Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Korean Missionaries in Rwanda and UOB...

Some of Korean Missionaries recently after fellowship lunch
There are 11 families of Korean missionaries, including a Korean American couple (us). They all are involved in the mission work they have been called to. Some plant churches and build nurseries. Others teach and train local pastors and preach on radio. Others help local churches through the Word and assistance for whatever the needs are. Others also get involved in providing health care. Others are doing development work, such as farming, planting trees or running quality nursery. Others teach children. They all play important roles in helping advance God's Kingdom on earth through their ministries and mission works.

Korean missionaries gather together once a month for prayer and fellowship. Through these fellowship gatherings, they pray for each other and encourage each other. Also some of them help the one and only Korean church in Rwanda, namely Agape Korean Church, through preaching and teaching children.

I am involved in holistic Christian microfinance through UOB and Kristin is involved in providing health care services and assistance in Christian education for young children. It is a development work with a mission for holistic transformation of the people we serve. Currently Kristin is involved in building a Christian nursery in Gicumbi. (Refer to the previous blog post.) Let me focus on UOB for now.

After one of the monthly fellowship gatherings
UOB is the first and largest micro finance bank in Rwanda. Its origin dates back to 1997 when World Relief started a micro finance as a post-genocide relief work. It became an independent entity in 2004 and merged with Opportunity International Bank of Rwanda in 2007 to become Urwego Opportunity Bank. It now serves more than 160,000 clients, the second largest institution in terms of the number of clients being served, in Rwanda, through 44 business offices operating in all 30 districts of Rwanda.

UOB is registered as a for-profit business entity, but profit is not the goal, but a means to be sustainable. Shareholders are international Christian NGOs that are not interested in financial return, but in holistic transformation of the people of Rwanda. So when profit increases, UOB finds a way to lower the interest rate charged to its clients or to go deeper into the under-served markets to serve those who have little or no access to financial services.

In fact, UOB has lowered its interest rates twice for the past one year because it has been profitable for the past two years. It has been God's grace that enabled us to do so. Since the pricing cannot be lowered too much to the subsidized level, UOB is seeking to go deeper to serve the under-served markets.

Along with providing financial services, UOB is providing its clients with the gospel and biblical lessons to life situations. UOB calls it Holistic Life Improvement modules or HLI. HLI has 60 lessons that help UOB clients learn to manage their business, their household finance and their health, all based on biblical scriptures and principles. UOB also distributes bibles. Two years ago, UOB distributed 6,000 local language bibles and in 2012/2013 UOB is distributing 7,000 English bibles to its clients. UOB is now thinking of engaging with local churches to share the evangelistic materials with them for their church congregation members. UOB staff goes through Process/Service Fit Tests by individual business units to make sure we are living up to the vision, mission and core values that we proclaim to stand for. We need to be transformed first to be transformative to others.
UOB's Home Office in Kigali

Thus, it is a holistic mission work. So I call UOB a Business As Mission or BAM, a business that itself is a mission of bringing the gospel to the underprivileged people of Rwanda holistically addressing all aspects of their lives. We have been privileged to be part of this mission work for the past full four years. They are 1,460 days and counting.

We wonder what God has in store for us in the next chapter. We pray for His enlightening guidance and we trust He will show us His way. In His time. - Jeffrey

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gicumbi Nursery Report #2

Nursery Under Contruction
Gicumbi Nursery construction is progressing well.

The church congregation members flattened the sloped land. (Photos below) The way the work was done was impressive. The pastor Innocent and several church members were proud of their work. This work was done approximately three weeks ago.

After the construction budget was established, the foundation work began. The pastor supervised the construction work himself. Apparently, he studied construction management skills for four years at his secondary school. On average, he is hiring 20-30 people, including skilled workers and helpers. Most of the helpers are believed to be the church members. So this construction project is helping the church members in their income also. Moreover, some non-church members begin to attend the church after this type of work. So it is also an evangelical opportunity! Praise the Lord!

They dug up the dirt and laid gravels and rocks to strengthen the foundation and put concrete and metal beams to frame the columns. We found the foundation work completed when we visited on January 17th.

We made the fifth visit on January 24th and found the building start taking shape with the brick walls rising. In Rwanda people tend to think leaving bare brick walls is not a good idea. So they put additional cement on top of brick walls. This is not only costly but also hazardous to health, particularly children. We made it clear that the brick walls will be left uncovered. So the brick wall quality is kept pretty clean. I suspect that the idea may have come from contractors for their commercial motive. Brick walls look just beautiful to me as you can find in the photos below.
Church members working

In the next two weeks or so, all brick-laying work is scheduled to complete. Then, the roofing work will begin. The frame for roofing will be done with wooden materials. The pastor has already secured a bunch of trees on the land right across from the Nursery construction site. So that he could save the transportation cost. Clever!

