Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Microcredit for Americans... ?

Grameen America Logo
We all know that microcredit is a small loan for the poor. It could be a lot smaller, but it could go up to $10,000. We all know that America is a wealthy country. So we suppose that microcredit is not really applicable to Americans. Right? Wrong.

Like many other developed countries, there is a hidden inequality among people in America. 45 million people in America are believed to be living below the poverty line. These people also need to access money, not necessarily at an incredibly high interest rate and without too much paper work.

Generally, however, banks and other forms of financial institutions in America avoid microcredit just because it is far too small to make any money. It does not justify the cost of originating and servicing such loans. Conveniently, microcredit in America is for up to $50,000. That is an enormously high loan amount in developing countries. That would be called a high end of small medium enterprise (SME) loans.

So many micro businesses in America are left on cold feet without many choices in financing their business activities but knocking on the doors of payday loans or pawn shop where the financing costs could be as high as 400% in annualized percentage rate or APR.

Grameen Bank of Bangladesh found this niche market in America. They establish Grameen America several years and has been expanding gradually but surely. It now has six branches, making loans with an average balance of $5,000. No credit, no collateral necessary.

One of the poorest countries in the world is doing a lending business in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Sounds strange? But it is a reality.

New York Times wrote an article about this phenomenon under the same title: "Microcredit for Americans." I think it is worth reading it and you will find it of interest. I have put the link below. - Jeffrey

To read the entire article in the New York Times, click here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Four Seasons of Flowers...

Legend K performing together
October 26th, Saturday, Serena Hotel

What did you think the title meant?

I bet you did not guess it right.

It was the theme of Korean traditional and contemporary dancing performance by a group called Legend K at Serena Hotel, Kigali, Rwanda. I am sure K stands for Korea. They performed passionate dancing and music following the flowers that blossom during four seasons of the year.

Legend K has two groups.

One is a five lady-only performing artists who specialize in Korean traditional dancing but in a contemporary fashion. The way they were dressed was not traditional at all in Korean context. it is more a fusion style of Korean dancing with contemporary flavor. But they demonstrated amazing skills in drumming and dancing. Korean drums are many in kind and it requires tremendous skills as well as strength to be able to play them well. These young ladies were wonderful. Their ability to continue playing the drums for a long time with fast beats and their energy to play so passionately were just beyond our imagination. My hearts were pumping the blood and my legs could not resist but follow the rhythm.

The other one is an eight-member so-called B-Boy group. I suspect that B stands for break-dancing. These young men showed amazing acrobatic movements of their bodies including moon walk and break-dancing. I am not fully familiar with break dancing so I may not be able to describe it correctly or accurately. But their body movements were awesome and we all could not close our mouths.

Many international community guests as well as Koreans and Rwandans were there enjoying the performance.

What brought them to Kigali and why was the occasion?

It was one of eleven events that Korean Embassy in Rwanda has organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Rwanda.

It is rare to watch this type of performance in Kigali. So it was a fun night on Saturday. Thank you, Ambassador Hwang for an excellent event! - Jeffrey 

Visit on Agro Dealers in Ruhango...

On Thursday, October 24, 2013, I visited three agro dealers in Ruhango District, one hour 15 minutes away from Kigali in the south western direction, along with a few colleagues of mine. The purpose was to explore the possibility of 1) developing agro dealer financing product and 2) using them as agents for mHose, UOB's mobile and agent banking platform.

There are approximately 1,200 agro dealers in Rwanda. These agro dealers supply agricultural seeds, fertilizers and various other supplies to farmers. Their sizes vary widely. We have chosen a random methodology of establishing relative strength among them to three categories: A, B and C. A is assigned to top 100 agro dealers. B is assigned to the next 300-400 dealers and C to the rest.

Within each category, we also established three grades: 1, 2 and 3. A1 was defined as the importers that import and distribute the agro inputs and supplies to district distributors. A2 and A3 have been defined as those who distribute to smaller dealers. The relative strength categorization goes on in this way.

The first one has been assigned B3. The second one B1 and the third one A3. These ratings are again based on our perceived relative strength which may change when we gather more information about them. For now, it is a good start.

Rwanda is still developing its agro dealers. They are relatively weak financially, except a handful of those
who are strong with multiple locations in Kigali. But they are developing rapidly and growing stronger. These agro dealers will play an increasingly important role in Rwanda's agricultural sector and UOB desires to be proactive in helping them develop with financial resources and business partnership for agent banking. It is still premature, but it is an important step.

UOB has financed more than 15,000 farmers in 2013. These farmers frequently visit these agro dealers to buy the inputs and supplies. If they could do the banking transactions while they visit the dealers, it is a win-win situation since the dealers earn income from conducting transactions as agents.

