Posts tagged ‘Rwanda’
By Kiva Fellows in Africa, KF16
Compiled by Tejal Desai
Ow de body! Are Sierra Leone and Rwanda still danger zones? What challenges do Ugandans most commonly face? Kiva Fellows from KF16 bring you another unique perspective from the diverse and vast continent of Africa! We patched together an overview of each of our placement countries that includes: basic socioeconomic stats, common stereotypes (and to what extent they are true or false), greatest challenges, most common loan products at our respective field partners, and the borrowers’ most common use of their profits. Our part 2 series follows the Kiva Fellows through Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Uganda. We hope our summaries give you a new perspective on the continent and its distinct countries that we’ve been fortunate to explore, thanks to the Kiva fellowship!
By Whitney Webb, KF16, Rwanda
One of the biggest challenges of providing access to financial services to those living in poverty is the actual logistics of expanding the services into some of the most remote areas of the world. 92% of Rwandans live in rural areas. During my first field visit, I visited a small village near the border of Tanzania. After meeting several first time borrowers and hearing about their challenges and strong hopes for the future, we drove out onto the unpredictable mud roads.
By Whitney Webb, KF16, Rwanda
Things became real when I stepped out of my NYC apartment for the last time and hailed a cab to the airport. It was one thing to say (repeatedly) “I’m moving to Rwanda to do a fellowship in microfinance. I’m so excited. And a little nervous.” It’s quite another to pack up your bags and actually board a plane to Rwanda, or Indonesia, or Paraguay, etc… I’m guessing more than one of us Kiva fellows had the inevitable panic attack prior to and during departure.
Compiled by Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia
One of the unfortunate sight-seeing adventures that you never sign up for when you travel (especially in developing countries) is the unseemly amount of trash cluttering the otherwise beautiful landscapes. In Armenia, it isn’t possible to see the horizon through the smog most days and the streets are covered in cigarette butts and litter. I found no exceptions to this as I inquired from other Kiva Fellows about the dire situation in their countries. Environmental education and reform are simply not a top priority in many countries. But the future of climate change initiatives are not entirely hopeless…
By David McNeill (Sierra Leone) and Adam Cohn (Rwanda), with lots of help from the 14th class of Kiva Fellows
It turns out that one thing Kiva Fellows seem to have in common is a love for data. With that, Kiva Fellows David and Adam polled the current fellows in the field on the costs of various necessities and niceties in their current placements. The numbers, which we humbly title the Kiva Fellows Index, give some good insight into the conditions in the far-flung places we now live and work.
Far from home
Kiva Fellows are in it for the long haul. On average, we’re 5,745 miles away from home, as the crow flies. The fellows who have trucked the farthest, at least by line of sight, are: Adam Cohn, who crossed 8,892 miles from Seattle, WA to Kigali, Rwanda; Caitlin Ross, who also went to Kigali from her home in Burlingame, CA, for a total of 9,417 miles; and the longest haul goes to Lisa Skowron, who flew 9,519 miles from her home in Chicago, IL to Kupang, Indonesia!
The first prize for the slowest Internet speed goes to Carlos Cruz in Liberia, with a close second and third for Claudine Emeott in Nepal and David McNeill in Sierra Leone. They experience speeds 10-100 times slower than in the US, making them thankful to the Kiva engineers who make Kiva.org one of the quicker websites to load. At these speeds video chatting is impossible, voice is dodgy if possible at all, and emails aren’t even guaranteed to work. Forget about watching videos on YouTube or listening to Internet radio. Having Internet access is quickly becoming almost as important as having electricity or indoor plumbing.
Many of us are serving in hot parts of the world without the blessing of air conditioning. The unlucky winners in this category are neighbors in West Africa – Carlos Cruz in Liberia and David McNeill in Sierra Leone. They survive high temperatures in the low 90’s (F) and lows that only get down to the upper 70’s or low 80’s (F). Carlos, we hope you’ve got a fan and electricity to run it like David does (most of the time).
On the other side of the spectrum, Amber Barger is struggling to keep warm in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where it dips down to -9 (F) at night. David would be happy to trade one of his hot sunny beaches for some of Amber’s ice!
