Saturday, July 31, 2010

RWANDA: Great Reform, Growing Interest...

Rwanda has been gaining more and more interest from the international community. It is primarily because of the reformation that is taking place in Rwanda, "the heart of Africa" or "the land of thousand hills." Behind all this reformation is President Paul Kagame, who is now running for re-election as President for another seven (7) years. The election will be held on August 9th.
Reformation is taking place in all sectors: politics, women's rights, education, finance, ICT, agriculture, trade, mining, tourism, business environment, infrastructure, healthcare etc.
Politics: Politically, it is stable and secure. Despite some recent international negative press about Rwanda, we, residents in Rwanda do not feel the threat at all. Rwandan government maintains the policy of "zero tolerance for corruption." Many countries also say that too, but most fail to implement. Rwanda is actually doing it. Even President's aides and relatives go to jail once they are found to be guilty. No investors are experiencing any solicitation for bribe. No drivers are expeiriencing petty money solicitation on the road from the police, unlike in Rwanda's neighboring countries.
Women's Rights: In Rwanda's parliament, more than 50% of its members are women, the highest in the world.
Education: Rwanda has now 9 years of free education. The President is now promising a 12-year free education in the next term, if he is re-elected. Nobody questions his re-election.
Financial: Rwanda is reforming the overall financial sector, from banking to equity market to microfinance to insurance to a credit reference bureau. Still long way to go, but Rwanda is definitely on the move.
ICT: Rwanda was recently reported to have the third fastest internet connectivity in Africa. It is amazing. Moreover, it is now laying fiber optic cables throughout the country and it will soon be connected to the sea cable. No doubt, Rwanda will be the fastest in Africa, then. Currently, Rwanda has one computer per child program going on. In a couple of decades, these children will be the driving forces behind the country's ICT development.
Agriculture: Rwanda was the only country that satisfies all the requirements in 2009 under the Comprehensive African Agricultureal Development Program (CAADP) that has 25 African countries now. Rwanda's agricultural production exceeded the consumption for the first time in 2009. African countries are using the term "green revolution" in describing what is happening in Rwanda. It is now on the second phase of Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation in which Rwanda is investing $850 million.
Business Frienliness: Rwanda is ranked 67th in the World Bank's Doing Business Ranking. It was a jump from 143rd in the previous year and in the world history no other country has ever achieved this huge jump in one year. Thus, the World Bank named Rwanda "the most reforming country" in the world. No other African country has ever had this honor. Amazing.
Rwanda is reforming... big time. And unbelievably fast.
Tourism and Public Works: Rwanda is one of three countries that still have mountain gorillas and is attracting tourists for its mountain gorilla trekking and for its rain forest, Nyunguwe National Park and Akagera National Park.... Rwanda has six public construction projects to improve the infrastructure: Methane Gas Extraction Project (energy), Kigali Convention Center (business), Bugesera International Airport (transportation), Kigali Free Trade Zone (trade), International Railway Project --Tanzania to Burundi (transportaton) and Oil Pipe Project from Uganda and Kenya (energy). They all are happening at the same time.

Kigali has a city master plan in which the city will be able to house up to 4 million pepole. It has several centers of excellence for education, science, industry and finance. For example, one of Education Centers of Excellence will house the Carnegie Mellon graduate school for engineering...
Kigali will have two international hotel chain flags: Marriott and Hilton. (for the first time in East Africa)
Health: Rwanda already has a national health insurance (Mutuelle) that currenlty covers 85% of the population at $2-3 per year and the government plans to increase it to 100%. Of course, the coverage is poor and the waiting time is long. But it has a national health care service at this early stage of its economic development. This service is provided through 480 health clinics, a significant network compared to only 50 in its neighboring Burundi, for example.
The list goes on and on...
Because of this tremendous transformation that is taking place, Rwanda is attracting growing interest from the international community.

Nike Foundation, the fifth largest foundation in the world, brought all the senior management team to star the "Girl Hub" in Rwanda for the first time in Africa...
Caterpillar Foundation is now showing interest in providing support for the agricultural sector.
Gates/Master Card Foundation has granted a funding to provide agricultural finance and rural savings for five African countries through Opportunity International and Rwanda is one of them to be implemented through UOB.

Just to name a few...
EU, AU, IFAD, World Bank, DFID (UK), USAID, China, Japan and many other countries are committing resources to assist Rwanda in its development.
So far so wonderful. And thank God for what He is doing in this tiny inland country in Africa.
It is my prayer that this momentum will continue to be built up for the next seven years and beyond President Kagame, to definitely turn into a great success story that other African countries can turn to and learn from. In His story, it is about time for Africa to have such a model country. - Jeffrey

Friday, July 30, 2010

Microfinance Impact Assessment...

