Thursday, November 28, 2013

School Improvement Loans...

There are many private schools in Rwanda. They are small in scale and thus considered micro businesses. The school entrepreneurs are called edu-preneurs.

Some start with one or two classes and as the students advance to higher grades, they build additional classrooms. Also, they build computer labs and expand the playground by acquiring adjacent land.

All these are perfect to be eligible for UOB's school improvement loans.

Here is an example: Apaderwa School. The school started in 2006 with less than 32 students, one teacher and one leader. Today, this school has 246 students, nine teachers and one head teacher. UOB has extended a loan to this school to help the school expand its school compound, renovate classes and purchase new school supplies, such as books.

UOB has made eight loans to private schools, like Apaderwa, year to date in 2013 with an ambitious plan to scale up the program in 2014. Many of them provide Christian education as part of their regular curriculum, thus sharing the biblical truth as well as teaching them academic knowledge.

This school improvement loan is tremendously transformational because of the lasting impact on young children for their future education and holistic development as a human being. It is our desire that UOB plays a pivotal role in this process of providing significant transformational impact on these young people in Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Opportunity International U.K. Supports UOB...

Opportunity International is a complex organization. It has fund-raising entities in several countries, including U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, Australia and Singapore. UOB receives support from from all, except OI Australia that is focusing on supporting India and Philippines.

This week, we have received a grant support (US$375,000 equivalent GBP) from OI UK recently which supports our general microfinance programs in 2013 and 2014. It is typical that a grant has earmarked purposes, but this time it was a grant that supports UOB's general operations. Of course, it still has deliverable goals, but they are perfectly aligned with what UOB is doing.

This is a perfectly timely grant for UOB at present and here is why.

UOB has been suffering from Rwanda's sluggish economy, slow loan demand and declining sustainability in 2013. It is attributed mainly to Rwanda's macroeconomic circumstances that began during the fourth quarter 2012. Although the economy has shown signs of improvement lately, UOB's operating performance has been struggling and is still the same way.

In this context, OI UK's general support grant has been perfectly timely and tremendously helpful. I believe it is God's intervention. He indeed provides as we have experienced over and over in the past several years.

I am deeply grateful to my God Almighty for this support that comes through OI UK. Praise the Lord! My thanks also go to the leadership and management at OI UK (Edward, Deborah and Sally) for sending these resources perfectly at the right time. God is good all the time.

To learn more about Opportunity International U.K., click here - Jeffrey 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trip to Amman Jordan (November 2013)...

Jordan Map
I took a short trip to Amman Jordan in November 2013. The primary purpose was to attend Women's World Banking conference for Middle East and North Africa. I was asked to speak about 'mobile banking for low income women.' I accepted the invitation because I have never traveled to Jordan. It is always enticing to travel to a country I have never visited.

Jordan was the only second country where I have traveled in the Middle East Asia. Kristin and I have been to Dubai, UAE two years ago. So this trip to Jordan was exciting to me.

Besides, Jordan is a country that dates back to many places that are mentioned in the Bible. In this land, there were Ammon Kingdom, Moab Kingdom, Edom Kingdom and even Amelikite Kingdom. Jordan's formal name is Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It population is approximately 7 million living in a desert land of 86,000 square kilometers. Out of this population, approximately half of them are Palestinians who have escaped the the disputed land and settled here. 

Jordan borders with many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Iraq. Surrounded by these countries that have had political turmoil, this country has remained stable. The King Abdulah is well respected by his citizens and has maintained good rapport with many countries. Jordan is also known for rapid and positive transformation that it has achieved in relatively a short period of time. Its primary sources of revenues are coming from tourism since it does not produce oil or natural resources. Nonetheless, this country is one of the freest countries in the region.

Jordan has several historic sites that attract people from around the world. It occupies the eastern part of the Jordan River and maintains the eastern part of the Dead Sea. It has one of the largest Roman ruins outside Rome. The most famous site is Petra where a lost city is hidden in the rocks. It was three hours away from Amman and it was too long a distance for a day trip before a red eye flight. So I saved it for a trip Kristin and I will take together, along with the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum.

On the way to Jordan, I flew to Dubai and took Fly Dubai to go to Amman Jordan. This route was the cheapest, but I had another reason to go through Dubai. Anna Sunghye Yoon, a former member of Shalom Bible Study in Rwanda, is now working for Fly Dubai as a cabin crew and asked me to come through Dubai. So I ended up going through Dubai, but the layover was for 12 hours, pretty grueling after a red eye flight. But I had some work to do to prepare for the upcoming board meeting. So it has worked out well. It was a delight to see Anna in action on an airplane and I was able to post her photo in uniform, which appears to be forbidden for the crew. 