Carlos Cruz got the sweetest deal on rent, with free housing courtesy of his host microfinance institution in Liberia. The runner up is Gustavo Visalli in Totonicapan, Guatemala. He pays only $100/month, and that includes electricity, a flush toilet, and all the black beans and eggs he can eat!
There are some definite advantages to working in developing countries. Most of us spend less than $1 getting to work each day riding buses, motorcycles, or other modes of public transportation. For David in Sierra Leone, a ride in the back of a car taxi to a town 2.5 hours away only costs $3.50 (there are four people squished in a seat made for three, though). Stephanie Sibal has the sweetest deal on transportation – her host organization in Phnom Penh, Cambodia provides her a car and driver to bring her in to work in the morning.
With the cost of oil on the rise, we did a quick poll of gas prices where we are serving. The highest price is in South Africa at $5/gallon. If you want the cheapest price, you’ll have to drive to Indonesia ($2.15/gallon) or Kyrgyzstan ($2.73/gallon).
For refreshment, Stephanie Sibal is a definite winner – she only has to pay 15 cents for a Coke served in a plastic baggie! The following people have a four-way tie for the cheapest beer at only $1 a bottle: Stephanie Sibal again (Phnom Penh, Cambodia), John Gwillim (Barranquilla, Colombia), Geeta Uhl (Ayacucho, Peru), and John Farmer (Mexico City, Mexico). For coffee, some people like John Farmer have the luxury of a nearby Starbucks in Mexico City, Adam Cohn can drink 100% local coffee at multiple Bourbon locations in Rwanda, while poor Noreen Giga is still searching for a good cup in Lima, Peru.
As you can see, some of life’s necessities are more accessible, while others are prohibitive, for those who relocate to the other side of the globe. If you’d like to look at our full spreadsheet of stats, you can see it here.
Have you found places where a Coke is incredibly expensive, or internet is mind-blowingly slow? Let us know in the comments!
Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa
The Fellows will be covering International Women’s Day later this week but let’s take a moment to acknowledge its lesser-known cousin in Kyrgyzstan, “Man’s Day”. And while you’re appreciating culture and history in far-off places, take a trip to Peru and West Timor through photos, visit borrowers in Uganda and Rwanda through video, learn a little something about communicating in South Africa, and catch up on the latest from Liberia, Ghana, and Mexico (home to the “Singing Fellow”).
By Michelle Curtis, KF13, Rwanda
Here are five things I would never have known if Kiva hadn’t provided me with the opportunity of living and working in Rwanda…..
Today, for the first time since arriving in Rwanda, I saw a truckload of genocide perpetrators being taken back to prison after a day of roadwork. How does a country move on after experiencing such unspeakable atrocities? As a Kiva Fellow in Kigali, I’ve been learning a great deal about restorative justice in post-genocide Rwanda.
By Michelle Curtis, KF13, Rwanda
“Someone told me she loves me, just then…she told me that she loves me and I am so happy.” When an overjoyed stranger took his mobile from his ear and turned to find the first person to share his wonderful news with…there I was. Someone loved him and he had to let it out to the world. I gave him my congratulations, shook his hand and landed an encouraging pat on his back. He was beaming. So was I.
By Katie Morton, KF12, Yehu Microfinance Trust, Kenya
A perk of the Kiva Fellowship is having friends who live and work in diverse locations around the globe. This is the story of some KF12s that met up and the ridiculous adventure that ensued.
Austin Harris, KF11 Rwanda
In a city in eastern Rwanda, two Microfinance banks established branches within months of each other. Shortly after both banks began operations, the delinquencies and defaults grew to abnormally high levels. After investigation, one bank discovered many of its clients were borrowing from its competitor at the same time. Incidents of multiple borrowing have had detrimental effects on these branches and for the microfinance industry in general. As the industry grows and competition rises, these incidents grow in number and have become a challenge for microfinance institutes.
