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.
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


Dec 8, 2009

Women's Microfinance Initiative

The new building opens its doors to the Buyobo community.
The new building opens its doors to the Buyobo community.

The loan program is continuing to expand rapidly and currently has over $60,000 in outstanding loans to women in 50 rural villages around Mbale, UG. The loan repayment rate is 100%. Local Coordinators visit the borrowers on a rotating basis to talk about their businesses. We thought you might like to hear about some of their reports on the borrowers' progress:


"The business is growing, there is new stock but she says the customers are scarce. nevertheless she is hopeful that in the next month when the harvesting coffee begins and as we draw near to Iddi day and x-mass time she will be having more. The family health is good and family helps in minding the home and the elder son helps in marketing. He moves round with pieces of clothes so that those interested may buy on the price he’s instructed. Phoebe says the loan programme has benefited her a lot, she has been able to acquire furniture (chairs), and mattress and she pays school fees without stress, all this is from her profit. The book keeping has been managed."


"Both businesses are running smoothly Allen is involved much in the buying of maize and the husband helps in shop keeping. She says when the maize season will be over she will be trading in coffee. The family health is good and living happily. The WMI programme has helped her in meeting school dues and improving on the standard of living for this reason she is happy and appreciative for the programme. Record keeping is being handled properly."


"The business is doing well. She says she has been staggering in the first weeks but as per now she is stabilizing. Her shop is new in the community where by she did not have the customers and did not have the experience in managing a shop. She says the knowledge given during the training helped her a great deal and she is grate full for the work WMI has done for her. She says she begun slowly using the skills taught and she is improving day after day. She says, long live WMI. The family health is good and she has a plan of involving the elder daughter so that when she is away the daughter can help her."

WMI is very fortunate to have 2 interns in Buyobo for 6 weeks to work on educational issues and tutoring. They are Margot Vandervossen, who just graduated from Leiden University with a degree in International Relations, and Brian Miller, who is in the Master's in Education program at Binghamton University in NY.

Business success and education go hand in hand. The interns are tutoring village children who are on school break and recommending improvements to the daily school program, as well as adult education options.

WMI shipped 1,000 donated children's book to the village in November. Margot and Brian reported that hundreds of children turned out to watch them unpack the books and shelve them in the library the women have started in the building WMI constructed this past spring. There were big smiles all around.

In October, WMI hosted a World Bank Training to Train program in Buyobo. Ten village women met for 3 days of intensive business training. They live in the villages alongside borrowers and will be able to provide ongoing business training to ladies in the loan program.

I will be traveling to Uganda in January, 2010 and will interview several local widow's associations and community outreach groups that have asked for WMI's help in starting a microloan program. Next year we are looking forward to launching even more rural women on their way to establishing businesses, including a group in Kenya.

The loan program has had a profound impact on borrowers’ lives. It has allowed them to improve the standard of living for their entire family in a very short period of time. WMI has posted results from its semi-annual borrower surveys on its web site: wmionline.org

Thank you for your ongoing support of WMI's microloan program. With your help, we are changing the face of poverty, one loan at a time.

Buyohildren reading from the donated books in the new building.
Buyohildren reading from the donated books in the new building.


May 14, 2009

Postcard from WMI

Alexis and Brian visited this project on May 7th, 2009. They write:

The first thing we noticed about WMI was the brilliant smiles and joyous expressions on the faces of the nearly 200 women who greeted us. Shortly after our arrival, we were whisked off to see how construction is coming on the soon to be opened WMI office. This space, funded in part by GlobalGIving, will provide an office for WMI, a location for loan disbursement, and a much needed meeting space to replace the tent they now use. We paraded, en masse, out of the hall and down the main street to see the borrowers’ businesses. With nearly 200 women, parade is no overstatement; there was singing, dancing, and even crowds lining the street to watch the commotion. We tasted chapatti (a local snack) at one woman’s restaurant, we eyed the selection of another woman’s used clothing store, we peered into yet another woman’s general store, and so much more. All of these businesses have benefitted from the loans GlobalGiving has supported.

In talking to several of the women, we began to see the impact GlobalGiving funding has had on their lives. Camida Wasukira, one of the first women to receive a loan from WMI, runs a restaurant with her husband. In January of 2008, she took her first loan of just $100. She invested her loan in her business, and doubled her monthly income. She has reinvested some of her business’ profits by buying a cow, whose milk she uses in her restaurant. Aside from newly started savings, the rest of her profits have benefitted her family. Her 4 children used to go to school barefoot and hungry. Today, she is able to pay school fees, purchase shoes, and feed her children three nutritious meals a day. Other women told us they can now afford medications for their children, employ others (in so doing extend the impact of WMI), and for the first time in their lives, they can even buy personal items, such as shampoo. There is no doubt that WMI is making a substantial impact in the lives of these women, and through them, their community as a whole.

During our visit we came to find that WMI is a very special organization. Unlike many similar projects, WMI provides valuable training on saving, record keeping, and budgeting. The success of the organization can be seen in their 100% repayment rate among the 200 members. WMI hopes to expand their program, and provide these invaluable loans to many more women. Be sure to keep your eyes out as they post more on GlobalGiving.

When asked what they would tell their friends about this project, Alexis and Brian said, “Incredible: You need to see this!”

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