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.
Oct 4, 2010

WMI Blog--Updated by WMI Interns in Uganda and Kenya!

This fall Montana Stevenson and Ainsley Morris will be in Uganda and Kenya working on WMI projects for 4 months, starting at the end of September.  WMI has asked them to blog once a week about their experiences.  They will be traveling all the way to Kable in southwestern Uganda to launch new loan programs and as far as Nyahururu in central Kenya to visit existing ones.  In between, they will interview borrowers and their families, conduct trainings, and meet with PostBank staff to develop a written manual on transitioning to independent banking.  Share their insights, photos and videos during this exciting 4 month journey on the new WMI blog at:
A link to the blog also appears in the header on the WMI web site.
You can post comments on the blog, so please let them hear from you while they are out in the field!  They will really welcome feedback from WMI supporters while they are away.


Sep 7, 2010

July/August 2010 Update!

The Walt Whitman High School Interns in Buyobo, UG
The Walt Whitman High School Interns in Buyobo, UG

As the summer comes to a close, we want to share some of the exciting events that happened at WMI during the past few months.

First off, the Walt Whitman High School interns from Bethesda, MD returned August 16 from their three-week trip to Buyobo, Uganda and the surrounding area! Just a few of their accomplishments include: successfully setting up the Internet café in Buyobo with 10 computers donated by Discovery Communications; constructing the foundation for three new classrooms for Buyobo Primary School; teaching local school children; undertaking an educational survey with primary students in Kabale on behalf of the Mpambarra-Cox Foundation; and meeting with local representatives, WMI staff members, and borrowers.

The interns also had the opportunity to go on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park, take a gorilla trek, and tour the Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary, the only research facility for injured and trafficked chimpanzees.

While the interns are still organizing their videos and photos to be uploaded to the WMI website, take a look at this short PowerPoint presentation to get an idea of the terrific contribution these young adults have made to rural communities in Uganda. WMI is grateful for their intrepid spirit, hard-work and enthusiasm! http://wmionline.org/newsupdates/WMI-Uganda-Trip.pdf

Additionally, the Bethesda-based WMI interns ended their hectic summer with the successful completion of three in-depth Fact Books that document the impact of the loan program and four research papers that highlight improvements in critical areas.

Based on data collected over the past two and half years from over 400 WMI borrowers, the interns were able to prepare Fact Books that provide an intimate portrait of WMI borrowers and an accurate assessment of how the loan program has transformed their lives. Check out the Fact Books on the WMI web site—we think you will be surprised and extremely gratified by the significant in-roads the loan program has made in combating rural poverty in East Africa. http://wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html

The summer interns also sifted through two years of reports prepared by WMI Local Coordinators after monthly visits to borrowers’ businesses or homes, who take note of: family health and welfare; domestic relations; business operations, progress and challenges; as well as the status of the borrower’s book keeping. After analyzing the data from the LCRs, the interns prepared papers on four critical areas that have been significantly impacted by the WMI loan program: Gender Relations; Child Development; Health; and Business Operations.

The papers can also be found at: http://wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html

The three new pilot loan programs launched in April in Bududa, UG and Siaya and Ol Moran, KY have been operating smoothly, with 100% loan repayment, and very efficient Local Coordinators, all of whom have requested the addition of follow on loan groups. Responding to the borrowers’ excellent performance and to the local demand, in July WMI added a new loan group in each of Bududa and Siaya. A new loan group will be added in Ol Moran in October. With their excellent track records, two new groups will be added to each of Bududa and Siaya in October.

We hope this update gives you an idea of the enormous impact the loan program is having on the lives of hundreds of families formerly living in poverty in rural villages in East Africa. Thank you for your continued support that has allowed us to expand WMI’s footprint and reach more women and families with life-transforming loans and training.


