Update on Power of Love's Project “Micro Loans for Women Impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zambia”
As a result of your continued support, we were able to provide business training and small loans to 50 new women “entrepreneurs” in Lusaka, Zambia in 2011. We would like to sincerely thank the Mary D. Fisher Fund and other donors who continue to support this program. Almost all the women who were provided with loans in 2011, are on schedule with their repayments as we continue to monitor the progress of their businesses and suggest ways to increase sales and profits. We expect this loan cycle to be completed by March 31, 2012 with the women repaying loan capital (approximately $135) with 10% interest rate. Businesses started with this program range from selling bananas along the roadside to brick-and-mortar stores selling cellphone chargers and accessories. Many women distribute fish to local restaurants, fry donut-like snacks for stores, or make their own floor wax. The goal of the program is to empower women and help them to become self-sufficient and able to provide for their families.
One of the unique features of this program is that every woman is either infected with or affected by AIDS, and fewer than 5% have a bank account. As a result, other microfinance organizations typically do not make loans to them. The women are qualified using a community referral system and through several interviews by Power of Love’s microfinance coordinator, Esther Shumba. After a woman is selected for a loan, she undergoes a week of intensive business training, builds a credible business plan, and is assigned to a team with four other women. Each team is held accountable for ensuring that the others in their group are on track with their loan repayment.
One key element of this program is the weekly meetings which have benefited the women significantly in several ways. The women meet once a week to discuss their businesses and how to improve sales, issues connected with care for families who are HIV positive, share their successes and failures and to make their loan repayments. For example, one of the ladies - Alice was having trouble finding a place to sell high-quality soap she was importing from South Africa. Another woman in the program has a brother who owns a small general store, and agreed to rent Alice some shelf space. Alice now has a healthy business importing this soap, has expanded into other product lines, and has laid the foundation on a small home for herself and her two sons. Alice has graduated from Power of Love’s program, but continues to serve as a mentor to other women in the program and is able to send her sons to high school.
Given below is a picture of some of the women singing before the start of their weekly meeting at the Power of Love offices in Lusaka, Zambia. The lady with the cell phone around her neck is Alice, one of the successful graduates of this program.
To sum, the key aspects of the POL microfinance model are: (1) the division of loan recipients into small teams that hold each other accountable; (2) weekly program-wide meetings to share insight and collect repayment; and (3) consistent business training, including an initial course, a refresher course, and mentoring from successful program graduates.
Next Steps: At this time we are in the process of setting up a partnership with FINCA, the largest provider of microloans in Zambia and a major presence worldwide (distributed $800 million in loans in 2011). Many women, like Alice Bamba above, have graduated from Power of Love’s microfinance program and have built successful businesses, but are eager to invest more capital and grow their business to the next level. Power of Love and FINCA have agreed to send such women to the FINCA branch in the community of Matero (where are program is located), with the intent of building a relationship that allows POL to refer women directly to the FINCA branch in Matero and help integrate the women into FINCA’s village banking model.
To date, this program has provided 450 loans to women impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zambia and improved the lives of over 4000 people in the community of Matero in Lusaka, Zambia. At this time we have 160 women who are on this program and running successful businesses.
Power of Love’s micro loans program helps women impacted by HIV/AIDS take the first steps towards breaking the cycle of poverty, acquiring a marketable skill and becoming self-reliant. In addition we monitor the businesses and provide business expertise to all loan beneficiaries to ensure the success of their businesses. Your support goes a long way in improving the lives of women and families impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zambia. Microfinance has transformed the lives of many poor mothers and grandmothers in AIDS-stricken Africa and is truly a powerful tool in helping women become self-reliant.