Archives For Rwanda

Nearing graduation from graduate school, my friend Bhakti told me there was someone I had to meet.

His name was Jeffrey Lee. From my first conversation with him many years ago, I knew this was a very special man of God.

Jeffrey Lee

At HOPE, we seek leaders with the head of a banker and the heart of a pastor. No one exhibits this better than Jeffrey.

Formerly CEO of Shinhan Bank America—the US division of one of Korea’s largest banks—Jeffrey championed its growth of assets to $950 million. He was also CEO of Premier Bank in Denver. While he was CEO, Business Week Magazine stated Premier Bank was “…what a bank should be.”

Five years ago, he joined Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB), HOPE’s partner in Rwanda. From 1999 to 2002, I had the privilege of serving as Urwego’s Managing Director. Let’s just say that when Jeffrey joined the team, the program received a major upgrade in leadership. The program has seen a 95 percent growth rate in 2011 alone (45 percent growth in 2012). Over 170,000 Rwandans are breaking the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty through banking and entrepreneurship. UOB has a diversified loan portfolio of $17M in 42,000 accounts and more than $10.5M in client savings.

He’s also pushing the boundaries in innovation—UOB rolled out a mobile banking program and a comprehensive education financing program. He also has kept the “heart” of the mission front and center with his team. You can learn more about his journey here: Ministries of Jeffrey and Kristin Lee in Rwanda.

But what I most appreciate about Jeffrey is that whenever I’ve seen someone pay him a compliment, he responds, “Thanks be to God for anything that has happened.” He constantly redirects the attention to God and his team’s capability.

The rare combination of technical proficiency and genuine humility make Jeffrey an exceptional leader. Jeffrey exhibits the traits we are looking for in the field of Christ-centered microfinance.

Jeffrey is stepping down next February and so we are looking for someone like him, who has the heart of a pastor and the mind of a banker, to take the lead in Rwanda, as well as in the other countries of HOPE’s Network.

I’m wondering if you would help us find the next Jeffrey and other leaders to guide us into the future. From a CFO based in Lancaster, PA to Executive Directors based internationally, we have a number of very important domestic and international assignments. Please visit our current job listings here and consider joining us!

 

Two weeks ago, I shared how my eight-year-old son Keith demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit while selling beans on our recent trip to Rwanda together. (Check it out here – Keith and the Kigali Beans.)

Entrepreneurship wasn’t just embodied that week by my son, but also by an 80-year-old woman named Anastasie.

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The day after Keith sold his beans in the market, we traveled to a village church. One group in the savings and credit association programs was holding their weekly meeting.

Using a walking stick as her eyes, a woman arrived a few minutes late. She guided herself to the door, and walked in, tapping her cane along the dirt floor to find a bench to sit down on.

This was my introduction to Anastasie. Not only is she 80 years old, but she is also blind.

As the songs began, she clapped and swayed. Her joy was not only obvious, but contagious. As the meeting progressed, we asked about the impact of the savings and credit association program in their Rwandan community. Anastasie stepped up first to speak.

“I may be old. I may be blind,” she said. “But I have built my house and now rent out rooms. I will not beg. I will provide for my family.”

Anastasie used her small business loan to add rooms onto her house to rent out and provide an income, as well as having someone to be “her eyes” at home. She went on to tell the story about how she always repaid her loans. And how she was continuing to plan her next investment.

Her children call her blessed. Indeed she is – and she also is a savvy entrepreneur dreaming big dreams about the future.

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As I walked out with Anastasie holding my hand, I was acutely aware I was in the presence of a remarkable woman. She reminded me to never underestimate the capacity of all people created in the image of God—and the joy it is to walk together.

I can’t help but realize that my 8-year-old son Keith and 80-year-old Anastasie both exemplified key qualities of entrepreneurship. Keith was able to take 3 small bags of beans and develop them into 3,500 francs. Anastasie was able to provide a job, a place to stay, and even goats to families that needed them.

The contrast of an 8-year-American child and an 80-year-old Rwandan widow left me with one unmistakable lesson: Entrepreneurship can be for everyone.

If they can step out and create, perhaps you can to.

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When Keith, my 8 year old, announced his plans to sell beans in a Rwandan market, I wasn’t exactly the most supportive parent.

“That’s impossible,” I responded. The idea of an American boy selling beans in a Kigali market just didn’t seem likely.

But he proved me wrong in a beautiful way.

keith beans

We had been exploring HOPE’s work and learning about entrepreneurship. Turns out, Keith had been listening intently.

While I was in meetings, Keith was exploring outside. He found a field that had recently been harvested. They had missed some beans in the soil. So he found a couple plastic bags and picked beans and sorted them by type.

After a couple hours, he had three small bags full of beans.

