16 December 2016

Zambia: NGO Opportunity International Sells Urwego Bank in Rwanda

Opportunity International and its affiliates in Canada and Germany have completed a share purchase agreement to sell its 50 percent ownership of Urwego Opportunity Bank ("Urwego") to HOPE International, a network of Christ-centered microenterprise development programs in 16 countries, according to a press release circulated by the organization today.

HOPE International, which has been a partner of Opportunity International in Rwanda for the last 11 years, is now a 99 percent shareholder in the bank with World Relief continuing to own 1 percent. The transaction has been approved by the National Bank of Rwanda.

With 33 credit offices and 130 active agents across the country, Urwego is the largest microfinance institution in Rwanda, serving more than 300,000 clients or nearly 5 percent of the adult population. Urwego offers agricultural loans, education financing, foreign exchange products, asset financing, home improvement loans, and microinsurance.

As part of the agreement, Opportunity International and HOPE International have executed a Program Services Agreement to enable Opportunity to continue to provide high-impact education and agriculture programs to Rwandans living in poverty through Urwego Bank. Opportunity's Agriculture Finance program will provide farmers with access to distribution networks and consultants to improve their productivity, boost local food supplies, and increase farmer income. The Education Finance program will provide access to school fee loans to help parents pay tuition, buy books and school supplies. The program will also provide access to school improvement loans to help school proprietors build and expand schools and improve the quality of education and learning outcomes.

"We will continue working through Urwego Bank to put more kids in classrooms and help smallholder farmers increase their crop yields and boost their incomes, ultimately transforming lives as children are educated and rural livelihoods are secured," said Vicki Escarra, global CEO, Opportunity International.

Its use of mobile banking and biometric fingerprint technology provides convenient and secure account access for clients in rural and urban areas alike. Because HOPE International also partners with local Rwandan church denominations to provide families with financial access through savings and credit associations (SCAs), HOPE International and Urwego will explore the potential for healthy linkages between SCAs and the bank's financial services.

Initially founded in 1997 by World Relief as Urwego Community Banking, the bank joined the HOPE International network in 2005. In 2007, the bank merged with Opportunity International Bank of Rwanda to become Urwego Opportunity Bank. Over the years, the bank has distributed nearly $290 million in loans to underserved Rwandan entrepreneurs to promote sustainability, social transformation and spiritual impact.

"We are delighted to deepen our long-standing partnership with Urwego," said HOPE International President Peter Greer. "We are confident in Urwego's team and have seen their example of Christ-like servant leadership. Together, we will stay true to Urwego's calling and do everything in our power to support continual operational excellence and significant impact throughout Rwanda."

Over the past twenty years, financial inclusion has increased significantly in Rwanda, with the population excluded from financial products or services dropping from 28 to 11 percent between 2012 and 2016, yet only 26 percent of the population uses products or services from licensed commercial banks regulated by the National Bank of Rwanda. Together, HOPE International and Urwego staff will focus on further expanding and improving services for clients through Urwego's 18 fully operational microfinance branch offices located in 11 districts across Rwanda.

"I am confident that, with HOPE International as our primary shareholder and the continued relationship that Opportunity International will have with our staff and our clients, we will continue to provide transformational financial services that lift up the lives of those in our communities and open doors for economic growth," said Germaine Mukamusana, Acting CEO, Urwego Bank.

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said, "Since Urwego's inception in 1997, the economic, political, and social milieu of Rwanda has changed dramatically. What began as a desire to respond compassionately to the nation's devastating genocide has evolved into a focus on long-term development through reliable financial services, capacity building, and job creation. Though much has changed in Rwanda, Urwego's mission and work is as important as ever. We praise God that Urwego is poised to help hundreds of thousands of families escape physical and spiritual poverty."

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About HOPE International

HOPE International is a network of microfinance institutions and savings and credit associations operating in 16 countries around the world. Its mission is to invest in the dreams of families in the world's underserved communities as they proclaim and live the Gospel. HOPE International works to empower men and women to break the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty through discipleship, biblically based training, savings services, and small loans. The HOPE International network has a loan portfolio of more than $50 million through microfinance institutions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In addition to microfinance programs, HOPE International partners with thousands of local church denominations worldwide to form and train savings and credit associations. Learn more at www.hopeinternational.org.

About Opportunity International

Opportunity International is a global non-profit organization that helps people in developing countries work their way out of poverty. Founded in 1971, the organization has provided more than $9 billion in loans to help clients launch and expand businesses, provide for their children and create jobs in their communities. At the end of 2015, more than 14 million clients in 24 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, were using an Opportunity International loan, savings account, insurance policy or training to improve their lives. The organization has set a goal of helping clients create or sustain 20 million jobs by 2020. Through our long history in developing microfinance and complementary products and services in education, agriculture and health, we've helped clients create 15.8 million jobs as of the end of 2015. More than 95 percent of Opportunity's loan clients are women who would otherwise likely not have access to financial services because of legal and cultural gender inequities in many developing countries. The global headquarters of Opportunity International are in Chicago, with other key offices in Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The organization serves clients through a network of more than 20,000 people worldwide. Discover more at opportunity.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

About Urwego

Since 1997, Urwego has served Rwandans who are economically active but underserved by banking institutions. As a Christian microfinance bank, Urwego provides opportunities for those living in poverty to transform their lives, their children's futures and their communities. They offer a full range of financial services, including loans and savings programs, as well as training to maximize the impact of financial products and empower clients for success in business, household management, and health. Clients use these resources to expand businesses, provide for their families and create jobs in their communities. Discover more at www.urwegobank.com.

About World Relief

World Relief is an international relief and development agency. Founded in 1944 as the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief offers assistance to victims of poverty, disease, hunger, war, disasters, and persecution. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, the organization has offices worldwide. It is supported by churches, foundations, and individual donors, as well as through United States Government grants from USAID and other agencies. World Relief serves over 4 million vulnerable people a year and has over 100,000 volunteers actively engaged in reaching their communities with life-saving messages. In 2015, World Relief served 7,041,527 people with the help of 63,900 local volunteers. An estimated 80 percent of those who directly benefit from World Relief's programs are women and children-the most vulnerable individuals. World Relief's core programs focus on microfinance, AIDS prevention and care, maternal and child health, child development, agricultural training, disaster response, refugee resettlement, and immigrant services. For more than 70 years, World Relief has empowered the local church to serve millions of vulnerable people in some of the hardest places in the world. Learn more at www.worldrelief.org.

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