I felt grateful for the way the construction has been progressing. A friend of mine, who is a missionary from Korea and has done many construction projects was pleasantly surprised at the pace and quality of the work that is being done. We praise the Lord who has been exceedingly gracious to us on this project. We prayed for the pastor and the workers before we left. We plan to visit again next week.

Flattened ground
Flattened ground

The remaining work includes roofing, doors and windows, plumbing work, electrical work, furnishing and securing supplies. Up these works are hardware works. The real challenge is to get the operational and administrative work to be done. So it still is a long way to go.
Foundation corner

Foundation work done

Building under contruction
People carrying materials

Thank you for standing with us in this project through your support and prayer. May God bless you richly! - Kristin

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Power of Technology to Eradicate Poverty...

[This article has been copied from Opportunity International's Blog. For more articles, please click below]

The Power of Technology to Eradicate Poverty

Technology efficiently and cheaply brings financial services to people in remote or rural areas. It breaks through barriers throughout the developing world, where people are excluded from financial services because of illiteracy, expensive transportation and geographic isolation. With the support of our strategic partners, individual donors and dedicated staff, Opportunity International leverages technology to help free people from the cycle of poverty.
A typical cell phone used for banking in the developing world
A typical cell phone used for banking
We utilize cell phone banking, satellite bank branches, ATMs and point-of-sale (POS) devices provide low-cost, secure banking to formerly excluded clients. We are establishing points of access within one kilometer (about two miles) of a client’s home or business. We are migrating to cloud-based systems and developing of a new generation of skilled IT leaders to continue these innovations.

The Power of Technology

Client Marie-Claire Ina opens a bank account in Kinshasa, DR Congo
Marie-Claire Ina opens an account in Kinshasa, DR Congo
Marie-Claire Ina (left) opens abiometric-based account atOpportunity International’s bank in Democratic Republic of Congo. With support from theUN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), this is one of only a few places in the developing world offering this powerful technology. It requires only a fingerprint-embedded ID card to access an account. Even those who are illiterate or lack formal identification have control over their finances and a recognition many have never known.
Client Annie Nyangomba, Kinshasa, DR Congo
Annie Nyangomba at Opportunity DR Congo
Annie Nyangomba (right) holds out her finger to be read. She also is opening an account at the Kinshasa branch of Opportunity DR Congo. Annie says she was reluctant to open a bank account before because she thought it would be too expensive. But now that she has the structure of a bank account, she feels more secure and recognized. “Now I get more respect,”Annie tells us, “and I hope to see my social life change. I feel more secure for the future of my children.”

Gaining Access: Cell Phone Banking

Felicitus keeps her money safe and secure, and her business is a success.
Felicitus Mmboge in her Nairobi, Kenya shop
In Nairobi, Kenya, Felicitus Mmboge (left) uses her cell phone to save and transfer money, pay for goods, and accept payments in her beauty products business. She even receives and repays her Opportunity loans with her cell phone. Cell phone banking allows her to make these transactions without having to shutter her shop to visit a bank branch, saving her travel expenses and lost income.
Financial tools like cell phone banking, satellite bank branches, ATMs and point-of-sale devices strengthen communities. They increase security and keep Opportunity International’s clients close to their homes and businesses. Whether in rural villages or sprawling city markets, our clients have safe, affordable, reliable and convenient access to their accounts so they can keep their businesses open and avoid costly travel to the bank.

Opportunity International IT Conference in Kigali

Opportunity International (OI) IT Conference took place in Kigali, Rwanda, for three days, January 16-18th, 2013. It was the first time that Kigali hosted the conference.

Kigali has been chosen as the conference site because UOB has been known to have established an exemplary IT infrastructure and has launched several IT-enabled initiatives, such as mobile branch, Open Sky communication platform, card solutions (UOB Grace Cards) and an innovative mobile banking platform, called mHose, in cooperation with mVISA.

A total of 26 delegates came from countries like, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Mozambique, DR Congo, Serbia, Romania, Colombia, Mexico, UK, USA and Bulgaria. Several key IT vendors also participated to discuss about the IT strategies that will affect Opportunity International's future
UOB's Mobile Branch
business strategies.

I had a separate meeting with OI GMO's Chief Information Officer, Robert, and Rosa who has newly joined OI recently as Director of Mobile Banking.