Jun 8, 2010

WMI Expands Loans to Poor Women in Africa in 2010

The WMI building completed in summer 2009
The WMI building completed in summer 2009

Greetings: Great news—WMI is on the move in 2010! We have just updated our project on the Global Giving website in order to reflect the expansion of the WMI loan program to new rural villages in Uganda and now Kenya. So, our project title has changed to “600 Microloans for poor women in rural East Africa” to include our newest borrowers. In the future, we hope to add villages in Rwanda and Tanzania so that we begin to cover rural areas in all of East Africa. This Project Report includes information on the new Kenyan outreach so you can understand more about the rural women we serve and the challenges they face. Thank you for your generous support which has made such a difference in the lives of these women, their families, and the villages where they live.

Background: As you may know, WMI was started in Buyobo, Uganda in 2008 with 20 loans. Through ongoing fundraising, WMI has established a $175,000 revolving loan fund and issued over 1,200 loans to impoverished women living in over 60 rural villages in Kenya and Uganda. The women we serve are 100% committed to the loan program and have maintained a 100% repayment rate over the past two and a half years. This is a truly remarkable accomplishment and has allowed them to take control of their lives and vastly improve their living standards.

In addition to loans, WMI also empowers women through training in business management, record keeping, and financial planning (budgeting and saving). This allows women to transition from a 24-month loan period with WMI, to WMI’s Transition to Independence Program, which guarantees a loan through PostBank Uganda for one year. After completing WMI’s 36-month loan cycle, the women are able to enter the formal economy through independent banking.

Transition to Independence Program: WMI’s Transition to Independence Program is unique in rural microfinance. After 24 months in the WMI program, successful borrowers are promoted to the innovative Transition Fund, receiving a $500 loan for a one-year term, directly from PostBank. The bank loans are guaranteed by WMI’s interest-bearing deposit - the interest is retained on deposit to cover any defaults. Borrowers who make their Transition Fund loan payments on a timely basis graduate to independent banking.

This progression to independent banking in a 36-month cycle is fully sustainable once initially funded, and continues in perpetuity to graduate experienced rural businesswomen into the formal economy at the same rate loans are issued to new borrowers. Once a woman moves on to the Transition Fund, her loan funds are recycled to a first-time borrower. This allows WMI to focus capital on first-time loans.

Updates: The year began with a celebratory graduation of the first 20 recipients of WMI loans, who moved on to the first loans from PostBank Uganda in January. The women are now halfway through their year-long bank loan term and are doing great. The guest of honor for the January ceremony was the Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Member of Parliament for the Budadiri West District, which encompasses Buyobo. The women were thrilled to have their charismatic government representative share their accomplishment of moving on to commercial banking.

In April 2010, another 20 women in the WMI loan program moved on to their year-long PostBank loans. In July, 40 more women will join them. The WMI Transition to Independence Program is in full swing. PostBank has welcomed the WMI borrowers into their customer fold and traveled to Buyobo to take their loan applications and help them open their bank accounts. The monies used to fund the loans for these graduates are now being recycled to provide new loans for first time borrowers. Buyobo’s WMI loan program is well on its way to becoming self-sustaining.

This summer, 14 interns from Walt Whitman High School (Bethesda, Maryland), will travel to Buyobo, with Montana Stevenson (WMI’s first intern) to set up an internet café and provide computer training using laptops donated by Discovery Communications. Discovery also provided a grant to electrify the building WMI constructed in Buyobo last spring and we are pleased to report that the electrification has been accomplished. In addition to being a commuity center, the building also houses a Children’s Library, which will receive another 1,000 books this summer, all collected in Bethesda. The interns will also bring with them 600 math and reading textbooks for grades K-6, donated by the Williamsport School District in New York. The Buyobo program also has two student interns from Makerere University in Kampala who will volunteer with the WMI loan program this summer.

2010 Expansions: WMI, building on its success in Uganda, expanded to two new villages in Kenya this spring. Women in Siaya received their first sets of loans in April, and women in the village of Ol Moran received their first set of loans in June.

A Quick Look at the Villages

Siaya: Representatives from the two new villages in Kenya traveled 9 hours over dusty roads to visit Buyobo in January and see the WMI loan program in action. They were extremely impressed with the level of involvement of the village women in administering the program. Then, Olive Wolimbwa and two additional seasoned borrowers, along with WMI President Robyn Nietert, traveled to Siaya, Kenya to meet the new borrowers to whom WMI extended loans in April 2010. The Siaya ladies were enthusiastic and well organized. We believe they will be excellent borrowers.