May the Lord shine His face upon us in this endeavor. - Jeffrey 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Opportunity International's New Unified Vision...

Opportunity International is a global network of Christian faith-based micro finance institutions. It has several supporting members that focus on raising funds and a couple of dozens of implementing members that focus on implementing micro finance programs around the globe. UOB is an implementing member of Opportunity International.

Historically, Opportunity International has maintained a loose global matrix organizational structure with maximum freedom allowed for all supporting and implementing members in pursuing their vision, mission and core values suitable for each country's environment. The common thread among them was the motivation as called by Jesus to serve the people in need. Flexibility was a virtue, but at the cost of unity and unified perception on the network.

Globally, Opportunity International has launched a campaign to re-define and refine its vision, mission and core values towards more unified and synergistic organizational network for maximum resource mobilization and maximum impact. This strategic movement has produced twenty strategic initiatives, including the unified vision, mission, motivation and core values as one of them.

There are more on the way. It is a daunting task that has taken a couple of years to date and at least a few more years until all strategic initiatives take shape and bear meaningful fruits. It may take even more time until all the intents and impacts of the initiatives are fully trickled down to all staff in all organizations around the world in the Opportunity International Network.

For now, the new unified vision has been announced officially and posted on Opportunity International's blog.
To read the blog post, click here

May God's grace and guidance be upon the global leadership team in this endeavor for like-minded unity with their godly visions, profound thoughts, effective communications and seamless executions! - Jeffrey

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Are You Crazy Busy?

These days, our typical answer to the question "How are you?" is "I am busy."

I have been wondering why this answer has been typical answers to the greeting.

Our life is just too complex with too many things to do, all demanding our time. This makes our life just too busy. Crazy busy.

There is a book, aptly titled "Crazy Busy" and authored by Kevin DeYoung, which analyzes and explains about this phenomenon. He also makes some practical suggestions.

You have no time to read the book? I know. I have not read it, either.

I have an alternative solution for you. An author and CEO of Hope International, Peter K. Greer has read this book and summarized the contents on his blog. If you like what you read and find it useful for your time and priority management, you may buy and read the book. - Jeffrey

To read the book summary on Peter's blog, please click here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hampton Inn, Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina... Business as Mission

Christianity Today this week issue has included an article about Hampton Inn in Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina. This article introduces this hotel as Business as Mission. It may not be directly involved in intercultural mission, but definitely the business is dedicated to God, not only the motive but also the process and the ultimate outcome of running the business. The prayer of dedication shows it.

In a sense that a business is dedicated to the Kingdom of God, it is a Kingdom business that considers the business as mission of God for His Kingdom. In this context, it is Business as Mission.

The article also talks about Chic-fil-A. It is a fast food restaurant, but in everything they do, they pursue excellence and integrity without compromise on either. They put their faith into practice in daily business management.

It has as their purpose statement:
"To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
This business boldly closes on Sunday in honor of God and in worship to Him. It takes courage to establish principles and discipline to live out the principles in life.

May there be more and more examples of businesses that are dedicated to God Almighty and His Kingdom, pursuing excellence and integrity together and bringing glory to Him! - Jeffrey

Click here to see the article.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

OI CEO Conference in Mombasa, Kenya - October 2013

Opportunity International is holding it functional conferences regularly. It is one of the blessings that we have in remaining connected and informed of each other's ministry.

On October 1st and 2nd, Jeffrey attended this CEO conference held in Mombasa, Kenya.

Approximately 44 people gathered together. This group of people included 11 CEOs from 11 countries, 11 CFOs of these countries and all others were functional experts who work regionally or globally.  CFOs joined together for one day because of the discussion about business planning process for 2014 and beyond. Functional experts include resource development personnel, agricultural finance specialists, education finance specialists, human resources, finance, operations, risk management, audit, IT, mobile money etc.

Opportunity International has been going through a lot of changes. These changes are strategic and significant. A great portion of the conference was allocated to learning about these changes and what their implications are to each country. Also, a great portion of the time was spent for business planning.

Many uncertainties still remain, but changes are worthwhile when things are not going well.

I had a mixed feeling about the changes. On one hand, I was getting excited about the changes that have been and are gong to be made while on the other hand I was feeling relieved that I will not be part of these changes after February next year.

At least for now I know what needs to be done before my departure and what needs to be communicated to my successor.

Overall, it is always good to be away from your routine once in a while and equally good to look forward to going back home. I am just grateful for the opportunity to learn, see old colleagues and say farewell to many whom I may not see again at all. It was my last CEO conference with Opportunity International. I was fortunate to have this group photo taken.
- Jeffrey

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ministry Updates - September 2013...