Austin Harris, KF11 Rwanda
In Rwanda, there is a mandatory community service day each month called Umuganda, meaning “contribution”. All able bodied persons over the age of 18 are expected to participate in volunteer community work. Similar to microfinance, Umuganda helps to further economic development and makes the country less dependent on donor contributions. However, it does come at the cost of unpaid hours of labor for its people.
Signs of Hope in Rwanda
Claude Mansell, KF10, Rwanda
Sixteen years after the genocide it is time to reflect on where the country stands in its pursuit to stability and offering new perspectives to the population. Having been a Kiva Fellow in Rwanda for the last 4 months, I would love to share some personal observations with you.
My main observation is that there are signs of hope all over the country. Opposite the office of Vision Finance, Kiva’s first microfinance partner in Rwanda, is this tiny restaurant called Hope 2020. Its 20 square meter (200 square foot) space tends to be crowded with workers stopping for a simple meal or a tea before continuing their day.
I asked the young owner why he gave the place this name. His answer: “By then my son will be 18, and I hope he will then enter University, unlike me”. Education is hot in Rwanda. The first 9 years of education are paid for by the government; the first 6 school years are attended in village schools, after which the pupils go to a secondary school elsewhere in the country for at least three years. Their primary school grades determine to which secondary school they are admitted.
Much effort is put into increasing the number of pupils that go to university after their secondary school. In particular, technical studies are promoted.
Education is regarded and treated as the motor of economic development of the country. Currently, the economy is largely dependent on the productivity of the agriculture sector. In 2009 Rwanda’s GDP increased by 5%, mainly thanks to a 10% increase of that sector. It is, however, risky to put all eggs into the agricultural basket. Hence government’s effort to stimulate other sectors, such as the tourism industry and the ICT services sector. The digital highway is being built in an incredible speed, with thousands of workers digging the ditches for the new fiber-optic cables across the country.
One spin-off is new business opportunities for the growing number of telephone and for the the many electronics shops.
Healthcare is also high on the agenda, with the life expectancy at birth rising spectacularly from 39 years in 2003 to 57 years in the tear 2010 (source CIA World Factbook). Rwandans can get government-subsidized healthcare insurance for $2. When insured, one gets 85% of costs covered, the remaining 15% to be paid by the individual. The system is designed centrally, but executed de-centrally by the regional healthcare centers, most of which are paid by government.
Medical research for the main diseases (malaria, TBC, HIV) is mainly funded by foreign initiatives, such as by American Universities. Treatment for these diseases is free, in order to eliminate all barriers to the poor.
Improved education, higher productivity in agriculture, the emergence of profitable sectors, investments in the digital highway and the diminishment of dependency on imports are gradually increasing the standards of living. Entrepreneurs are quick to offer services to those who have made the step to the growing middle and upper classes.
The price of these developments is that the current government does not like to see its efforts jeopardized by anyone. Hence, it is not open to criticism, and restricts the freedom of press. Although the many office supply shops have friendly names, what is put on paper is generally well controlled.
It is thanks to a clear vision and a very disciplined implementation of the plans that Rwanda is able to further develop the general health, level of education and economic situation of the population in a steady pace. Let’s celebrate at the happy end bar, after sixteen years of hard work.
Rwandan microfinance partner VFC goes mobile
Claude Mansell, KF10, Rwanda
Microfinance is rarely associated with high technology. Neither is Africa. Yet here is Rwandan Microfinance Institution Vision Finance Company about to launch its pilot in mobile payments, in two of its 9 branches.
In a partnership with World Vision and MTN, the leading phone company in Rwanda, Vision Finance Company (VFC) has started a 12 month project that will lead to 30% of its customers doing their monthly repayments via mobile phone. VFC will be the first microfinance institution (MFI) in Rwanda, a country that is making great progress in the application of ICT, to implement mobile payments in partnership with Triple Jump Advisory Services (a global capacity-building NGO for MFIs that operates under the umbrella of the Netherlands-based microfinance investment manager Triple Jump).
CEO of VFC, Shem Kakembo: “We are proud to be leading in this field, it gives us a competitive edge. It will greatly help our customers, and reduce our costs and business risks. Actually, it was Kiva who talked to us about the benefits of mobile payments and brought us in touch with Triple Jump”.
