SBFIC-AMIR partnership strengthened Rwandan microfinance sector

On 3 September 2020 at 12:08

Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC) and the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR) have completed an 11-year successful partnership, which strengthened the microfinance sector in Rwanda significantly.

In a concluding ceremony on Friday last week the joint achievements of the two organizations were commemorated and celebrated, and decisive steps were taken to ensure that AMIR can promote the positive development of the microfinance sector without the support of its long-standing partner SBFIC.

Initially the partnership was launched in 2009 with a strong focus on financial education. The largest of the financial education activities initiated at the time, World Savings Weeks, is still celebrated annually and enjoys high participation all over the country. During this time, more than 500,000 people were sensitized and made aware of the savings culture, and more than 100,000 children opened their own savings account with a total amount of Rwf 2.2 billion.

In her opening speech, Maria Knappstein Country Director SBFIC Rwanda gave a pertinent summary of the 11 years of cooperation and illustrated the dynamic development that not only the country of Rwanda but also the entire microfinance sector has undergone during the time of this partnership, e.g. that AMIR membership increased by 850 %, from 30 up to 340 or financial inclusions (including informal ones) were promoted and could be expanded from 47 % to 93 %.

During her retrospective journey through time, Knappstein mentioned that interventions to develop the capacity of microfinance staff and bodies were another focal area that was included from the very beginning. Initially, AMIR, with SBFIC’s support, was directly responsible for organizing training courses to professionalize its members.

Soon afterwards, the idea of founding its own training academy for microfinance institutions emerged. Consequently, AMIR and SBFIC were among the key players in the conception and establishment of this academy called RICEM (Rwanda Institute of Cooperatives, Entrepreneurship and Microfinance).

Knappstein also emphasized that one partner could only grow through the other and that she is very grateful for this intensive time of partnership.

Speaking on behalf of the AMIR, its Executive Director, Aimable Nkuranga, said the project was aimed at polishing the skills of microfinance staff for better services delivery. He said that all the activities that took place have had a positive impact.

"In various training, financial institution staffs have been empowered. We have also made benchmark visits to different countries to learn best practices and share experiences,” he said.

One of the most important topics on the agenda to further boost AMIR’s activities was the signing of a license agreement for the so-called business simulations. SBFIC’s business simulations are an international brand for an innovative interactive learning experience, in which learning is supported by haptic and computer-based simulations, far away from dry theory.

The simulations offer participants a risk-free environment in which they can try things out. The main goal of the simulations is to teach people to recognize the causes of problems and analyze relationships.

By interpreting the results and evaluating the players’ performance, the teams form and refine their own success strategy. AMIR will thus be authorized to offer these business simulations to its members and beneficiaries even after the partnership ends.

Charles Kayumba, Vice Chairman of AMIR, reported in his speech that he himself had benefited from professional training that AMIR had been conducting in the microfinance sector with the support of SBFIC from the very beginning. He appreciated the quality of the training courses developed and conducted specifically for the sector and thanked SBFIC on behalf of AMIR for the many years of fruitful partnership.

A certain level of digitization is an essential prerequisite for future activities in this sector. In order to demonstrate the supportive possibilities of digitization, the organization team arranged a quasi-live connection to Germany, in which the two regional coordinators of SBFIC East Africa, Britta and Thomas Konitzer, sent their greetings and best wishes to AMIR.

They also reminded of the joint successes, such as the introduction of Shared Audit Services or the establishment of different meeting formats with the member organizations, in order to be able to inquire for their needs directly at the basis.

Last but not least, they emphasized another success story, which was a joint development of a new product specially designed for women: Tinyuka Wigire Munyarwandakazi, launched in 2016, educates more than 5,000 women on savings and credit, with more than 7,000 accounts open and a total of Rwf 400 million that has been disbursed as loans to profitable projects, most of which have been made by women who have been trained by this project.

The subsequent handover of all joint projects was not only symbolic. Knappstein emphasized that she would not let AMIR go without the best possible preparation for their trips and ventures when SBFIC does no longer sit in the ’passenger seat’ for potential support.

Therefore, all colleagues had made every effort to document the joint projects of the past years. All concept papers, templates, implementation plans, monitoring files and lessons learnt were collected and ceremonially handed over to AMIR on a flash drive. This includes the following joint projects:

Coaching of big MFIs, Mystery Shopping, Dual Apprenticeship System, Financial Education for Children, Member Meeting Formats, Shared IT Services, Shared Audit Services, Farmers Business Simulations, Micro Business Simulation, Savings Game, Tinyuka Wigire Munyarwandakazi and World Savings Week.

As the event’s guest of honour, the two organizations were able to welcome Mr. Kevin Kavugizo from BNR, Director of Microfinance Institutions Supervision Department, who was the only one of the attendees able to follow the entire development of the partnership between SBFIC and AMIR from the beginning and now report on it.

In his review, he reported on an impressive joint study trip, which has had an enormous impact on him and has developed him further in his role at the BNR.

He said that the BNR’s supervisory role is much easier if the capacity of MFI staff is enhanced, and that the sector is currently on a good path. Kavugizo also sees many advantages for the National Bank as a supervisory authority, provided that the entire microfinance sector emerges strengthened from this development.

He did not forget to mention, and he appreciated very much that SBFIC will remain in Rwanda despite the expiration of the partnership with AMIR in order to provide support elsewhere, for instance in the Umurenge SACCO professionalization project in the field of data cleaning and business planning for the future District SACCOs.

The concluding photoshow with pictures from the entire 11-year partnership had some treasures from the photo box ready and let the participants revel in good memories.

The tenor of all speakers expressed: ‘Let us remember each other and meet again as good friends!’

SBFIC and the AMIR have completed an 11-year successful partnership, which strengthened the microfinance sector in Rwanda significantly.
AMIR will thus be authorized to offer these business simulations to its members and beneficiaries even after the partnership ends.