Beautiful Mt. Seorak, Korea
Three quarters of 2013 have passed by. After each quarter, I tend to look back and reflect on how my life has been faithful to the Lord and how much my spiritual life has grown over time. It seems that no much progress has been visibly made, but I trust in this midst the Lord has been diligently work in me and my wife, and the lives of my beloved ones.

How has God been working in and through you and your family? How has your walk with the Lord blessed and enriched you?

The following were the highlights of the month of September:

1. Now it has been official;y announced that Jeffrey Lee will step down as CEO of UOB in February 2014. I have informed the board of my intent in March 2013 and the board has graciously understood my family situation and accepted my intent. The CEO search committee has been formed and a search firm has been retained. Active search process has since been underway. I have full confidence that God has bestowed upon UOB an excellent and godly man or woman to succeed me as CEO of UOB. If you are interested, or if you would like to learn more, please read my blogpost on this. Click here, for more details.

Part of the Participants in BAM Consultation 2013
2. Kristin and I made a trip to Korea for 10 days or so in September. The primary purpose was to attend a 5-day Business As Mission (BAM) Consultation held in Mt. Seorak. Approximately 40 people gathered from 15 countries and it was a great learning experience for us and I also gave three presentations. For more details, click here

Jeffrey also gave a testimony and a lecture about BAM at Pohang Joy Church. It was a mutually blessing time. We also had a reunion with several SBS alumni in Seoul and Pohang, and saw our old friends and family.

One of mVISA Billboard with UOB Logo
3. mVISA has held road shows almost everyday at different places of Rwanda in September. The main purpose of the road shows is to enhance the awareness about this emerging market solution for financial access. UOB and Bank of Kigali are the only banks that are participating in this world's first interoperable solution. Interoperability means that UOB clients and Bank of Kigali clients may use either agent network to do the banking transactions. Also, all users of MTN, AirTel and Tigo users can send money to or receive money from other telco users.

UOB has participated in  the road shows by holding a booth explaining about UOB's mHose product that uses the mVISA platform, plus interest payment on savings and free life insrance.

More than 1,000 new clients have signed up with UOB during the road shows. click here

UOB's mHose now has more than 8,000 clients and more than 80 agents signed up. The heaviest use of mHose is now for loan repayment. Along with mHose rollout, UOB has continued distributing UOB Grace Cards to borrowers as well as depositors. Both will be essential platforms to benefit from UOB's CSP or client service points Strategy.

4. Along with the mVISA road shows, UOB has continued its radio campaign through two stations about holistic life improvements (HLI) training on business management, household personal finance and health management based on biblical principles. These public radio campaign for business and financial literacy training has drawn great reception and appreciation. Praise the Lord!

5. UOB held its quarterly board meeting in September. The board approved three policies and reviewed how the bank is helping Rwandans transform holistically. The board also approved the Revised Annual Forecast or RAF for 2013.

6. UOB senior management team has begun the strategic planning session to work on updating the 3-year strategic plan and 2014 business plan along with financial projection. This way, all stakeholders will be engaged in the process to own the strategic plan and business plan together.

7. UOB continued its recovery in operations with a 4% increase in loan portfolio registered as of September 30th from the second quarter. We have also regained borrowing clients by 1,552, up 4%, from the end of the second quarter. Although the pace was a lot slower than we hoped, we are grateful that God answers our prayer and helped us turn around the corner. Please pray that this trend will continue during the fourth quarter.

8. Gisozi Branch has been under construction and is almost ready to open. This branch will help reduce the congestion at Nyabugogo Branch. This will be the 11th full service branch and 44th business office, not counting additional 80 plus agents.
Painting about a Market Scene taken at Urban Hotel

9. Agricultural Finance program and Education Finance program have scaled up in September as they both had high seasons in demand. We financed more than 8,000 farmers for their input or production costs and provided tuition fee loans for more than 1,000 students/parents. We also made three additional school improvement loans to private schools. These are part of UOB's specialty financing programs to help meet the needs of clients.

10. UOB continued to prepare for the migration of core banking to T24 R12 model bank. As soon as the model bank is ready, scheduled for October, UOB will be the first implementing member within the Opportunity International Network to migrate into the model bank. We need your prayers for thorough preparation and smooth migration.

11. UOB received the visit from IFC that has provided a grant to finance the agent network expansion. UOB also received several groups that visited UOB and its client groups, which included HOPE International's donor group, Boston Consulting Group's extern and OI US donor group. May all these visitors be inspired by the transformation that is taking place in the hearts and lives of UOB clients and staff.

