Mobile Banking Improving Lives of Rwanda's Poor

A Christ-centered network of microfinance institutions is helping to provide life-changing mobile banking services in greatly impoverished communities in Rwanda so that people could find more security in life.

"I think mHose helps me not sin as much. As president of the trust group, it's very difficult to get everyone in the group to pay on time. It's possible to find me cursing on phone or even yelling at them in person. Basically, it lowers my stress level when people are accountable and pay on time," Queen Nyirinkwaya, a married Rwanda woman with two daughters and a growing timber business, said in an interview shared with The Christian Post.

"mHose has made it easier for everyone to pay on time. Most people say they pay late because they don't want to leave their business, travel a long way, and stand in long lines. They hesitate because they don't know how long that will take."

Nyirinkwaya is referring to the mHose program (hose is the Rwandan word for "everywhere") developed by microfinance organization Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB), which delivers financial services to people in underserved areas who don't have access to brick-and-mortar banks. Today, it serves more than 180,000 clients in all 30 districts of Rwanda through 44 business outlets.

UOB is partnering with the Christ-centered HOPE International in an effort to help its largest customer base, which is the laboring poor. Many of those people have virtually no access to public services and educational opportunities, are malnourished and earn incomes below the poverty line, according to a press release.

The mobile banking tool helps such people greatly by providing a way for more efficient money management, which in turn helps those in poverty improve their businesses and provide for their families. A growing number of Rwandans, over 90 percent of whom identify as Christians, have embraced this new technology. The country ranks as the eighth fastest-growing mobile money economies in the world

"We really value the ability we now have of bringing a full range of financial services to Rwandans who are poorly served by the formal financial sector," said Jeffrey Lee, UOB's chief executive. "We want to encourage financial inclusion in Rwanda by serving customers well and offering the best services. Even Rwanda's most underserved communities prefer mobile banking for their daily transactions. It's been exciting to see Rwanda truly embrace mHose."

Peter Greer, president and CEO of HOPE International, which  aims to   "empower men, women, and families to break the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty through discipleship, biblically based business training, savings services, and small loans," emphasized that more convenient banking is especially important for those living in poverty.

"HOPE empowers people living in poverty to provide for themselves. Mobile banking is another way to help our clients do that, by making it safer and easier to manage money and grow a small business," Greer explained.

The non-profit group says that its programs have reached over 575,000 entrepreneurs around the world "with the love of Jesus Christ and the opportunity to start or expand a business."

Nyirinkwaya explained that since she can now make payments using her phone, she doesn't need to close her business to go to the bank or some other place to make a physical payment.

"Buying electricity has become very easy for my family. We are no longer out of power because I can buy electricity through my phone, sitting in my living room," she continued, adding that her family pays rent for her two sisters-in-law and half of her brother's college tuition, and assists her old sister with everyday needs like money for food and clothing.

"My life before joining UOB's trust groups ... I was a stay home mama and a wife. My husband was the only one bringing income home. It was very little money. I had no say since I did not produce any. Life was tough. As a woman I couldn't get what I needed. I couldn't buy me lotion or clothes. I would always depend on whatever my husband brought me and at times he did not bring home anything. Not because he did not want too, but rather he could not afford to dress me and provide the other means to the family."

Nyirinkwaya expressed hopes that she can expand her business and buy a machine that will help hew timber more attractively for clients.

"Then when clients buy, I can hew it for them without giving that business away. I also hope to expand to the point where I can educate my children in university. I also would like to stop renting and build my own home."

HOPE has also implemented an SMS text-messaging initiative in Rwanda in an effort to prioritize spiritual integration, by allowing group leaders to text important information such as group attendance and weekly savings to program leaders, which increases consistency and efficiency of reporting and allows more time to spent on business training and Christian discipleship.

"It was very interesting for me to see the clients learn how to send texts for the first time," said Daniel Bizumuremyi, a group facilitator for HOPE. "They were asking so many questions, which shows that it caught their attention because they were not going to have to walk a long distance any more to submit their reports. Since it takes less time to carry out financial transactions, the group has additional time to study and discuss the Bible. That alone is a huge payoff!"

Further information about HOPE and the various projects it supports is available on the network's official website.