Monday, April 18, 2016

Trip to Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya (February 2016)

For the past two years, I have been serving the boards of Opportunity International's microfinance institutions in four countries: DR Congo, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. For Kenya, I have been serving the board for more than four years. This board membership requires that I travel to these countries four times a year to attend quarterly board meetings.

Opportunity International is the largest Christian microfinancial institution network in the world. It aims to create 20 million jobs by 2020 through financial support for the poor. Microfinance has been known to be one of the most effective ways to alleviate the poverty, despite the recent challenges made against micro credit programs for the poor.

Since I started a new ministry, SfK Ministries, in October 2015, I had to give a notice to Opportunity International that I can no longer serve the boards in November 2015. Tentatively, we agreed that I serve the board through February 2016.

Due to inability to secure the entry visa to DR Congo in a timely manner, I could not attend the board meeting in DR Congo. But I was able to travel to three remaining countries to attend the board meetings.

As usual, at times it was a hectic process just to enter the country, like Mozambique, because I had to go through South Africa to obtain the visa and on the way back I had to stay over night in South Africa to take the early flight from Johannesburg to Kigali. But I was able to travel and serve the board joyfully because it was the calling to serve the boards with excellence until it was all over.

Opportunity International is going through a deal where it is selling its ownership in six microfinancial institutions in Africa to MyBucks, a fin tech company from South Africa. Three out of four institutions where I serve the board are being sold. One remaining institutions in DR Congo is also being sold to Vision Fund, World Vision's microfinance arm. Thus, the board's role during this transition time is important and I did not want to neglect the fiduciary responsibility.

I attended OI DRC board in person only twice due mainly to the challenges I had to face in getting the visa to enter the country. But my two visits to the country gave me strong enough impression about the bureaucracy and red tapes associated with the corruption of the government. Continued civil wars and regional conflicts produced millions of people who have been displaced. The poverty level of the Congolese people was extreme, ironically in a country where natural resources are so abundant. Pathetic. I will miss the management team, including Frans, the Dutch banker, Serafin, Sebastian and a few others. The dynamics at this board were most mysterious to me because of their lack of response and inaction to my call for drastic actions at this bleeding operation. Jane was so protective of Frans, Keith was lukewarm, Stanley and Thami were vocal only selectively, Patrick was quiet. At any rate, Vision Fund signed the Share Purchase Agreement and request for approval has been submitted to the regulatory authority. Frans will serve as CEO only through the end of April and Sebastian will serve as Acting CEO until the approval is obtained. May the good Lord walk with them.

I will miss the ocean view and breeze from the Indian Ocean in Maputo at the Southern Sun Resort. I will also miss probably the best breakfast buffet, including smoked salmon, a variety of juices, yogurts, breads, honey from beehive, I will miss Pieter, Sergio, Kathryn, Eugenio and Lusungu. The board members will also be missed: Herve, Frazer, Thami, Mark, Graham and Keith who has retired. But the life must go on. I will miss the delicious seafood that I enjoyed every time we went out for dinner. Mozambique is a sizable country but with an 80% concentration of economic power in Maputo where only 20% of the population resides. Mozambique remains a challenging nation with poor infrastructure (particularly power outages), widely spread land leading to difficulty to travel to provincial areas, unceasing weather calamities.

I will also miss the dynamics we have had at Opportunity Kenya. The management team, at times frustrating the board, will be missed: Lydia, Daniel, Fred, Sophie, Jackson, Tim (Audit), Anthony (Risk) and bully-looking GetBucks Kenya CEO Tony and Regional Director Mike. The dynamics we had within the board would not have been made possible without S-P and Jerry along with James and Thami. OKL is going through an additional pain because it is being merged with GetBucks Kenya operation. Long gone is the House of Wayne, but I will still miss the good foods we enjoyed at Fairview Hotel adjacent to Town Lodge we stayed. The pool side dinner with the board was great joy added to the dynamic interaction we had.

I will miss the most Opportunity Tanzania. A small but rapidly turning around operation impressed the board led by Jerry and consisting of Mark, Thami and Diana. A trip to Morogoro with Mark and Jerry was memorable and the proactive response to the board's request for cutback in operating expenses was refreshing. Lilian and Stanley M. were an excellent duo and Kwame from Ghana was greatly helpful in figuring out the financial matters. Lilian obviously impressed the management of GetBucks also. I am confident that they will turn around the company for sustainable profitability while serving the poor in Tanzania. I will miss the Seacliff Hotel and its delicious foods, even Colosseum Hotel. I may also miss the visiting opportunities with United Africa University of Tanzania.

After the February board meetings, I am still involved in monthly calls and probably I will continue to be involved in the governance matters until all sales are consummated. But I will gradually phase out my involvement whenever possible.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve at these boards and to be involved in the microfinance industry. I will in one form or another continue to be involved in microfinance and I pray that it will help develop a pathway to self-sufficiency for so many people who are poor and eager to attain working opportunities. I will continue my best in serving the board until I sign off my resignation letters from these boards. - Jeffrey

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