Austin Harris, KF11 Kigali, Rwanda
I am a new Kiva Fellow in the KF11 class. The other fellows and I have headed out to the field to work with various microfinance institutions. I recently arrived in Kigali, Rwanda to start my work with Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB). UOB was created in July 2007 as the merger between Urwego Community Bank and Opportunity Bank of Rwanda, and is now one of the largest microfinance institutes in Rwanda. UOB offers group loans and individual loans and array of loan products, including village phone loans, school tuition loans, bicycle loans, and home improvement loans. They also offer insurance services, business training, and HIV/AIDS training.
In January, 2010, Kiva began its partnership with UOB and Kiva is being used for new loan products, which is intended to help with the expansion of the bank. The first attempt at creating Kiva loans was the Lights for Life Loans, a partnership with Nuru Energy. Under this loan product, a borrower is supplied a manual recharging machine for lights along with the rechargeable lights. The lights provide a less expensive, healthier, and more environmentally friendly alternative to the commonly used kerosene lamps in rural areas. The borrower sells the rechargeable lights to people and charges a fee for each time they recharge (the lights last up to 40 hrs. on one charge). With this revenue, the borrower pays off the machine plus interest. Unfortunately, the information system at UOB was not equipped to handle this type of loan. The delays in updating the information system along with other complications ultimately did not allow these loans to qualify as Kiva loans.
As it stands, UOB is in pilot phase and has not been able to create a Kiva loan to date. However, there is hope. The work of the UOB staff and the former Kiva fellow has better prepared UOB to handle this new loan product. Another group of clients for this loan product is currently being formed and the process of making them into Kiva loans should now be more successful. Also, UOB is attempting to start other new loan products, including water-tank loans, agricultural loans, and cargo-bike loans. These loans are all well suited to be Kiva loans and should help with the expansion of UOB.
There is great potential for UOB to broaden its loan products and eventually become an active partner with Kiva. My work as a fellow is help UOB carry out these steps. Given the difficulties so far, these steps may initially be smaller and slower, but should gain stride and momentum. Eventually, Kiva may be an active participant in UOB’s growth and success.
In the upcoming months, be alert to the first loans posted from UOB. It will be a satisfying achievement for the staff and fellows who have worked on this goal. It will also be a new form of livelihood for some Rwandan borrowers that Kiva lenders can support.
Become a part of UOB lending team and support the progress to come.