Significant benefits for the customers, for VFC, for the phone company and indirectly for Kiva and its lenders.
To understand the sources of benefits, let’s take a look at the current processes. Microfinance loans (which are around $1000 in size) are usually disbursed in cash to customers at one of the local branch offices of an MFI. Repayments plus payment of the interest are done on a monthly basis. In 60% of the cases, a customer has to go to the local branch office to make the monthly repayment and in the other 40% a credit officer goes to the customer to collect the cash.
Especially in the rural areas, travel time for customers and credit officers can be significant (one hour back and forth is no exception). At each branch, a cashier and an accountant deal with the physical cash and administration of the transactions. Currently, at VFC 60% of all repayments take place in the last 4 days of the month. This means that during those days much cash is in the hands of the credit officers and/or in the local branches.
Mobile payments will eliminate the monthly travel by customers and credit officers. At VFC one calculation of transportation costs (excluding the opportunity costs of a customer’s travel time) is Rfr 1000, or about $2 per month. This is about 8% of the interest charged to a customer. A mobile payment would cost only Rfr 200, or $0.40.
Focus group results show that customers respond enthusiastically to the new technology. Project Manager at VFC, Jean-Marie Musangwa: “Customers see the monthly travel time as a real burden. Also, they do not like to carry much cash with them each time. Credit officers will not only save travel time but also much time making reports on repayments. The time freed up by use of mobile payments can be used to reach more customers and provide better quality of service.”
Other benefits for VFC are a less time spent on repayments by cashiers and accountants at the branches. In addition, the risk of holding cash money will be reduced, which is an important element in avoiding theft and fraud.
For Kiva and its lenders, the benefits are an improved management of the repayments, and possibly an increase in the repayment rate. Ben Elberger, Kiva’s Regional Director on Anglophone Africa, said: “since 2007, we have been excited to see the propagation of mobile payments by our MFI’s. Thus far, in Africa, 4 of our MFI’s are engaged in pre-studies or projects implementing mobile payments. Long term, mobile payments have the potential to bring down costs for MFIs and thereby benefit clients”.
Investments will be carried by MTN, VFC and the Customers (who buy the phones)
Investments in the infrastructure, equipment and the implementation program will be shared by MTN and VFC. The mobile phones will be sold to the customers for $6 each. The phones can be used for the payments as well as for normal voice communication via the MTN network.
Once operational, the customers and VFC will both pay for the transaction costs.
The downside of the new technology must be properly managed
The main downside to mobile payments is the reduced number of interactions between the credit officer and the customer, specifically in the 40% of the cases in which credit officers went to collect the repayments on a monthly basis. These interactions strengthen the ties between VFC and its customers, and are believed to be beneficial for the repayment rate. Jean-Marie Musangwa on how VFC will ensure its customer intimacy once mobile payments have been introduced: “The follow-up with the customer will be maintained. We will make sure that our credit officers stay in touch with the customers, both for the social and economic reasons. However, we can be more selective in doing so.”
VFC is innovating in line with Rwanda’s technological vision
While VFC may be the first MFI in Rwanda to engage in mobile payments, it definitely will not be the last one. Rwanda is making a massive move to implement mobile technologies and is heavily investing in its internet infrastructure. Watch Rwanda catch up and leap-frog into the next decade!
In 1994, over the course of 100 days, a mass killing of an estimated 800,000 people in Rwanda took place. After the genocide Rwandans have attempted reintegration of its people into society. Although memories of the genocide are still painful, Rwanda has chosen to memorialize many of the sites where killings took place. The Nyamata Genocide Memorial served to unite a microfinance institute, both as staff and as a Rwandan people.
Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB) is a new Kiva partner, however it has not created any Kiva loans to date. Improved information systems and new loan products should change this soon. There is great promise for UOB to expand with Kiva loans and eventually become an active Kiva partner.
