Women's Microfinance Initiative

Started by women in the Washington, D.C. area, WMI makes loans to impoverished women in developing nations who have no access to banks. Issuing affordable, collateral-free loans for as little as $50, WMI promotes women's economic empowerment to reduce global poverty. WMI's goal is to help poor women build assets to stabilize their income, improve their familiy's living standard, become advocates for their families/communities, and transition into independent banking and the formal economy.
Mar 19, 2012

KONY 2012: Status of Northern Uganda

Former child soldiers perform for WMI trainers
Former child soldiers perform for WMI trainers

The KONY 2012 video has generated significant controvery involving Uganda.

On March 9, the Uganda Government responded in a press Release:

Misinterpretations of media content may lead some people to believe that the LRA is currently active in Uganda. It must be clarified that at present the LRA is not active in any part of Uganda. Successfully expelled by the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces in mid-2006, the LRA has retreated to dense terrain within bordering countries in the Central African area. They are a diminished and weakened group with numbers not exceeding 300. The threat posed by the LRA in our neighboring countries is considerably reduced and we are hopeful that it will be altogether eliminated with the help of US logistical support.

The people of Uganda, especially those in the north of the country are on a path of rebuilding, reconciliation and reintegration and are now vibrant and prospering communities. To aid this prosperity the Government implemented a 10 Year Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP).

This past January. WMI president, Robyn Nietert, assisted with training workshops for poor women in Gulu, Uganda, which was the epicenter of the LRA insurgency and subsequent IDP camps. She reported that the area was peaceful.

Over a million people were displaced in northern Uganda during the fighting and tens of thousands of children were abducted. There are currently many international NGOs and local Ugandans working on reconstruction and stabilizing the local economy, which was devastated.

WMI opened a loan hub in Gulu last October to give rural women in the area a chance to start businesses. In April, WMI will open another loan hub even further north in Atiak, the site of the largest massacre of civilians by LRA troops, which took place in 1995. Every April 20, Atiak commemorates those who died.

WMI is partnering with two local Ugandan community based organizations to launch these loan hubs: Childcare Development Organization - Uganda and Blessed Watoto (Children).  These groups are working very hard, with limited resources, to bring economic opportunities to northern Uganda as it recovers from the impact of the 10 years of fighting. They are on the ground running small outreach initiatives on a daily basis. They provide services and support activities for orphaned children in the region. WMI believes that working at this grassroots level is the best way we can help the women and families of northern Uganda rebuild their lives.  We appreciate your support as we bring more and more microfinance opportunities to women in East Africa who have been disenfrachised and marginalized.  It is inspiring to see how they build assets to better lives with the small opportunity provided by a WMI loan.  

Links:

Feb 21, 2012

WMI's January/February 2012 Trip to East Africa

 

WMI President, Robyn Nietert, just completed a month long field trip to visit WMI borrowers and staff in village loan programs throughout East Africa.  The trip results were excellent.  The women in the loan program are continuing to expand their businesses, improve their families' living standards and transition to bank loans and the formal economy.  Through funding from supporters, WMI has been able to continue adding new loan hubs so that more impoverished women can have an opportunity to launch a business to support their families.  Check out the blog posts and pictures on the WMI web site to see the progress on WMI borrowers in 2012: http://wmionline.wordpress.com/

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Jan 12, 2012

WMI's Year in Review

 Borrower Progress: 2011 was a year of many accomplishments for the women in the WMI loan program.  Here is a quick review of their progress:

·         99% of Borrowers doubled their income in the first 6 months of joining the loan program;

·         100% of Borrowers increased savings;

·         75% of Borrowers transitioning to independent loans report they are earning at least $3,600/year; 40% are generating very large annual incomes of over $6,000/year; and, a startling 10% are earning over $8,000/year.

