May 30, 2019

And One Thing Leads to Another!

Rosi Outside her Storefront
Rosi Outside her Storefront

Before receiving a loan from WMI, Rosi and her family were struggling to make ends meet. She didn’t have any business to speak of and was trying to support 3 children and a family member who is HIV positive. She would spend most of the day just sitting around the house after completing her morning garden work. In 2015, when a neighbor told her about the opportunity for a WMI loan, a vision for a business formed in her head. 

With the initial funds, she began to make and sell mandazi, a Ugandan baked good resembling a doughnut, but with less sugar. She would bring a fresh batch to the Buyobo trading center every morning and before long was selling out while putting smiles on her customer’s faces.

After this initial success, Rosi decided to expand and diversify her business. Her husband is a skilled craftsman, so the two of them teamed up to make and sell furniture. Their venture began by making “commissioned” pieces. This was somewhat successful, but their customers wished they could see the item beforehand and didn’t always trust that the money was being used properly.

In response, Rosi and her husband decided to make furniture in advance, build some inventory, and open up a storefront in the trading center. This has proven to be a win-win proposition for the business; the customers can assess product quality before their purchase, and making multiple pieces at a time gives the business scale, lowering input costs while improving production efficiency.

Rosi’s product line has continued to expand beyond furniture and mandazi. She now sells a selection of clothing and small savings boxes (similar to piggy banks) that have become popular.

Rosi has developed a sharp business sense in her 4 years as a shop owner, incrementally improving her cash flow through new products and strict credit terms. Because she only sells about 1 piece of furniture per week (usually 5 per month), she has continued to expand her product line to supplement the furniture income. She still makes and sells out of the mandazi every morning, and now offers a selection of clothing and savings boxes. The higher inventory turnover of these items generates enough income to pay for small daily expenses to support her family.

Rosi employs two people: her husband, who makes the furniture, and her 19-year-old son, who runs the shop on weekends. Rosi struggles with writing, so her son also assists her by keeping the books for the business. With the profits she is generating, Rosi first pays back the WMI loan, then pays for her children’s school fees, and finally saves the rest or puts it back into the business.  She’s currently saving for a truck so she can control wood deliveries and cut out the middlemen.

The financial inclusion provided by WMI has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on Rosi’s ability to support her family, her personal quality of life, and her view of herself. Since she opened her business, she has never struggled to pay for school fees or meals, something that was commonplace beforehand. She has been able to afford transforming her home from a semi-permanent home to a permanent home and now sleeps on a nice, comfortable bed.

Rosi has also been able to afford the necessary care for the member of her family who is HIV positive. The medicine for HIV is available free of charge, but the individual would have to walk miles to pick it up, which was extremely tiring, given their health. But now, they are able to afford transport by boda-boda (motorbike), making the medicine much easier to access.

Lastly, WMI has had a tremendous impact on her self-belief and efficacy. Rosi used to spend all day hanging around the house and working in the family garden without any other options. Now, she is very busy and feels much more productive. When asked what her favorite part about her work is, Rosi, grinning ear to ear, said, “Each day, after I have sold my last piece of mandazi, I can relax and feel very accomplished and proud.”

Rosi makes us all proud!  Won’t you help her and women like her?  Your generosity and consideration in choosing to support WMI is giving African women the chance to work their way out of poverty and stay out of poverty.  Every contribution, every act of kindness, every outreach gesture is gratefully received and put to good use. 

Rosi in her Furniture Shop
Rosi in her Furniture Shop
Mar 7, 2019

Notes from the Field

One of the WMI Borrowers
One of the WMI Borrowers

The Women's Microfinance Initiative is a leader in providing village-level access to business skills training and financial services for rural women in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Operating for over a decade now, WMI has issued over $6,000,000 in initial business funding to village women in East Africa.  

Every January, I make the long journey to East Africa to take the pulse of what is happening in our rural village programs. Each of our loan programs faces local challenges – and they differ widely across Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.  While WMI focuses on economic challenges, we also respond to requests from our partners for assistance with other issues, such as mental health in Lewa, Kenya, that impact the larger mission.  