This afternoon I walked the streets of Kigali with thousands and thousands of people, united to commemorate 16 years since the start of Rwanda’s genocide. In 1994, the very road we walked on was systematically transformed into a terrifying assembly of roadblocks, violence and murder. The entire country was engulfed, and 100 days later approximately 800,000 people were dead, with millions more terrorized and displaced. In light of such a massive tragedy, I expected the official commemoration to be an emotional and sombre event, and was surprised that the tone was fairly uplifted.
Instructions: Start with a plain white van. Insert several computers. Connect to a power supply as well as a backup power supply. Build connection to a central network. Apply a splashy paint job and finish with enthusiastic staff. Result: A bank on wheels.
The atmosphere was tense. All eyes were on the defendant, a small woman in her mid-thirties. She rose from her seat and softly explained her final argument– I know now that I’m guilty. I should have paid on time, but my children were sick. I had to take them to the hospital and could not be home when it was time to make the payments. I’m sorry I didn’t explain this to you sooner, but I didn’t realize how much this matters to the group. She slunk back into her chair, and the jury began to deliberate.
Gavin Sword KF9, Rwanda
Children are adaptable – this is what I have learned since my first post on our kids’ experience in Rwanda. Christian and Savilla are different people than when we arrived and they have become accustomed to life in Rwanda. Cold baths are met with resignation if not acceptance. They now get excited when they see bugs and like to pick them up and give them names. And the mosquito nets are cool now, like a special fort (for my son) or a princess’ veil (for my daughter). This was NOT how they were in our first few weeks here. It is time for them to fly home next week and they are genuinely sad to know this.
No longer are they seen as outsiders – they have been accepted as Rwandans who just don’t speak the language that well. It seems young children communicate mostly through playing, singing and pretending. To be sure, our children are not totally ‘locals’ – there are different socioeconomic levels here in Rwanda – more pronounced than in the West by far. But in their own milieu they are fitting in with ease. It is wonderful to see.
Gavin Sword KF9 Rwanda
There is a TV show that profiles treacherous jobs around the world, the episode i recall was one about Alaskan King Crab Fishermen. These brave men (typically) work night and day in stormy seas on slippery decks in frigid waters. The ships are rocking violently with waves crashing over the decks – death just a misstep away.
Here in Rwanda on my drive to work each day, I see women who are employed as Street Sweepers doing a job that rivals the dangers faced by the men on these Alaskan ships. Working from dawn til dusk, these intrepid souls stand ON THE HIGHWAY with cars zooming past at 50+ miles per hour, sweeping the debris and dust from the road with meticulous care. There are no pylons or barriers, no “Caution” signs, no “Slow Down – Sweepers at Work” signs.
By Gavin Sword, KF9 Rwanda
The music of Africa conjures images of native dancers and handmade instruments – the drums, rhythms and dancing are mythical. Knowing I was coming to Africa, I was so looking forward to hearing the native music of Rwanda. Music is one of the purest ways I know to experience and appreciate new cultures and connect with people.
During my time here, I have had a few occasions of hearing the native music of Rwanda and it was wonderful. A church service and wedding ceremony I attended with traditional dance and songs were particularly memorable. However, at my MFI, the radio plays pretty much all day long on the computer of my officemate and the thing is, it’s not African music at all. This gentleman has a penchant for country music – and the truth is his brand of music has really gotten me hooked. (more…)
Gavin Sword KF9
I read with great interest the very thoughtful blog by David Roodman: as well as the more sensational New York Times article about Kiva’s loan disbursement disclosure issues. I agree that Kiva could have done a better job of explaining the nuanced realities of fund disbursement on its website. And I think that insightful blogs aimed at holding Kiva accountable are useful and will serve to strengthen the organization. But beneath all the controversy, for many, I think a line blurred between connecting to an individual and controlling an outcome.
As lenders we like to think we are really making a difference in someone’s life and we are…but it’s complicated and it actually bumps up against something we all value greatly about Kiva: Empowerment. For three key stakeholders: lenders, borrowers and MFI’s – empowerment is key.
