Leadership lessons from Urwego Bank’s CEO

by Christine Baingana, CEO of Urwego Bank

As the CEO of Urwego Bank, the largest microfinance institution in the HOPE network—and in the country of Rwanda—Christine Baingana shares what she’s learning about leadership while leading a team of over 300 staff.

I first learned of HOPE International after reconnecting with Peter Greer, HOPE’s president and CEO, while I was in graduate school. I had met Peter in the early 2000s while I was working for a large commercial bank in my home country of Rwanda and he was serving as the managing director of Urwego Bank. As we reconnected, Peter shared about the work he was doing through HOPE International—and asked if I wanted to join him.

In 2010, I joined the HOPE International team as the savings and credit association (SCA) specialist, later going on to serve as the Africa SCA regional director. When HOPE became a majority stakeholder in Urwego Bank in 2016, I was asked to step into the role of CEO. Having been on the board for several years, I knew that this would be a challenging time to lead the organization. I felt unqualified to lead such a large team through such a major transition.

But as I sought counsel from others, they reminded me to think of those Urwego could serve, men and women who have not had many of the privileges and advantages that I have. As I took my eyes off of myself and focused on them, I chose to say yes to this opportunity. It’s exciting to know we are changing lives for the Kingdom, that men and women who come to Urwego for a small loan, or to find a safe place to save, will have the opportunity to overcome poverty and experience a closer relationship with the Lord and their community members.

Here are five of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on this leadership journey:

  1. Leadership doesn’t mean knowing everything. When I stepped into this role, I quickly realized that though I had a background in banking, I didn’t understand the intricacies of microfinance. But as I’ve seen the skill and talent of the Urwego staff, I’ve come to realize that my role as CEO doesn’t mean I have to know everything; my job is to equip and empower our team members, who understand the work we do in far greater detail. It’s been liberating to realize this, and it’s been a joy to learn from this group.
  2. Find a coach or mentor to walk with you. After I was offered this role, I sought counsel from several mentors, coaches, and friends. They reminded me of truths that I could have preached from the pulpit but forgot to preach to myself. They reminded me how God had equipped me for this role, and they helped me to see when I was focused on myself rather than on those I could serve.
  3. Pursue effective decisiveness. When I joined Urwego, I entered with my own sense of HOPE culture and values, but I was working with a team that had their own organizational culture. I quickly realized that we would need to create a new culture together if we wanted to work as a cohesive group. For three weeks, the new executive team spent time at a retreat center to step back and decide where we wanted this organization to go. Making that decision quickly saved us months of working together as disunited individuals and allowed us to set a tone of collaboration and teamwork.
  4. Avoid the temptation to take the credit. Each week, staff members submit stories of how they’ve seen staff live out our cultural values, and we read them together during staff meetings. This practice gives us the opportunity to build on each other’s strengths—and that’s what makes us succeed. It keeps us on the lookout for good, and it reminds each of us that none of us can do this work alone.
  5. Help your team understand how their individual roles fit into the overall mission. As we went through the strategic planning process earlier this year, we narrowed it down to four goals for the rest of the year and connected two initiatives for each staff member to one of those goals. I want each staff member to know that the work they do contributes to Urwego’s overall mission of providing a ladder of opportunity to underserved communities as we proclaim and live the Gospel of Christ.

Christine joined HOPE in 2010, stepping into the role of CEO for Urwego Bank in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2017. She holds a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; a bachelor’s of business administration from Newport University, U.K.; and a diploma as an associate of business executives from Cavendish College, London. Christine’s professional background includes over 20 years of experience in financial services, corporate management, and development work. She has four children: Keza, Rama, Muco, and Wera.

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As Christ’s followers responding to His great love, HOPE International seeks physical, social, spiritual, and personal restoration in places of brokenness. Through Christ-centered microenterprise development, we empower men and women to strengthen their families, build their businesses, and unleash their dreams.

5 responses to Leadership lessons from Urwego Bank’s CEO

  1. Very interesting! This sharing of experience. encourages us in our life as a leader. Jesus, who excelled in leadership, proved it by washing his disciples’ feet. I will be able to add to this list the humility that is unavoidable in leadership. To this is added a good connection to the Spirit of God to know the divine directions and follow them step by step. For if God gives a vision, he disposes of the provision. May God continue to help us in making decisions for a fulfilled lesdership. Blessings

  2. Hi Christine,
    Thank you for sharing your leadership experience with us. It’s been a blessing to read you through that experience. I keep in mind the following sentence from your words: ” I want each staff member to know that the work they do contributes to Urwego’s overall mission of providing a ladder of opportunity to underserved communities as we proclaim and live the Gospel of Christ.”
    I would associate your so uplifting message to colossians 3: 23 and 1Corinthians 10:31.

    Thank you again for sharing.
    Chancy SAMBA
    Monitoring and Evaluation Team
    HOPE Congo

  3. Paulin Basinga Oct 14 2017 at 10:08 am

    Christine,
    Thanks for sharing your recent experience. Quite inspiring. It’s reminded me the great values you established while managing the Tulane University office, it was a great pleasure to work with you. Continue to inspire those around you and serving those in need through your work.

  4. Wow! Thank you for sharing these insights! I have learned through this article that it is not about me! It is about God and ultimately about the people He wants me to serve! Again thank you!

  5. This is one of the genuine articles from a leadership persepective. Most points listed here are contrary to what the world has to offer, they dont conform to the standards that are expected in the market place. Maybe can we say that such contrary way of leadership approach is what we need today.
    “Leadership doesnt mean you have to know everything”, how liberating can it get. We are all created to fit in our respective places in the big puzzle that is life. Only God knows everything. Thank you Christine for letting us know that its ok not to know everything, rather it gives us the opportunity to trust other people who are shaped for this and can do it better. This article blessed me. Keep the good work. Bravo!

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