After the conference, I went to Rainbow Street to stroll, but I was disappointed by its short distance and quietness of the street. It was supposed to be crowded with people visiting many restaurants. A cold weather was an excuse, but it was disappointing. I ended up eating a humble Gamberi dish at an Italian restaurant. 

South Theater

Due to long wait before my return flight, I was able to take a day trip to Jerash site (Garasa) where the archaeological park displays Roman theaters, Roman oval plaza, Temple of Zeus, a couple of churches. These have been all excavated over the past 70 years or so and this excavation is still being carried out. These were all buried under sands, most likely because of a major earthquake in the area in the 8th century. It was an awesome experience walking around the park, imagining the glorious days of the Roman Empire in the area.

I also visited Amman Citadel in the middle of the Amman City. It is situated on the top of a hill, which used to be a fortress. It has some Roman ruins and Islamic temple ruins. It also has an archaeological museum that shows artifacts of the past from the pre-historic age to the most recent Islamic age. It was a quick tour, but from there I was able to see a giant Jordanian national flag over the valley on another hill and also Roman Amphitheater to the south. It was a breath-taking view.

The taxi driver I hired was Hadi who has four children. He took me to Jerash site first (one hour drive), waited for me for 3 hours, took me to Citadel for an hour and took me to the airport. I look forward to returning to Jordan for further exploration. Next time together with Kristin. - Jeffrey

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Women's World Banking Conference in Amman Jordan...

Women's World Banking (WWB) is a global non-profit organization based in the U.S. It was established in 1976 to help low income women in developing countries to overcome their poverty through microfinance. WWB is providing financial support and technical assistance for MFIs and banks around the world for this purpose. WWB is serving more than 20 million clients around the world through partnership with 39 institutions in 28 countries. To learn more about WWB, click here. Women's World Banking Home Page

Women's World Banking held its global conference in Amman, Jordan this year. The theme was "Building Women-Focused Finance: The Global-Local Experience", particularly focusing on Middle East and North Africa or MENA.

I have been invited to be on a panel about mobile banking for the low income women in developing countries. I have given a presentation about what UOB is doing through interoperable mHose mVISA platform. Also  on the panel were Diamond Bank in Nigeria that is reaching out to the low income women through multiple channels and Vodafone that is growing the network globally using MPesa, a well known MNO solution.

It was my first time to attend WWB conference and it was quite interesting that it is focusing on products, services and delivery channel with particular focus on serving low income women in MENA where their outreach remains the lowest in the world.

Microfund for Women in Jordan selling goods
One of the ladies from Morocco lamented that Islamic fundamentalists are regaining power and control in the region and trying to reverse the trend of liberating the oppressed women in this region over the past 25 years or so. May it not happen!

I have seen so many Muslim ladies that have to cover their hair and faces in public places in black clothes. It could be a cultural issue, but nonetheless their human rights have been compromised and their freedom has been limited in one form or another. I prayed that God's spirit of freedom may prevail over them in His time.

Although the travel logistics were not convenient, the opportunity to attend and observe the conference focusing on low income women was a great blessing. - Jeffrey

Monday, November 18, 2013

Yaramba Nursery Open House...

One of two classrooms
On Saturday, November 16th, 2013, there was an Open House celebration at Yaramba Nursery. It has brought the closure to the phase one of this long outstanding project.

Jeffrey and I traveled with several supporters to Yramaba, Gicumbi despite the rain. They included Missionary Bohye Kim, Mrs. Noh, Missionary Yujin Oh and Bin Kim.

Originally, the school was planned to open by end of August after the summer VBS, but the school was unsuccessful in recruiting qualified teachers. So now the school opening has been rescheduled for January 2014. The school has now recruited one male teacher and two assistants. They plan to recruit another female teacher who will run the school. To date, 37 young children have signed up for the January 2014 class.

For the next one year, Kristin will teach English to the little children once a week. Missionary Bohye Kim will teach them bible stories. The school is mandated to be operationally sustainable in one year. During this one year period, any deficit will be financially supported. That is the way the school becomes operationally sustainable.

I have included some photos that highlight the celebration at Yaramba Nursery in Gicumbi. Thank you all for all your financial and prayer support. Now we dedicate this nursery to the Lord and His blessing. Please continue to remember to pray for the children to be educated at this nursery and for the teachers who will be prayerfully teaching young children to be useful for the Kingdom of God. - Kristin

Children Eating Food

Children Lined Up, the first lesson

I Love God, I Love Rwanda and I Love Yaramba

Playground in the back. It will be later furnished.