12. Prayer requests:

Please pray with us that:

  • The search process for the new CEO at UOB will progress smoothly and the search firm and search committee may find the right person to continue to carry out the mission towards the vision aligned with God's vision.
  • UOB operations will normalize and stabilize from the setbacks experienced in 2013 so that the revenues may be restored, the lending activities may regain the momentum and the PAR may come down to a normal level.
  • UOB's client transformation training (HLI) and group meeting standardization process (5W) may not be compromised due to the challenges in the field.
  • UOB's endeavor to implement Spiritual and Social Performance Management system, God Provides DVD, Process/Service Fit Test, Discipleship Training for staff, monitoring and evaluation of transformation efforts (Hope Quotient) may continue to gain God's favor for smooth and proactive implementation towards effective spiritual transformation.
  • UOB's client service point (CSP) strategy rollout may continue to be scaled up to secure as many client access points as possible without creating too much a financial burden on the bank.
  • UOB's T24 R12 model bank migration may progress well to secure a stable platform to serve the clients.
  • UOB's initiative to expand its traditional micro finance into inclusive finance to achieve holistic community development may also gain traction to move towards the next step.
  • We may discern God's voice and will for the next ministry opportunities that God has in store for us and make a decision that will be pleasing to Him. 
Thank you very much for your standing with us in our ministries in Rwanda.

May God richly and abundantly bless you all.

Joyfully and gratefully in His services,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from Kigali, RWANDA

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Search for New CEO at UOB...

Kristin and I arrived in Kigali on February 1st, 2009. It was the beginning of our journey into Rwanda, Africa and micro finance. It was quite a change from a banker in New York, running the US operations for the largest Korean bank, but the change was led by God Almighty.

From the next day, I have been leading UOB as CEO. It has been a wonderful blessing to be part of God's marvelous work to help the underprivileged people of Rwanda through UOB. There have been ups and downs, joy and sorrow, excitements and pains, honor and shame. But, throughout, we felt and witnessed God's presence in our midst. We experienced numerous times His miraculous provision that has been always gracious and sufficient.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) 

It is time for me to pass the torch on.

Since the board asked for a one-year notice, I expressed my intent to the board in March 2013 that I would like to step down as CEO as of February 1st 2014. By then, I will have served UOB for five years. There is no other reason for my departure than a family reason that requires a little more freedom and flexibility in my daily schedules. The board was graciously understanding and accepted my intent.

The board formed the CEO search committee in March and retained Half Time Talent Solutions as the search firm in June. The job description has been prepared and refined in July. The search process officially began in August and is currently under way.

Half Time Talent Solutions is a Christian faith-based organization that specializes in mobilizing and placing Christian professional men and women who seek significance in their lives rather than secular success. I am so thrilled that Half Time Talent Solutions has been retained as the search firm and I am fully confident that the good and faithful Lord will bring to UOB a successor who will take UOB to the next level.

The following is the official introductory description for the new CEO at UOB. Whoever is interested, please contact Greg or Kathy as listed in the description. Please pass this information along to whoever may be interested or whoever should be informed of this wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord and His people in Rwanda.
UOB Home Office

Do you know an experienced, faith-motivated “Bank President” who is looking for more meaning and significance in life?  
We are searching for a new CEO for Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda (UOB) – one of Africa’s most innovative and successful microfinance banks. UOB is a Kingdom enterprise that provides opportunities for those in poverty to transform their lives – economically, socially and spiritually. For the right candidate, this is an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference leading one of the premier institutions serving God’s beloved poor. 
Rwanda is one of the safest, most beautiful and progressive countries in Africa. To learn more, see UOB CEO Opportunity Profile. Please contact Greg Barnes ( and/or Kathy Wright ( at Halftime Talent Solutions.    
Please forward this email to all the qualified Commercial Bankers you know and to anyone else who might connect us to potential candidates. 

Group Photo after UOB Day July 2013
The first question people usually ask when they hear my departure from UOB is "What is your next plan?" So I respond below in advance.

"Kristin and I are still waiting for the Lord to speak to us. For now, I am focusing on finishing well with UOB until the last day and ensuring a smooth transition with my successor. There are still several major projects on our plate which need to be completed before my departure. After February next year, Lord's willing, we would like to take a break in 2014, hopefully pursuing to read, reflect, rest, re-energize and refocus. Yes, we have been hearing opportunities for ministry, but no, He has not spoken yet with clear conviction to us and we are still waiting. Moreover, we are not in a hurry."

I trust that the Lord has something in store for us. He has invested substantially in our lives and I know He will not let it go unused or underused for His Kingdom. He will reveal His will and plan to us in His time. I will let you know when that happens. Please pray with us and for us, when you remember. Thank you for your support! - Jeffrey