I also shared the Word briefly when I was welcoming them to Rwanda, the Land of Thousand Hills and Million Smiles. The Word was faith in action based on James 1:27 and James 2:22.

After the conference on Friday, we arranged for a quick city tour, including the visit to Genocide Memorial. We also provided a small gift of Rwandan peace basket sets. They all appreciated the Rwandan and UOB hospitality. May the IT strategy will provide operational effectiveness and efficiency for the implementing members to further their efforts. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Student Tuition Fee Loan Launched...

These children want to go to school
UOB has been developing several loan products related to education. They are called EduFinance all together.

In 2012, we introduced Christian private school development and vocational school tuition fee loan. Also we were developing tuition fee loan for secondary students to be provided for loyal group clients. Finally, this product has been launched. It is still a pilot launch with only seven groups in three EBUs because we are still learning about issues we may face in the implementation process.

Secondary Student Loan or SSL has been developed in cooperation with Merry Year International in S. Korea. It is a Christian international development foundation. MYI has sent us an intern, Sungeun Choi, who has been working actively to develop this product. This product has been designed to help parents who cannot afford to make payment for the tuition fee upfront.  They are allowed to make payment in installments. Because of this affordability challenge for lump sum money, many teenagers, particularly girls, stay home doing house choirs or helping their parents in farming or running a micro business. It is our desire to see our SSL help increase their school attendance rate.

It is being offered to existing group clients who have good payment records. It is a reward program for loyal clients with satisfactory payment records because its interest rate is lower than business loans, it does not require any processing fee and it is waived from micro insurance requirement.

Once we refine the process, it will be scaled up to all EBUs for all group clients in April when the next school term begins. We may also consider expanding the program to primary school students unless we face different challenges. May this program prove to be helpful to the parents and students. - Jeffrey

Sunday, January 13, 2013

UOB Day January 2013...

UOB Day is now an important celebration for UOB staff. Twice a year, all UOB staff gathers together to celebrate Jesus for who He is and what He has done for us. Now it is the fourth year.

We gather together to worship, listen to God's Word, review how we performed and preview what we aim to achieve in 2013. In July we hold another UOB Day to check where we are. Our staff now loves this gathering because it is a great opportunity for everyone to get together and listen directly from the executive management and also to enjoy the fellowship with colleagues who are scattered all over the country.

The theme for 2013 is TRANSFORM. It is a spiritual theme for the year based on Romans 12:1,2. We ought to offer our whole life to Jesus as a living sacrifice because it is the spiritual genuine act of worship. To do that, we should be first transformed by the renewing of the mind. Then we should be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will. We would then be truly transformational in serving our clients. I intend to preach twelve times throughout the year centering around this theme.

UOB Gospel Singers
TRANSFORM is also UOB's management theme. As an acronym, TRANSFORM highlights the main programs and activities which UOB staff will focus on. They are:

Transformation first!
Return to basics!
Advance T24 to R10
Network CSPs for clients
Scale up key products
Finetune business processes
Outperform deposit goals
Retain clients
Conference Room
Mitigate all risks

In 2013, we intend to put much emphasis on our transformation, both corporate and client transformation. We have taken several initiatives towards this objective. May God walk with us, holding our hands in this journey.

Group Photo after UOB Day
Our staff appreciated the bonus, as depicted as "banana", that they received for 2012 performance. Obviously they all know that the "banana" is not coming without working hard together towards the goal.

The time to share a meal is also a time of great fellowship. We all wore UOB polo shirts and caps. We hoped to boost the unity among our selves with Jesus Christ as the CEO.

Praising together with HGU team
Handong Global University, a Christian school in S. Korea and one of UOB's partners, has a team in Rwanda, who is in the process of establishing a social enterprise eventually to help out the underprivileged people of Rwanda. This team, led by Dr. Myung-Sool Do, all participated in our event together. They even sang a Korean song to participate in our celebration.

May we seek God's favor and His face throughout the year! God, help us. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ministry Updates - December 2012

Traditionally, December is a busy month. Loan demand increases in line with increased economic activities. Deposit withdrawal also increases in line with increased spending over the festive season. People take time off and year-end closing routines still need to be done.
SBS singing at Carol Service
Children of our clients who wish to continue their study
I am so thankful that the month of December in 2012 has been finished without any major hick-ups. Operational and financial performances remained pretty flat in December from the previous month, but we are grateful that we were able to maintain excellent quality in our loan portfolio quality, operational efficiency, client service spirit and our love for the Lord and His people. 