Siaya, Kenya is home to President Obama's grandmother, Sarah Obama, who is a long time local activist. The women organizing the Siaya self-help group had grown up with her and arranged for a meeting with the WMI contingent. She was extremely interested in the loan program and cautioned against issuing loans without training. Of course, training is a critical component of the WMI loan program!

In Siaya district the population is largely rural with women forming almost 70% of the population. The causes of poverty in this area are diverse, but poor soil fertility is a major problem. The main activity is farming with women forming 80% of the farm work force, but own less that 1% of the family wealth, because land ownership is male dominated. Another challenge facing women in the Siaya district is HIV/AIDS. The district currently has over 40,000 orphan children. There are more than 5,000 child-headed households in the district. So, the women in the district spend most of their productive hours caring for the sick and the elderly.

The Siaya loan group, called SIKABU Self-Help, is composed of women who have been volunteering with AIDS orphan programs in the villages. They are extremely motivated and we believe they will be responsible borrowers. Ol Moran: Fran Cotter-Weaver, a WMI volunteer, had been working with a women’s group in Ol Moran, Kenya for the past ten years and traveled there in April to investigate the possibility of launching a WMI loan program. Ol Moran is in Laikipia West District, a rich agricultural land, west of Mount Kenya. It is the pre-colonial home for the Kikuyu (the largest tribe in Kenya), Kalenjin, Samburu, and Turkana.

The Nga’ru division is home to Ol Moran, an area with a population of 15,000 with women accounting for about 52% of the population. Out of this number, 20% of the women are single mothers and widows. More than 75% of the people in Ol Moran live on less than a dollar a day. Economic activity of Ol Moran is mainly agricultural, focusing on subsistence farming and cattle herding. The majority of women work as casual farm laborers, while educated women work as schoolteachers, nurses, and social workers. Some women engage in commercial sex as a source of income.

The name of the local loan group in Ol Moran is Ol Moran Women Heroes, which accurately describes the members. In the face of great adversity, they are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, and the WMI loan program will give them that opportunity.

Fundraising efforts: Run by volunteers and boasting very low overhead, the vast percentage of all WMI donations are cycled directly into the loan program. WMI’s efficient operation is continuing to attract an expanding pool of donors and WMI relies on these donations to operate the loan program. WMI hosted its annual potluck dinner in May, which raised over $15,000 for the women in Uganda and Kenya. At the potluck dinner, a representative from the IMF announced the award of a $10,000 grant this summer to WMI in order to implement its Transition to Independence Program. WMI has also received grants from a variety of non-profit organizations, including The Greater Contribution and the Towards Sustainability Foundation.

Going Forward: The WMI program is working. It is enabling women to break the cycle of poverty through their own hard work and determination. Women have been able to save money from their businesses and put it towards school fees, food, business expansion, medical care, and emergencies. WMI has also enabled the women to purchase fuel-efficient stoves and mosquito nets.

In April 2010, WMI also launched another loan program in Uganda, this time in Bumwalukani in the Bududa district. That program is supported in part by the Arlington Academy of Hope, a model school in the area. Two pilot programs in the Ugandan villages of Konakoya and Tororo are next in line to be launched.

It all depends on you! Thank you for your continued support of WMI! Our projects truly impact the lives of women in rural East Africa and provide them with the means to support themselves and their families in the formal economy. Your donation has facilitated the implementation of the loan program and other community development initiatives, and we look forward to the opportunity to continue expanding with your support.

Robyn Nietert, WMI Pres., helps with 2010 loans
Robyn Nietert, WMI Pres., helps with 2010 loans
The WMI staff with Robyn Nietert
The WMI staff with Robyn Nietert
Kids checking out books at their new library
Kids checking out books at their new library
Blue Group leads the parade of borrowers
Blue Group leads the parade of borrowers
PostBank comes to collect loan applications
PostBank comes to collect loan applications
Women arriving to pick up PostBank loans
Women arriving to pick up PostBank loans


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