Mobile Phones Empowering the Rural Poor through Mobile Banking
  • January 10, 2012

Mobile phones are as numerous in Rwanda as the beautiful panoramic views of its famous “Thousand Hills”.  This was all the more confirmed as Vestine NYIRABAGANDE, Urwego Opportunity Bank’s (UOB) client, sat with a mobile phone on her lap.  She laughed when asked how many of her neighbors have mobile phones.  “I don’t think there is anyone in this area who doesn’t have a mobile phone!” she said.     

UOB is a Christian Micro-Finance bank that is motivated by Jesus Christ’s call to love and serve the poor.  It provides loan and savings products, financial services, and training to help its clients improve their lives, economically, socially, and spiritually.    

Vestine, a widow with four children, lives in the rural area of Ngororero.  As we sat in a market that descended down the hillside, she recounted her story about how UOB has helped improve her life:   

Before I joined UOB I sold only vegetables and had difficulty clothing my children and providing them with food.  My children attended school, but paying their school fees was a burden.  With my first (and current) UOB loan of $240 I was able to open a retail shop where I sell everything from potatoes to cosmetics.  Already my business has helped improve my family’s life.    

Recently UOB received a grant for its future Mobile Banking Initiative.  This generous grant came from Building an Inclusive Financial Sector in Rwanda (BIFSIR). UOB’s intention for Mobile Banking will help carry out BIFSIR’s objective by enabling its clients to access a variety of services more easily and conveniently through their mobile phones.  Each service would be delivered at an affordable price, thereby increasing UOB’s outreach to the under-banked.    

As Vestine recounted her many achievements, we inquired if there is a service or product that UOB could provide to assist in her business’s growth.  She said, “It would be appreciated if UOB could bring Mobile Banking services to this area!”       

The nearest UOB branch is one hour away, which is inconvenient because of the time spent traveling and away from her business.  With UOB’s Mobile Banking service Vestine will be able to safely save and have access to her money in a UOB branch.                             

It is evident that business people, like Vestine, in rural areas are aware of the conveniences of Mobile Banking.  The provision of Mobile Banking services ultimately fulfills both BIFSIR and UOB’s objective to empower those who are financially underserved and equip them to advance in the fight against poverty.                         

This article was written by Suzanne Hofert for UNCDF and UNDP Rwanda.