In northern Kenya, my visit to the loan programs WMI collaborates on with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was a great opportunity to see an innovative approach to involving local populations in the management of scarce resources.  WMI partners with Lewa to bring business loans and skills training to the women who live in villages surrounding the conservancy.  Wildlife tourism is a significant economic base and WMI is working with Lewa to help ensure rural women and their families participate in the revenue generated by this sector.  The women have become sensitized to the benefits of preserving and protecting their wildlife heritage.   

There are currently 1,800 women in the loan program operating small businesses that include: retail shops, butcheries, flour mills, hair dressing and tailoring, poultry rearing, buying and selling cereals and livestock keeping. These businesses not only allow rural women to develop their own business potential but as the enterprises grow they create jobs for other women.  The Kenyan population is becoming more urbanized and there is tremendous demand for food in cities and towns.  Many women in the loan program have focused their business on this sector and are generating profits from it. 

This year, in addition to adding four new loan groups, WMI funded counseling services for rural women who felt stressed by the myriad responsibilities they faced.  The women told us the counseling sessions were enormously helpful. Some were having issues with priorities set by their husbands and the counseling sessions helped them learn how to have a fruitful discussion instead of simply arguing.  Others were overwrought by the educational and career choices their children wanted to make and the sessions helped them learn how to listen and respond constructively to their children's concerns.  Our team was struck by the universality of the women's concerns.  We could relate to the anxiety created by family arguments and their relief in finding constructive ways to handle the stress! 

This Friday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  It is also a call to action.  We ask that you remember WMI in your annual charitable giving.  WMI is a proven, cost effective and sustainable way to improve the economic well-being of rural women across East Africa.  Thank you for your support!

Dec 19, 2018

Nyongeza and the Mushroom Ladies

The Mushroom Ladies
The Mushroom Ladies

Often we find ourselves or our borrowers proposing small projects that, while not directly falling into our lending and training focus, provide the spark or catalyst necessary to fulfill our larger mission.  The Women's Microfinance Initiataive calls these special projects Nyongeza, a Swahili word for a booster or something that is complementary. Here is the story of one of these projects; it's had a huge impact on the small village of Kibale, Uganda, providing self-sustaining jobs for 22 women in the community. 

This summer, our partner Rukundo International asked us to join them in helping some women launch a mushroom cooperative. Joseline, the chairperson of the group, organized the women into working teams to run the project. The ladies spend every afternoon tending to their fungi, having spent the mornings digging in their own gardens and managing their households.

Our $1,000 grant built a mushroom growing structure and purchased 1,000 seeds. The first 200 seeds were inoculated (a process that involves cooking waste from fermented sorghum until it is sterile and then introducing the seeds into the sterile material), placed in plastic bags, and put in a dark room for 21 days until they sprout.   After they sprout, the bags are split and tied with strings to the rafters of the growing rooms, where it takes about 5 days before they reach maturity. The first harvest produced 30 pounds of mushrooms. When the substrate is completely used up (which takes several weeks), the bag with the seed is discarded. One bag will usually produce mushrooms for several weeks.

Mushrooms are a very popular delicacy in African cooking. People use them for everything from sauce to stew to stand-alone main dish. They are a cheap source of protein (much less expensive than meat) and contain lots of other nutrients. The upfront capital cost to start growing mushrooms is minimal.  Plus, they do not require a lot of land, which is now at a premium in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa.  Down the road the ladies can consider adding value to their product by drying the mushrooms.  Dried mushrooms (stored properly) can last over a year and they command a higher price in the market-place.

Our small grant has stimulated the local economy, provided employment to 22 local women, and easily generates profits that will keep the mushroom cooperative viable.  While most of your very generous donations go to our loan program, the small grants we also make are critical to keeping locally generated business development strong.

We wish you a very happy Holiday season. WMI does not work alone; our donors share our vision to combat poverty through empowering women and giving them the skills they need to support their families.  Thank you so much for your loyal and ongoing support!

On the Way to Market
On the Way to Market
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