·         75% of Borrowers have acquired additional farm animals;

·         99% of Borrowers have improved their household meals;

·         85% of Borrowers have improved their business skills;

·         20% of borrowers have begun to hire employees to help with their businesses;

·         97% of borrowers indicate the loan program is having a positive impact on their family.  

Loan Program Expansion: During 2011, WMI expanded the loan program dramatically.  By the end of the last loan quarter of the year, WMI had funded its 4,000th loan.  A total of over $550,000 has been lent since WMI launched in 2008. A complete table of WMI's lending history is available on the web site at: http://www.wmionline.org/Borrower-Loan-Summary-October-2011.pdf.

Loan hubs were added in Konokoya and Gulu, Uganda as well as Shikokho, Kenya.  Additionally, all preliminary site work was completed on the ground to launch a new hub in Tanzania in January 2012.  WMI's Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa, and a dedicated team of experienced trainers from Buyobo, Uganda visit all new loan hubs, train the first borrowers,and orient the Head Co-coordinators.  Sometimes this means an arduous two day journey using erratic public transportation; but, the peer-to peer transfer of knowledge is crucial to the success of the loan program.  As the staff in these new loan hubs becomes more experienced, they in turn will be able to go out to mentor loan hubs added in the future.

 Local Capacity Building: WMI is not just about loans.  The program builds human capacity in the villages where it operates:

·         Twenty new trainers went through the World Bank developed "Training-to-Train" program, increasing WMI's capacity to effectively train new borrowers;

·         Advanced business planning training for experienced borrowers was arranged throughCarmelo Cocuzza at FinAfrica in Kampala;

·         Three new classrooms were constructed at Buyobo Primary School with volunteer donations, villager support and intern labor;

·   A Bun and Tea Program for the teachers at Buyobo Primary School entered its second year;

·   Vestergaard Fransden donated 100 treated mosquito nets to WMI;

·        Reading and math books for 60 students, grades 1 - 6, were delivered to Buyobo Primary from a Williamson, NY school district;

·         Fifty-eight boxes of children's books donated by WMI supporters were shipped for free and arrived in Kenya for use by village children in WMI's Siaya loan hub;

·         Thousands of eyeglasses were donated to the larger Buyobo community through intern collection efforts;

Bank Partners: PostBank Uganda has proven to be an excellent banking partner for the transition to independence program.  It has worked closely with WMI's Local Director and loan hub team to streamline operations and make certain that the ladies transitioning to bank loans understand the banking process.  WMI is now working with Co-Operative Bank in Kenya to put a transition program in place for the ladies graduating to bank loans in the Kenya loan hubs starting in 2012.

Loan Program Accountability/Inpact/Validation:  Though small, WMI has run a very structured program since its inception.  In 2011, we continued to survey borrowers on a regular basis and analyze that data so that we remain accountable for program operations and so that we can measure loan program impact.  This year we expanded the fact book analysis and supplemented it with a presentation on the transition to independent banking program and a 3-year comparison of borrower baseline data. http://www.wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html

Financial Support: WMI continued to expand support from foundations, corporations, giving circles and other non-profits.  This year WMI was very gratified to receive a pledge of support from The Greater Contribution, a non-profit located in northern California.  WMI works closely with TGC's president, Karon Wright, who has organized a 2012 trip to Uganda for herself and other TGC supporters so that they can witness the WMI loan program in action.  In 2011, TGC generously contributed $50,000 to WMI.

The IMF Civic Fund, Towards Sustainability FoundationBoeing Company and Global Giving all issued major follow up grants to WMI.  Additionally, the US Ambassador's Fund issued a major grant to install solar power in the WMI building in Buyobo.  In the fall of 2011, Greenlight Appareljoined the WMI team, pledging 12.5% of its profits to WMI (see separate article).  In 2011, WMI became eligible for the Federal Combined Giving Campaign and participated in presentations and charity fairs at a number of federal agencies.  Individuals distinguish themselves year after year as the mainstay of WMI's financial support.  This year two people made extremely generous donations to WMI of $15,000 or more.