By Gavin Sword KF9 Rwanda
I know this is not the first time that I’ve mentioned that my children are Rwandan. We adopted Savilla and Christian in 2006 when they were both babies. Our girl turns 4 this month while our boy is a few months past 4. They are the cutest, most adorable little people one could ever hope to know. They are loving and friendly, kind to each other and to the people they meet. Part of the reason I wanted to come to Rwanda as a Kiva Fellow was so that they could have the opportunity to spend time in the country of their birth. To give them a chance to learn the language, make Rwandan friends and live in a land of people who look just like them (not the case in our current home, Vancouver, Canada). Our thinking was not that they would necessarily fully remember the experience, but that it could inform their identity and give them a sense of belonging. Well, this was the idea anyway. (more…)
By Gavin Sword, KF9 Rwanda
It is true that internationally, Rwanda is most known for the horrific events of 1994; a genocide that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 of its people. There is no satisfactory way to comprehend what happened here. Yet as a testament to the human spirit – life in Rwanda carries on. (more…)
By Gavin Sword, KF9 Rwanda
I am really enjoying working with my MicroFinance Institution today – I think it’s worth reporting this because there have been some low moments leading up to this point. But today, I am really experiencing that the people at Vision Finance Company (VFC) are all here doing the best they can with the resources of the organization. Management is highly capable with far reaching ambitions for VFC in Rwanda. They are committed to Vision Finance Company’s mission to help the poorer people in the country that need and deserve access to credit to make a better living in this land. Did I mention that most of us are working today and it’s a Saturday af (more…)
By Gavin Sword, KF9 Rwanda
It is no secret that the rainbow is a harbinger of good things ahead. This photo is a view of Rwanda’ capital city, Kigali after a brief rain spell. On my very first day here, a rainbow was a happy sight indeed.. (more…)
I am sure that many of you have read of the horrors that occurred here in Rwanda almost exactly 15 years ago, but few of us can actually envision the magnitude of such tragedy and its consequences on a society.
Upon arrival in Rwanda I have noticed many hindrances to development and I have generated a lot of criticism for the country’s economic goals etc. But my first visit to a genocide memorial changed my perspective on the place. Rather, it reminded me of the individuals that make up Rwandan society, and how truly extraordinary it is that they have managed to create a peaceful and functioning Rwanda after their experiences 15 years ago.
At Nyamata, a town about an hour south of Kigali, the capital, I was taken through a Roman Catholic church where 10,000 people were slaughtered and dismembered in the most unthinkable ways. These crimes were personal… each person was slain with deliberation and intent. Many were spectacles, butchered in front of their families and peers, killed on the church alter as the entire crowd was forced to watch. My guide, 23 year old Benoit, was there to see it all. (more…)
“Allow me to introduce myself”, I’m Laura Buhler, a member of the KF8 class.
I am from Calgary, Canada and have found the transition to life in Rwanda to be very smooth, given just a couple of bumps in the road.
Exactly two weeks in to my Fellowship at Vision Finance Company (VFC) in Kigali, Rwanda, one baggage loss and one hospital visit later, I have settled in to life here in Rwanda. Since arriving, my mind has been flooded with questions and realizations about this new culture. In fact, I am sure that this constant thinking has been the factor that led to my lack of sleep at night, and my resulting illness! But it’s true… my mind is going a mile-a-minute just fascinated with this place and its infinite complexities— political, cultural, social… and commercial.
The commercial sector is very different here. Entrepreneurship seems to be taking off, but in some ways it still appears to be a new concept. Allow me to illustrate…
Lunch-time. It’s the only time of day when I’m really ready to spend the cash that I have. I am hungry! So I step outside, in very much an up-and-coming business district (Muhima), and walk for 40 minutes in either direction… no café, no brochette stand (basically kabob), and no restaurant to be found. That day, my money got me nowhere.
By Laura Buhler, KF8 Rwanda
Hello Kiva Friends!
I am Laura Buhler and I am a Kiva Fellow 8 trainee at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco. I will be heading to Kigali, Rwanda for about three months this summer. In celebration of this placement, I have loaned $25 to Joselyne, an entrepreneur in Kigali.
If you are interested in learning more about Kiva, Kiva Fellows, or microfinance in general, please stay posted with the Kiva Fellows Blog.
I encourage all of my readers to make a loan to an entrepreneur in Rwanda or around the world.