The following are the highlights of December:

1. UOB held the quarterly board meeting in December. The board approved the proposed 2013 budget and the three-year (2013-15) Strategic Plan. The board also approved the payment of bonus to all staff, even temporary staff, thanks to a notable performance far above the budget. Our staff is happy and I am extremely happy for them.

2. UOB finally went live with its mobile banking platform, namely mHose, in line with the launch of mVISA, VISA's mobile banking platform targeting emerging markets. UOB is the world's first principal member of VISA as an MFI. UOB's mHose offers interest on deposit balances and free life insurance for its clients, on top of the mobile banking platform of mVISA that is interoperable. Also, UOB received approval from the central bank on its first batch of 26 agents to handle e-payment transactions for its clients.

3. UOB has now ordered and issued 50,000 debit cards (Chip and PIN) for its clients. They will be distributed during the first quarter 2013. Our clients will access 245+ ATMs and perform transactions at many outlets, such as other bank branches and agents through POS.

Mushroom growing at a client cooperative
4. UOB received approval for a GBP610,000 grant from DFID Rwanda under its Innovation for Education program. This grant will help UOB scale up its EduFinance program over the next 28 months. Praise the Lord!

5. UOB opened its Huye Branch in December. This branch will be the hub for serving clients in southern province. This branch is UOB's 10th branch and 43rd business outlet.

6. UOB is implementing its Spiritual and Social Performance Management system, or UOB SSPM, with 27 performance indicators. It will take time to implement them all, but 2013 will be the first year of formally measuring certain social and spiritual performances on UOB's transformation efforts.

7. UOB received a Social Audit report from Planet Rating sponsored by Oxfam Novib. This report shows what UOB is doing and how it is doing for its social performance. This will be used to capitalize on its strengths and strengthen its weaknesses. This was the first of its kind done at UOB.

8. UOB held a senior leadership offsite meeting and separate meetings with EBU leaders and branch leaders. Through these meetings, we introduced the new spiritual and management theme for 2013: T.R.A.N.S.F.O.R.M. This time we intend to go back to basics after the previous themes of A.R.I.S.E. (2010), S.H.A.L.O.M. (2011) and I.N. C.H.R.I.S.T. (2012). I plan to preach at UOB staff devotion with the new 2013 theme at the center. Also, it will be a reminder to all staff about the management theme.

9. Jeffrey continued serving God's people through preaching at Agape Korean Church and UOB Staff Devotions, and teaching at Shalom Bible Study. SBS members sang a special song at Agape Korean Church and participated in international and multilingual Christmas carol service at St. Etienne Cathedral. (Photo)

Gicumbi Church Members Working
10. Kristin continued following up on the Gicumbi Nursery project. God has provided all the funding needs and Kristin has sent out the first progress report to the supporters. The land has been flattened (Photos) and the foundation work will begin in January 2013. 

We would like to express our deep appreciation for your standing with us in prayer and support throughout 2012.  We look forward to continuing to work with you on many fronts in 2013. We request your prayer on the following subjects:
  • UOB will begin B2B (Back to Basics) movement in its core activities, including client training and group lending methodology. We ask you to pray for God's guidance in this process.
  • UOB will launch CSP (Client Service Point) strategy in 2013. This CSP Strategy is continuation to the previous e-Wallet Strategies that ended in December 2012 after two years of implementation. Upon successful launch, the CSP Strategy should help our clients significantly increase their access to financial services. We ask you to pray for God's grace upon this strategy.
  • UOB will implement its UOB SSPM and increase client training (HLI) significantly. We ask you to pray for God's blessing on this effort.
  • UOB will scale up EduFinance and Agric Finance programs in 2013, starting with the implementation of Secondary Student Loan, a tuition fee loan being implemented in cooperation with Merry Year International from S. Korea. We ask you to pray for successful progress. 
  • UOB will be featured by UNDP as a most successfully scaled up MFI in Sub-Sahara Africa. UOB has also been written up by Wall Street Journal. These are honors more than we deserve. Please pray that we will continue to put our trust in the Lord, remaining humble in what we do and with our attitude.
  • Please pray for God's special blessing upon the Gicumbi Nursery project so that many little children may be taken off the streets to the nursery to receive early childhood education that they deserve.
  • Flat land after the work
  • Kristin's mom is still at the nursing home and Jeffrey's father has been hospitalizedwith his Alzheimer's disease. They both have lived a long life, but please pray for their last part of life to be peaceful and hopeful for the life to come. Also pray for Joyce's life in Senegal to be fruitful and also to draw closer to the Lord.
We would like to wish you and your family a blessed New Year in 2013!

Gratefully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from RWANDA