When we reached Kigali, Keith asked me to go with him to the local market to try and sell the beans. We walked down an unpaved road until we came to a small group of businesses. Approaching the first vendor, I translated for him as he explained that he was here to sell his beans.

Truth is, I didn’t want him to try and sell the beans. I thought there was absolutely no way he would find a buyer. My fears were confirmed when the vendor laughed as he realized this “rich American” was trying to sell three small bags of beans. I wondered if Keith would go home disappointed with this first refusal.

But Keith knew that entrepreneurs don’t take the first “no.”

Entrepreneurial Keith

So we walked on to the next market. There, he saw a man selling pineapples and bananas. Keith approached the man. In earnest again, Keith began explaining that he was here to sell his beans. And with a giant smile, the man reached into his pocket. He took out 50 francs and bought Keith’s beans.

Keith was ecstatic. His first international business sale.

When we reached home, Keith was glowing and tossed me 20 francs and said, “Thanks for your help, Dad. Why don’t you go and buy yourself a donut.”

We went to bed—but the next morning, Keith had beans on his mind.

We left early to go visit Akagera National Park, but while visiting giraffes, Keith commented, “Dad this is great, but will we get home in time for me to go to the market before it closes?”

Turns out he was thinking about opportunity cost. Time looking at giraffes was time he wasn’t selling beans.

Beans - Keith

When we returned home, he took his earnings and bought more beans. He spent the evening packaging them in smaller packages and headed to the market again the next day.

Repeatedly, Keith sold his beans, bought more, sold more. Turning his inventory multiple times, he started to accumulate more capital, as well as a reputation as the International Bean Seller in the local market.

He tried to hire Irebe and Isaro, his two Rwandan cousins. But as is common for 5 and 7 year olds, they were more interested in playing than in working. At the end of the day, Keith lamented, “I wanted to pay them, but I couldn’t because they didn’t work.”

After two days, Keith had earned 3,500 francs.

“Dad, I just turned time into money!” he celebrated.

He proceeded to buy a pineapple for our family. We feasted on his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.

This was not an experience I will forget as I was humbled by Keith’s entrepreneurship. He modeled five key lessons every entrepreneur knows:

  1. Don’t always listen to people who say, “That’s impossible.”
  2. Don’t go home after your first “no.”
  3. By working hard, it’s possible to turn time into money.
  4. Power is in reinvestment and compounding your earnings.
  5. Working hard allows the joys of generosity – including juicy pineapples.

Progress is Possible

November 1, 2012 — Leave a comment

When faced with overwhelming issues like AIDS, poverty, and human trafficking, it’s easy to forget progress is possible.  But consider Rwanda.  I lived in Rwanda from 1999-2002 and recently returned. It simply is not the same country today as it was just a decade ago.  Though it still has a long way to go, Rwanda has made remarkable progress and creates a case for optimism.

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Some of the factors at work in Rwanda’s progress include:

1. Curbing Corruption.  According to Transparency International, Rwanda now has the lowest corruption rate in East Africa.  In contrast, its neighboring state Burundi is ranked as the most corrupt nation in East Africa. Not surprisingly, the pace of development in Rwanda far exceeds the pace in Burundi. Curbing corruption is a prerequisite for lasting progress to occur, and Rwanda is leading the way.

2. Entrepreneurship.  The Rwandan government has been opening its doors to entrepreneurship and investment.  In an interview with PovertyCure, Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, says he believes that handouts hinder growth: “If you allow a process where people are shielded from [entrepreneurship], then it’s like abusing them.  Yes, it’s like saying, ‘You are disabled.  Let me help you.’”

Instead he promotes business development and welcomes the free market: “It actually gives people the feeling that they are valued, meaning they are as capable, they are as competent, they are as gifted and as talented as anyone else.”

3. Church engagement.  It’s not enough to curb corruption or foster entrepreneurship if there is no foundation for reconciliation and healing from Rwanda’s troubled past. The church in Rwanda has decided to act. Recognizing the need for healing, it has started savings groups among people eager to escape poverty. Besides meeting financial needs, the groups also promote reconciliation and deepen relationships.

Gaudence, one savings group member, said, “We thank God for providing the savings groups because we are like family. Nobody is worried about how to find money to support our families. The savings groups [also] help us to know and love each other.”

Besides saving, the members worship and pray together.  They also reach out to those in their community. One such individual is Jacqueline.

Jacqueline was so desperate that she used to sell her body to provide for her family. But now, standing tall, she supports herself through farming. She’s also fully engaged in her church and community. Life looks a whole lot brighter for Jacqueline – and for the entire country of Rwanda.

An engaged church, a crackdown on corruption, and a positive attitude toward entrepreneurship are enabling entrepreneurs like Jacqueline to flourish.