 Honored with an annual cocktail party (a highlight of the WMI fundraising season), the WMI 500 - a group of women pledging $250 a year to WMI for at least 2 years - expanded its membership role in 2011 resulting in contributions of over $15,000 to WMI. (If you'd like to join just email:staudaher@verizon.net). Other giving circles were formed as well.  Donna Boxer of Chevy Chase, MD and her colleagues formed a giving circle that has pledged $3,500 a year to WMI for 3 years and a contribution of $2,200 for a fourth year.  Amy Berger marshaled a $750 donation from her book club in Vermont. Sally Kelly organized successful "friendraisers" at her home. (To find out how to host one, email: salkelly@earthlink.net)

Beth Tomasello, Alison Ewing, Kathy Staudaher, Lisa Mitnick and Vicki Dorman represented WMI at local gift fairs and community events to raise over $2,500.  The WMI Holiday Tribute Card was also a big hit this year, raising not only funds for WMI but raising general awareness of our mission. Individuals honored are listed on the web site on the WMI Tribute List.http://www.wmionline.org/WMI-Holiday-Tribute-List.pdf

WMI's strategy in 2011 was to seek partners to affiliate with particular loan hubs so that there would be multiple avenues of support for funding loans and developing administrative capacity in the hubs.  This has worked extremely well as WMI counted as partners: Arlington Academy of Hope,Chevy Chase Presbyterian ChurchBIDEBarbara Wybar and the Budduda Vocational Centre,Judy Lane and the Maasi Sustainability InitiativeMpambarra-Cox FoundationEast Africa Center for Progressive DevelopmentChild Development Organization (Uganda), and Laikepia Community Empowerment Centre.

These divergent streams of support converged into a mighty river in 2011: WMI has raised $190,000this year. This is $20,000 more than in 2010!  These funds were truly a godsend for the women and families WMI serves:   $190,000 goes a long way in the developing world.  It was put to work effectively and efficiently by WMI's volunteer board and the dedicated local staff in the loan hubs (You can read about the local staff online at:http://www.wmionline.org/who/coordinators/local_coordinators.html)

Internships/Volunteers: WMI's unique economic model and collaborative structure drew increasing numbers of interns and volunteers who generously donated their time, effort and talents to improve loan program operations both in Buyobo and here in Bethesda.

Outstanding contributions were made by the eight Walt Whitman High School interns who traveled to Buyobo, Uganda this past summer.  The trip so inspired them that five of these committed young adults are returning to Buyobo again in the summer of 2012 with a new group of Whitman students chaperoned by teacher Bob Mathis. 

A dynamic group of college interns and recent graduates played an important role in strengthening WMI's infrastructure in Buyobo in 2011.  Eva StevensonJacklyn VouthourisErin Kelly and Ida Stuve each spent over a month in the village working on projects as disparate as sketching the wall murals for the new school rooms, revamping the loan hub budget and expense reporting system, and shooting top quality video biographies of WMI borrowers.  John Finch volunteered in Buyobo to interview villagers and prepare a booklet about Buyobo and the impact of the loan program (see separate article).  Local capacity for the loan program was increased enormously by the dedicated work of WMI's Project Directors Montana Stevenson and Ainsley Morris, who rounded out 9 months of service in the field in July 2011.  Their efforts resulted in the publication of a WMI Banking Manual, which is proving to be a valuable resource for the loan program.http://www.wmionline.org/Banking_Manual_FINAL.pdf

Not to be outdone, 10 high school and college students interned with WMI in Bethesda during the summer of 2011.  They entered and analyzed data and produced the annual Fact Books on the loan program's impact. http://www.wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html.  Additionally,Elizabeth Robbins, a senior at American University interned with WMI during the fall of this year.

On all fronts, 2011 was a marvelous year of loan program growth, internal development and increased financial support for WMI. 

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