The Other Classroom.

Cubbies for Children

Yaramba Nursery from the back

Yaramba Nursery from the front next to the church

Pastor Innocent praying for benediction

Two happy mothers about the nursery 

One of the first registrants at Yaramba Nursery

Four happy children, probably because of the food for now...

Pastor Innocent, Bin, Yujin, me, Mrs. Noh, Pastor Muhizi, Missionary Bohye Kim

Jeffrey with four happy children in the background

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Access to Finance Rwanda Supports UOB Agent Banking...

After signing the grant agreement. Judith, Head of AFR
Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) is a fund established by Department of Finance for  International Development (DFID), UK's international development agency, and World Bank. This fund's main objective is to enhance the financial inclusion for under-served Rwandans.

UOB submitted a proposal for a grant to support its agent quality management programs in rural areas in September 2012. For several months, there had been no response due mainly to the vacancy in the Technical Director position. Right before this position was filled in the summer 2013, we received from acting technical director a notice that our $1,000,000 funding request has been approved, but at a reduced amount of $600,000 along with another Rwandan bank that is launching mVISA platform also. It was a wonderful news.

But, later we received a letter notifying that the grant request has been declined due to complaints filed by other financial institutions. Disappointing! But I do not dwell too long in the disappointing news. What can you do with a dead body? We felt that God must have had a different plan.

Surprisingly, however, we received a phone call from AFR early October, saying that they would reconsider our grant application subject to some modification. Hallelujah! I knew I believed in the resurrection!

We re-submitted the grant proposal with some modifications made and KPIs to measure our performance, which was approved in late October, with a few questionable moments. Finally, last week, on November 6th, we signed the grant agreement. The amount has been reduced to $300,000, but it is sufficient to support agent quality management activities for the next two years.

mHose Agent Sign
God has been so faithful in providing resources needed to design, develop and launch UOB's mHose mVISA platform, an interoperable mobile and agent banking solution. First, He provided us with a $200,000 grant from UNCDF two years ago, which helped us kickstart the program by hiring the program manager and invest in the product design and development. Later, God provided us with technical assistance through Triple Jump Advisory Services. A four consultants helped us with detailed product development, procedures manual development, call center establishment etc. After this technical assistance, God provided us with additional $140,000 through Gates Foundation for flexible uses. We launched the solution in April 2013 at last. In the meantime, God used Internal Finance Corporation (IFC) for providing us with additional $680,000 in grant and technical assistance to support agent network development. He must have felt that we needed additional resources for agent quality management. So He has chosen AFR to provide us with additional $300,000 even through the process of death and resurrection of the grant proposal! mHose has been a testimonial story of how God provides for His people when the needs are justified.

Since it was launched in April 2013, mHose has signed up more than 13,000 clients and 100 agents. The transaction volume for the month of October alone was more than $1.1 million through more than 33,000 transactions. That is an incredibly fast uptake. We are excited about the way rural clients will have access to financial services using their cell phones.

Thank you, Lord! I praise Your Name eternally! - Jeffrey 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ministry Updates - October 2013...

October was the third month in a row, which showed signs of improvement in UOB's performance. Both active borrowing client number and loan portfolio balance have increased in three months in a row. The October performance was only a slight improvement, but I would still say that it is a now trend. I thank God for His favor in this turnaround and also for all our staff who has worked tirelessly to produce this result as a team.

The following summarizes the highlights of what God has done through UOB and our lives in October:

1. Kristin and I attended Opportunity International's CEO Conference held in Mombasa, Kenya. This conference took place soon after a terrorist attack at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, but we are grateful that we all were kept safe. On the same day we left Mombasa, a Muslim cleric was killed, which triggered a riot in Mombasa. Whenever I see this kind of conflict, I end up praying for the Lord's hasty return. But we all know that He will return in His time and all these conflicts will be settled in His way.

2. Jeffrey attended the board meetings of RSwitch and BDF. God provides us with opportunities to lead and learn from these ministries.

3. UOB started business operations at Gisozi Branch in October. We plan to hold the grand opening ceremony in December.

4. UOB held two strategic planning sessions with senior leadership team to conduct the SWOT analysis and define strategic initiatives for each team. Collectively all these have been put into use in updating the three year strategic plan (2014-2016) and 2014 business plan/budget. The draft version has been submitted to Opportunity International Global Operations and Finance leadership for their review and input.

