It was inspiring to have met people committed to their mission during the past week: Opportunity International helps those in need have access to financial services. By doing so, Opportunity helps them transform their lives. Opportunity is exactly the right name.
I have seen, how access to financial services transform lives, not only in an economic sense. Being able to develop a small business, to repair one’s home and send children to a nearby school gives people self-assurance and the confidence that they can do more. The transformation process often reaches the whole family or even a community.
Microfinance institutions face some big challenges: Their peers, regulation, external factors affecting their operation, an so on. In my eyes, one of the main challenges remains the efficient allocation of resources aligning economic and mission considerations at the same time.
Although it is common that microfinance institutions lend funds for working capital, the power of transformation arising from complementary services, such as financing of shelter or education should not be underestimated.
I have chosen a picture of two emeralds today, because I have written a page about education being a precious good. Through financing services devoted to education, many children have access to schools nearby or to school materials. This fact usually impacts the whole community.
My last statement is not really a summary or a conclusion. I want to express my hope (and it is said that the color of hope is green, as the emeralds), the hope that microfinance institutions, in general, may find and keep the delicate balance between mission and sustainability and that they can continue transforming lives around the world.
It is almost time to go home. I am still in Rwanda, but wanted to write these few lines, before I start to prepare myself for the next couple of flights.
I have met incredible people in this country. Some of them have shown me their neighborhoods, some have shared their life stories and their hopes with me, which I very much appreciate.
My assignment is not done yet. The time for writing, summarizing and finalizing has come, and this blog would not be complete without a further reflection from my side regarding the goal of my journey.
Thinking back on what I have heard when I arrived to this country, I have actually found that the following two things often remind me of Switzerland: Rwanda’s multilingualism and its green hills. And I saw many of them on the way to Ruhengeri today.
I decided to come to Ruhengeri this weekend in order to visit the home of the famous Rwandan gorillas. In this sense, I am as predictable as any tourist.
Talking about tourists, I really think that there could be more. Rwanda is, according to my experience, a safe place, with beautiful national parks, memorials that invite to reflection and fair taxi drivers who often happen to be good tourist guides too.
The great challenge consists, in my opinion, in developing a culture of professional customer service. This is valid for other service industries as well. A professional customer service…and marketing. The famous 4 P’s. The world should know that Rwanda is a country that can be visited!
A taxi driver told me some days ago that people from other countries should know that Rwanda is continuously evolving, that they look optimistic ahead. Yes, I think that Rwanda deserves to be known and not only ‘remembered’. To help a little bit, I am copying two links which may give you a taste of what you could find here:
Many people may wonder why parents in developing countries would be willing to send their children to a private school and to apply for loans to cover the cost. Private schools are usually associated with high fees.
In order to understand these parents’ choice, it is important to know that there are different kinds of low-cost private schools: Some of them are receiving subsidies, some of them are run by religious communities or ONG’s and some of them are private schools which become sustainable after they have reached a certain scale.
It is known that the population in developing countries often grows faster than the infrastructure of the country. Infrastructure for education is not an exception with this regard. Through my experience in Colombia, I have learnt that even if there were enough (public and private) schools to cover the existing demand, one issue remains: Quality…and quality is comparable.
Teacher strikes, absenteeism and lack of qualified teachers are some of the issues that I have heard from parents whom I have asked -in different countries, in the past 10 years- why they have chosen a private school for their children.
Furthermore, state schools are not fully free of cost: Registration, uniforms, some exams, school material, meals as well as transportation are some of the expenses that have to be added to the cost of education.
I can imagine that the quality of private schools also differs. My best wish to those parents who are in the process of deciding to send a child to a private school, is that they take their time to obtain information about the institution and that they remain caring and committed, as their roles, as mother and father, remain key during the whole education chain.
My first week in Rwanda is coming to its end. This is the moment when I would like to reflect about the people I have met and the figures that I have seen, even if I still have some time ahead.
Opportunity International is known as Urwego Opportunity in Rwanda. Urwego means “ladder”, and they mean to be exactly that, a ladder to help people to improve their living conditions. It offers access to a wide range of financial services besides lending.
Instead of being too technical here, I would like to tell you something that could illustrate the social impact of Opportunity’s work in this country. Last week, I visited a school that was destroyed in 1994. Now, the financing services dedicated to education have helped to rebuilt it. 1,200 students are currently learning a technical occupation there. Half of the students are girls.
The principal told me that they are actually done with the reconstruction. “Banks need the money to allocate it to new projects. The same for us. We have the school back, we can now focus on education.”.
Many people associate words, such as devaluation and inflation, with bad times. Even if someone does not understand the meaning of these words to their full extent, most people understand the consequences in daily life, especially in countries where there is a galloping inflation or a strong devaluation.
Sometimes, it may be difficult to understand why these concepts may be seen as solutions within the frame of the monetary policy of a country.
Just a week ago, the central bank of Rwanda decided to leave the reference interest rate unchanged. There were some voices at the parliament that were not happy with that decision. However, the representatives of the banking association explained that the interest rates are lower than in any other country in the same region and the economic environment remains stable.
In fact, Rwanda has had constant interest, exchange and low inflation rates since some time ago. No doubt, there is still work to be done, but I can see commercial and construction activity in the streets and I have met people determined to achieve their personal goals. That is perhaps the beginning of everything.
After a long trip over three continents I finally arrived today in Kigali.
As the long way to Africa was not exempt of adventure, I had this feeling that my luggage would not make it to Kigali at the same time as I would. And so it was. However, that was not a reason to stay waiting for it at the hotel. My first stop was at the Memorial Center. I found it very impressive, the way this country is recovering from the sad events from the past and how it is rebuilding itself.
People speak either English or French, or both and Kinyarwanda, their native language. “Do you know that people say we are the Switzerland of Africa?, asked me a young woman today. Indeed. I have not seen much of the country, but Rwanda is small and it is located in the middle of its continent. Kigali is clean and very hilly.
I am curious and looking forward to discovering more similarities -or differences- in the days ahead.