When I began my Kiva fellowship,  I had so many questions on how microfinance works and does it really have an impact on people’s lives.   As I arrived in Kigali, the understanding of social impact was the first on my list to accomplish.  I wanted to know the Why of Kiva and how can I help to have an impact.  My MFI partner is Urwego Opportunity Bank, and I was excited to spend the next 4 months witnessing and telling their story of the work they do.  
 
     My first week I met with Agaba, the Social Performance Manager in the Transformation Team.   We spent the first hours going over some of the data that her team works on.   She explained the process with the interview forms for borrowers who just received a loan evaluating their  Progress out of Poverty Index looking at elements like schooling, how many children in the household are at the age to attend school, material of their floor (dirt or concrete), lighting and cooking sources, and how many rooms are in their home.  After a client has had a loan for awhile, they evaluate their transformation understanding how financially better they are from year to year, their savings, their goals for the future, and their spirituality.   All of this information gets put into data that you can see the transformation through the numbers.   However, the transformation is best seen meeting the borrowers and seeing their confidence and better living conditions.    
 
Follow us on a Transformation Journey:
 
 
Joyeaux optimistic about how her new loan will help her grow her business
           
      Joyeaux is in process to receive her first loan.   With a youthful optimism for the future, she listens to my questions intently in English, and is proud that she understands me.   She is single with no family, and lives with people in the community that support each other.   Joyeaux would like to use the loan to improve and expand her boutique business that sells sugar and rice.  Urwego will be taking her through education on financing, business management, and spirituality.    She is confident that she will develop herself.   She is optimistic for a bright future.  
 
 
Fortina and I encouraging a Smile
       
      Fortina has recently received her first loan from Urwego.   She was timid at first, and Obadia, Urwego Transformation Team member, eased Fortina’s fears by explaining the purpose of the survey.   Urwego wants to know how their services are helping her and to improve their services for their clients in the future.     Fortina is 27 with her husband and two children under the age of 6.   The loan provided by Urwego is Fortina’s first financing ever, and she will use her loan to grow her trade business of collecting bananas from the rural area to sell in the urban area.   To ensure Urwego is serving the under-privileged of Rwanda, they ask questions from the PPI index which looks at basic needs like housing, electricity, and cooking fuel.   Fortina lives in a packed earth floor with 3 rooms, and cooks her food with firewood.   She lights her home with mobile solar panels instead of electricity.  Fortina works hard, and travels 1 hour each week for her development meetings that Urwego provides for her group.     We see a bright future for Fortina as she is transformed through financing and spirituality.

Justine, Justine's husband, and her business partner at her Sewing Shop

      Justine was sitting at her sewing machine with her proud husband standing nearby.  She wore a vibrant dress, and her eyes sparkled.  Justine was on her second round of loans in 8 months, and was being transformed as her business grew.  Her and her husband have 4 kids from the ages of 4 to 22.  Her family is healthy and their income and savings have grown in the past year.     Her loans have allowed her to buy the sewing machine, and then a darning machine – allowing for more efficient work.   With her extra income, she tells me how she is able to buy fabric ahead of demand to increase the business while she points to the fabrics hanging with a few boys’ trousers she has sewn.  She also showed us her confidence in understanding her financial needs, and discussed a need to have monthly payments instead of weekly payments based on the flow of the business.   When it was time to take her picture, she wanted her business partner and her husband in the picture also.

Ester's with his new machinary assets at his Carpentry business

      Estras and his wife gave us welcoming hugs as they welcomed us into their home.  Estras is further along in his transformation.  He has graduated from group loans to larger individual loans.   With his loans, Estras’ carpentry business has been able to invest in equipment and a car for delivering lumber and furniture.  He supports a family of 8 along with employing part time 8 people including his son supporting his education.    Along with building of the community through work, he is a Pastor and provides spiritual guidance.  However, Estros’ recent growth of his business has slowed down.  Based on a lack of jobs, he has less income and savings.  His luck continued to prove challenging as thieves stole one of his machines.  With these challenges, he has struggled to pay back his loans on time, and will now work with Urwego on a solution like the use of his collateral.  Even though he has fallen on hard times, Urwego takes responsibility to their clients to support them on solutions through these low dips in life. 
 
     Urwego’s commitment to their clients and their transformation is best summed up in their values that spells out Christ – their Christianity beliefs behind the work that they do. 
 
Commitment - to our clients and their transformation
Humility – a spirit of serving in all we do
Respect – 360 degrees of consideration and teamwork
Integrity – living our values with transparency and consistency
Stewardship – accountability, innovation, and urgency
Transformation and prayer - our ultimate goal in ourselves and others
 
 My time with the Transformation team was a good starting point to my Why, and fueled my confidence and respect for the hard work it takes to run a Microfinance institute.   Please support Urwego Opportunity Bank and Rwanda by lending a loan to their borrowers that are being transformed to a better life.  Kiva.org - Urwego Opportunity Bank
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Rwanda's Transformation

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Thank you Jessica for taking time to know the impact of Urwego Opportunity Bank to it's clients through different field visits. Urwego is so grateful to the partnership it has with kiva because together with other partners Urwego is able to reach out to more people. Thanks too for fellows such as Jessica who have contributed to working on/improving different kiva processes in Urwego Opportunity Bank.

Jessica! Thanks for sharing your experiences working with Urwego and Kiva. I love reading the personal profiles of all the entrepeneurs who are growing their businesses. The values that define Urwego's commitment to their clients are positive reminders we can all benefit from. Keep up the good work!

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Jessica grew up in the small rural town of Ottawa, Ohio. With a desire to be in the fashion world, Jessica graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business at BGSU with a Marketing specialization. Her career lead her to manage large retail businesses as a Senior Buyer for department stores, Kohl's in Milwaukee and Sears in Chicago. With a transfer to San Francisco, she began to work on startup retail business and growing business with digital marketing. Her retail career developed her skills in team development, consumer behavior, and creating strategies for profitable growth. As she looks to the future, Jessica would like to see how this skill set links to the microfinance world in international development. After her first international trip, she really wanted to learn more about new cultures and be able to give back and create a more equitable world. Her travels have taken her throughout Europe, Morocco and South America. In her travels, she found a love for artisan products. With this passion, she created an online business focused on sustainable, fair trade retail called www.wanderkarma.com. She is looking forward to being able to meet the people in Rwanda, and is honored to be part of the Kiva team to help support the effort.

 
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