5. BNR, Rwanda's central bank, issued the Examination Report on UOB and we submitted our Responses to the Examination Report in October. God uses even regulators to teach us how to run a bank safely and soundly to fulfill the stewardship responsibility.

6. UOB received the second installment of the capital injection planned for 2013 from its shareholders in October, totaling $500 thousands. With this capital injection, UOB will be able to continue its growth for the next three years.

7. UOB has been successfully establishing two special credit lines with to finance the agricultural input loans and community impact loans. The former has been in existence for quite some time, but the latter is a new loan scheme that is believed to assist cooperatives, community organizations and even municipal governments in producing significant community impact.

8. mHose, UOB's mobile and agent banking platform, has been continuously rolled out to different regions in Rwanda. So far 13,166 clients have signed up for mHose, including more than 2,000 new clients. Also, the number of agents that have signed up reached 100 as of October 31st and they handled more than one million USD in October through 31,673 transactions. This performance is remarkable since the launch was made only in April 2013. Moreover, mVISA has announced that two more commercial banks will join the mVISA ecosystem thus making the participating banks now total five. This network is likely to be the largest and most significant network in providing reliable mobile and agent banking in Rwanda. We are grateful that UOB was the first bank to partner with mVISA in product design and the launch. Praise the Lord! Our clients will have a growing number of client service points throughout the country for easier and more convenient access to the financial services.

9. Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) is a fund that was established by DFID, UK's international development agency and World Bank. AFR has agreed to provide UOB with a grant of $300,000 to support UOB's agent banking expansion in rural areas. Praise the Lord! This is the fifth grant that God has provided for UOB to develop, launch and expand its mobile and agent banking platform over the past three years. He has been faithfully providing the resources over time just when we need them. God is marvelously amazing!

10. UOB has been able to help almost 15,000 farmers with input and production loans in 2013. As we have gained respect and appreciation from farmers and local governments, this program has been significantly scaled up in 2013. Kirehe District Mayor came to the bank asking us to help the District's farmers in early October and we swiftly responded to his request with input/production loans for more than 5,000 farmers. We are grateful for the opportunities to be of help.

11. Jeffrey continued his preaching ministry at Agape Church Rwanda and UOB staff devotion in October. He also continued the teaching ministry with Shalom Bible Study. Kristin and Jeffrey have hosted Korean Missionary Fellowship monthly prayer meeting. Jeffrey also initiated a face book group for Shalom Bible Study members who are now scattered around the world. Gradually, the face book group is drawing participation from members and is believed to help grow spiritually and facilitate fellowship with each other.

12. Prayer Requests:

  • As announced, UOB is in the process of searching for a new CEO. Please pray that God will send my successor in time, who will be the most suitable to lead UOB team to the next level in serving the underprivileged people of Rwanda. To see the blog post regarding this new CEO search, click here.
  • Rwanda is not exempt from climate change that is occurring all over the world. September and October were the planting season but many farmers have not completed their planting because of insufficient rain. Please pray that Rwandan farmers will have adequate rain during this important season for planting.
  • Rwanda is improving with the money flow in the market place. But the economic activities are not like before. Please pray that Rwanda may recover fully its previous level of economic activities for the sake of the poor who are suffering most. 
  • UOB's mHose roll out is critical in relieving lending staff from handing cash in serving the clients. Muhanga District Police Commander has given us a deadline to stop all cash handling by November 15th. We have changed our mHose roll out plan to expedite the agent deployment in Muhanga to meet the deadline, but it is not that easy and simple. Please pray that our efforts will bear fruit, but the Police will also be patient during this transition period.
  • Kristin and Jeffrey are prayerfully waiting for God to speak where He is leading us for the next mission and ministry opportunities, hopefully after a break in 2014. Please remember to pray with us and for us so that we may be able to discern His will and guidance correctly.
  • Jeffrey will travel to Amman, Jordan in November to share the mHose roll-out experience at Women's World Banking Conference, focusing on serving women. Also he will be preparing for the UOB board meeting to be held during the first week of December. Please remember to pray for travel mercy and for discerning God's divine will towards appropriate priority management.
  • Also please pray for Amanda and James who are in transition in their lives, and for the safety and health protection of Joyce who is serving in Senegal as Peace Corps volunteer,
We sincerely thank you all for your prayer support by standing with us in our ministries. "May God bless you and keep you; may God make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; may God turn His face toward you and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26) 

Gratefully and joyfully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin from Kigali, Rwanda.