. Currently on her 18th loan, Chantal now roasts two goats a day to keep up with the demand of her 200 customers, and her restaurant makes more money each day than she took out in her original loan. Chantal’s profits help provide food, clothes, and school fees for her nine children, and she has also built a new home that is large enough to comfortably house the entire family.

As Chantal’s situation has improved, she has in turn been directly responsible for improving the lives of her community members. Over the years, her restaurant has employed 28 people, and rather than viewing them as competition, she has encouraged each of them to use their experience at her restaurant to start their own business. With her encouragement and help, 20 of them have done so, forming a community bank to take out HOPE loans themselves. As one Thurman judge writes, “What is striking to me is that she is a one-lady business incubator, mentoring her employees and building their skill sets so that they can graduate from employment, start their own businesses, and access loans themselves. Her faith-in-action, and the joy she takes in sharing God's provision with others, embodies what HOPE International is about.”

Chantal, in turn, gives all the glory to God: “There is no way I could have changed my history without God’s help. God has done this that you see today.” And with God’s help, Chantal dreams of expanding her business to other underserved areas, spreading the impact of her business to many more individuals and helping to rebuild her country one person at a time.
What an amazing story it is! Praise the Lord! - Jeffrey

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative - AGI ...

Yesterday morning, Thursday June 10th, I had an honor of having a private meeting with the U.K.'s former Prime Minister Tony Blair, together with another bank CEO (Ben Kalpman), the central bank Governor (Mr. Kanimba) and Vice Governor (Ambassador Gatete, a former ambassador to the U.K.).

What...? Jeffrey Lee having a private meeting with a former head of state? Even a former head of state like the U.K.? Wow... I know... This unbelievable honor was made possible only because I was in Rwanda and serving the rural poor.

Tony Blair's Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) is to help African countries establish or improve their governance ultimately to help eradicate the chronic poverty, particularly in the rural areas. There are only few African countries that show tangible evidence of showing willingness to change or actually changing their governance. Rwanda is one of them. So Mr. Blair is a fan of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and working hard to assist Rwanda. I was invited to the private meeting to discuss how he can help improve the agricultural finance from the governance perspective. It was the same as having a meeting with the President himself because they are very close friends.

Former PM Blair was very gentle, pleasant but of course very sharp. I did not sense any authoritativeness that you could feel from people of his status or the conceivable British pride (sorry). But, I experienced the security guards of big body with earphone in their ears wearing dark glasses standing all around. I also saw the presidential suite where he was staying.

The meeting was not long and cut short because of his next meeting, but the conversation was sincere and informative.

Originally he was supposed to visit one of our branches, to listen to our presentation and to talk to our clients. But the schedule has been changed at the last minute because he has been called into an urgent meeting at Gaza (I suppose he is playing a role in the conflict at Gaza) and had to cut his visit to Rwanda short. But he said he would come back to Rwanda in October and he would call another meeting.

Tony Blair is one of few former heads of significant states, who are actively involved in various activities in the global affairs. ( Jimmy Carter is another. These people are making a big difference because they carry heavy weight but less political implication. Thus, they are usually effective mediators and peace-makers.

Thank you, Lord, for Mr. Blair's active and effective involvement in the global affairs even after his political career, particularly helping the needy, and for the wonderful opportunity to meet him! - Jeffrey

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Annual Leave... and Back to Rwanda

Kristin and I were out of Rwanda for the past five weeks, including a week-long conference and annual leave. That is why there have been only few blog postings in May.

The first week, I was attending the HOPE International's global directors' retreat at Lancaster, PA. (Please refer to a separte blogpost.)

After we stayed in Denver for a few days, primarily for the medical check-up, we flew to Korea. The primary purpose of the trip was to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. We spent quality time together. We thanked God for His grace to her and my dad (86th) and for their excellent health! We also saw our old friends in Seoul. (Please refer to a separate blogpost.)

After our visit to Korea, we traveled to Hong Kong and Japan. In Hong Kong, we saw a hustling and bustling city that has one of the highest population density in the world. Our visit to Japan centered around the historic cities: Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. In our eyes, Japan was a quiet, clean and stable country although my old memory of Tokyo (1982) was a metopolitan city.
We came back to Denver to take care of various household affairs. I came back to Kigali on June 5th, but Kristin will stay longer to finish up her health care management service for University of Colorado and closes it down. Also, she will clean up the house to be rented out. She will come back to Kigali on August 8th.

Every travel has two kinds of joy: the joy of leaving the routine and the joy of returning to your place. When I arrived in Kigali, I realized that it was where I belong. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful opportunities of traveling and of seeing family, old friends and various places of interest. - Jeffrey

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friends of Opportunity International and Rwanda in Colorado

On June 2nd, 2010, I was invited to speak to approximately 40 people who are friends or supporters of Rwanda and Opportunity International. Many have been to Rwanda or have been supporting Rwanda in various ways. Abigail, Regional Director for Opportunity International US arranged the gathering.

I was priviliged to speak to them about Rwanda, Urwego Opportunity Bank and what God is doing through UOB.

Many became convinced or re-assured that microfinance plays a pivotal role in helping reduce the global poverty. With so little money, it impacts the lives of the poor so much economically, socially and spiritually.

When you give things for free (relief), the recipients feel inferior to the givers, no matter how humbly you give. The recipients usually can not look into the eyes of the givers. It is because a vertical relationship is established between the givers and the recipients.

But not so with the microfinance. The lenders and the borrowers are on the level fields. The borrowers appreciate the opportunity to access capital, but they can look straight into your (leners) eyes, saying "Thank you for the help, but I have done my share. I have paid it back and my life has improved this much. I am proud of it!" When one learns how to fish, he can feed himself for the rest of his live, perhaps his family. This is far different from giving him fish to eat. The fish will serve as one meal, but he will need another fish tomorrow. Relief is not the solution for the global poverty although I admit that there is a role for relief when there is a crisis that dibilitates people from survival.

I am so glad that the Lord has called me into microfinance. There are a lot to learn and to do, but my desire alone cannot do much. So I have to surrender for Him to do His work His way in His time. It is not easy, but I will not give up because He has never given up on me. Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness. - Jeffrey