Many people are curious about the real impact that microfinance makes on the poor. Thus, many attempts have been made to assess this impact. Economically, there have been several reliable impact assessments; however, this impact assessment has become fuzzy and unclear in the social and spiritual aspects.

UOB has been working with Association of Christian Economists (ACE) in the U.S. to make an audacious effort to asses all three (economic, social and spiritual) aspects of the impact that microfinance brings to the poor. In April, two economists (Paul from Univeristy of Minnesota, Bruce from University of San Francisco) came to do the preliminary research and design. In June, another economist (Julie from Tuffs University) came to UOB with four graduate students from University of San Franciso, students under Professor Bruce, to conduct the initial research.

[Research students: (Left to Right) Kate, Espen, Evan and Tim]

These research students have surveyed for the past eight (8) weeks in three areas: Bugesera, amagana and Muhanga. They interviewedng approximately 330 households a half of which are UOB clients and the balance non-UOB clients, mostly non-borrowers of micro credit. Non-UOB clients were selected randomly to establish the basis for comparison. This process is called "randomized control diary." These research students have just completed their data collection from the field and will now conduct thorough analysis back in the states for the next six months.

Meanwhile, three economists (Paul, Bruce and Julie) have been approved for a concept note on developing a pragmatic tool (a simple 20-question survey sheet) that may be used by the lending staff on an on-going basis to monitor and assess the microfinance's impact for an extensive period of time. They plan to submit the final proposal to secure a funding to develop the pragmatic tool.

I pray that in the end we will be able to develop a pragmatic tool to conduct on-going impact assessment so that we make sure we invest the resources in the right areas in the way that will maximize the economic, social and spiritual impact on the poor. - Jeffrey

Saturday, July 10, 2010

'UOB Day' on July10th...

[We are a big family of 230.......... With Bishop John Rucyahana who was a preacher for the day.]
We hold UOB Day twice a year: one in January and the other in July. We held the UOB Day today, Saturday on July 10th.

UOB Day is a day when all UOB members gather together first to celebrate the Lord who is the creator of all, the savior of our lives and the ruler of all nations. He is the ultimate CEO of UOB. Second, on UOB Day we gather to fellowship with each other and to encourage each other. We give out awards to those who have served UOB for 5, 10 years and beyond. We also announce those who are promoted and pray for them. Third, we review UOB's performance. We rejoice in the success together with thanksgiving to the Lord, and share the challenges and plans to overcome them together.

Today, over 200 staff members gathered together in uniform polo shirts, wearing caps, and rallied for the Lord on what He is doing through us. Bishop John Rucyahana, a director of UOB's board, shared the Word of God. Based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-19, the Bishop challenged us as new creation to be the ambassadors of God, reconciling people to the Creator God. It was in line with our theme of "Arise and Shine." He asked us if we are shining as God's ambassadors. We were reminded that UOB is not an ordinary bank but a vessel of delivering God's message of love to the world, particularly the Rwandan poor.

We also delivered the Thurman Award to Chantal, one of UOB's clients, who won the Award from HOPE International. Also the lending team who helped her in the transformational process received a prize.

We shared the challenges we faced and the progress we made during the first half of 2010. We also shared the action plans we are taking to overcome the challenges. The second half will not be easy, but we resolved to work together as a team. TEAM stands for Together Everyone Achieves More.

This UOB Day had a special program of expressing appreciation to Ross Nathan who has served UOB for the past almost five years as Chief Operating Officer and sending him and his family off to Tanzania in a new assignment. Phil Smith, Vice Chairman of UOB's board delivered a message on behalf of the board and many colleagues also shared the moments of appreciation. We blessed him and his family with a prayer.

It was a wonderful gathering and I praised the Lord for what He will do for the rest of 2010 and beyond. - Jeffrey

Monday, July 5, 2010

Surprise Public Holiday...

In the morning on Monday, July 5th, I received two phone calls and two text messages from out staff, all informing me that today is a public holiday as the President made the announcement. "What ...?"

July 4th is the Liberation Day in Rwanda, celebrating the liberation of the country from the horrible genocide in 1994. This year, it fell on Sunday. Normally, the following Monday does not become a public holiday automatically because a holiday falls on Sunday. So if the government wants to make a holiday, then it makes an announcement usually in the morning of that day. Why can't they make the announcement a little earlier? The government seems so disorganized?

Perhaps... But there is another reason that the announcement is made in the morning on that day, rather than the night before or well in advance, like in many other countries.

If the announcement is made too early, the government is concerned that 1) people may choose to drink too much on Sunday and 2) people may sleep too long on Monday. The bottom line is that the government wants to see its people use this surprise holiday for more constructive purposes. Hmmmm...

I can sense that people could argue for and against this logic. What do you think? - Jeffrey