In 2010, Small and Micro Enterprise Program (SMEP) Microfinance Bank, a Christ-centered microfinance institution serving families in Kenya, celebrated a major distinction: It became the third deposit-taking microfinance bank in the country to be licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya. But along with its approval, the central bank issued one caveat: SMEP needed to add investors to its ownership pool.
It sounded like a simple request—yet it proved to be anything but.
Challenges and trust
Over the next 12 years, SMEP explored partnerships with more than 80 potential investors, many offering promising benefits. But SMEP leaders held a strong conviction to only enter a partnership that would strengthen, not compromise, their top values: offering the highest quality financial services and remaining fully committed to Christ.
In 2019, nine years into the search for a partner, SMEP celebrated another significant milestone: reaching fiscal profitability. Knowing this would draw potential investors, leaders’ confidence in finding a partner grew. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“That was truly what would have broken the camel’s back,” shares Dr. Nelson Kuria, chair of SMEP’s board of directors. “But you know what? We were not broken by all these challenges and pressures, because we believe that ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.’”
Amid uncertainty and discouragement, the SMEP team turned to prayer, asking the Lord to sustain the bank through the pandemic and continuing to ask Him to provide an investor.
“The book of Thessalonians tells us: ‘Pray without ceasing.’ Therefore, we did not give up,” recalls Dr. Kuria. “And because our God is a promise-keeping God, He is ever-faithful, and He continued to strengthen us and give us the grace to wait patiently.”
“God answered our prayers.”
In 2021, 12 years after the SMEP team began praying for a partner, Dr. Kuria says, “God answered our prayers. HOPE came our way, and we started conversations.”
Following approval by Kenya’s central bank in September 2023, SMEP officially joined HOPE International and its global network of microfinance institutions and savings group programs.
Today, SMEP and HOPE are beginning to work together toward the shared mission of building Christ’s kingdom, proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, and offering the financial services Kenyan families need to thrive.
While Kenya has the most developed financial market in East Africa, 44% of the population remains unbanked—and about 16% live in extreme poverty. In coming together, HOPE and SMEP have the opportunity to reach more underserved entrepreneurs, especially rural farmers.
“I can say without a doubt that we have been extremely excited by the prospect of this partnership of like-minded institutions,” says Dr. Kuria. “We have a new song at SMEP Microfinance Bank. God has truly come through for us.”
Read our official announcement to learn more about SMEP and HOPE’s new joint venture to serve more families in Kenya.