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1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative
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1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
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!

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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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Every day is Take your Child to Work Day in rural East Africa.  Multi-tasking is the way of life.  Our borrowers juggle their child care responsibilities with tending the garden which supplies most of the family’s food, caring for the house, and running their businesses.  Their businesses become family affairs, with the husband or the children assisting in the various aspects.  Put your baby on your back and get to work!

Take Rebecca, for example.

Rebecca is an involved member of her church congregation, wife and mother of six. She was born, raised and currently lives in her home village of Kaama, Uganda with her husband and children.  Rebecca has had her own tailoring business for 14 years.  She came into the WMI program an experienced, knowledgeable tailor, but saw WMI’s loan program as a way to learn the skills necessary to be a successful businesswoman.

As soon as she received her first loan, Rebecca began buying additional materials; fabrics to create new clothes, as well as linings and threads to repair and alter clothes her customers bring to her. Already, Rebecca says that the purchases made with her WMI loan have given her the ability to cater to the needs of a wider variety of customers.

In addition to increasing the variety of customers she is able to serve, Rebecca’s loan has also allowed her to increase her outputs. With the influx of new materials, Rebecca has been able to delegate tasks to her oldest daughter, who is currently training to become a tailor herself. On the days Rebecca is working in the Bugusege market, her daughter is now able to work from their home in Kaama village, meaning that the women can be working with customers from a greater number of villages.

Rebecca’s training has also meant that she is now creating detailed, long-term budgets and savings for her and her family. She is currently able to pay for her children’s school fees, and by putting money away each month she is putting herself in a position to continue to pay fees for the entirety of their schooling. Her savings have also helped ensure her family’s ability to deal with unexpected costs and medical treatments. This greater financial know-how has positively impacted Rebecca’s marriage. She is now able to buy goods for herself, her children and her home without have to gain permission from her husband.

Looking forward, Rebecca hopes that her business will expand even further in the coming year. She believes that further expansion is possible because of her access to capital as well as her increased profits, which are a direct result of her purchasing more inputs. Ultimately, Rebecca’s dream is to use her abilities as a tailor and a businesswoman to establish a clothing shop where she will be able to store, advertise and sell all of her own creations.

Thanks to all the WMI donors who share our vision to combat poverty through empowering women.  We plan to help many more women just like Rebecca by giving them the skills they need to support their families.  Won’t you help us today?

Rebecca at her Tailoring Shop
Rebecca at her Tailoring Shop
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Sarah at Work
Sarah at Work

Today, July 18, is a special Global Giving Bonus Day!  Your donation to the WMI loan program will receive a 50% matching as long as funds are available. The $120,000 matching fund will go quickly, but new recurring donations will receive a 100% match the entire day. A donation of just $10 a month will fund a loan for one of our borrowers like Sarah, whose story we share below.

Sarah was born and raised in Buganda in Central Uganda but moved to Kaama, a village close to our Buyobo headquarters in Eastern Uganda.  She came to Kaama with her parents in her early adult years when they decided to return to their homeland.  Since moving back, Sarah has set up her life with her three children, runs her farm where she grows and harvests beans to sell, is actively involved in her community church as a chorister, and operates her clothing business.

Sarah is one of our new borrowers, currently in her first loan cycle.  Sarah’s business involves taking a day-long journey by bus to the capital city of Kampala to buy clothes.  She then carries them back to sell at the Bugusege market near her home.  For the seven years prior to joining WMI’s loan program, she had only enough capital to buy a few clothes at a time to sell.  Since joining the WMI loan program, Sarah has used her loans to buy in bulk, which has greatly reduced her costs, and thus increased her profits, as she is now in a better position to bargain for a lower price when buying in Kampala.

Like any growing business, Sarah faces some challenges. Her greatest challenge presently is her location. She does not have a shop yet, meaning that, first of all, she is limited in the amount of clothes that she can have in stock, and secondly, she must sell under the hot Ugandan sun. Nevertheless, she is currently applying her new skills from WMI’s training program to save up for a shop. She looks forward to having her shop a year from now and hopes that will increase her number of customers.

Another one of Sarah’s challenges from her growing business is that buying in bulk increases the chances of buying clothes that are of a lower quality than she is known to sell.  When this happens, she uses her negotiation skills and good customer relations skills to successfully sell off the lower quality clothes so that she can afford to restock her inventory with better quality ones.

In addition to using her newly acquired skills to address her challenges and expand her business, Sarah has been applying her skills to manage her home as well.  Particularly, lessons in saving, record-keeping and general business management have better equipped her to manage her home of three children, and to look after her aging parents.

Sarah feels very grateful for the WMI loan program.  She is glad for the communal support from her loan group members and guidance from the WMI training support staff in helping her further expand her business.  She thinks it makes her a better woman and an inspiration to her daughters. She greatly appreciates all the support WMI offers women and hopes that they go on to help others like her. 

Thanks to all the WMI donors who share our vision to combat poverty through empowering women and giving them the skills they need to support their families we plan to help many more women just like Sarah.  Won’t you help us today?

Sarah in the Market
Sarah in the Market
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Naidimi Loan Group
Naidimi Loan Group

Back in 2012, WMI began working with Rachel Blackmore, director of Weston Turville Wells for Tanzania, to add a microfinance program to their clean water and food security programs.  We’ve enjoyed the partnership and the loan program there has been very successful due to the strength of the local staff.  Recently, Rachel shared a story with us that we thought you would enjoy! 

Rachel writes, On our way back from reviewing one of the remote villages we work in, our local coordinator, Ponja, mentioned that we had no spare tire. He mentioned it because he could hear a hissing. He’d lent the spare to someone else in need the week before and had not had a chance to replace it and had never had a puncture before.

I asked if we should call a garage in the nearest town (three hour’s drive away) to bring us a spare.

‘There is no phone network’

‘How far to the nearest network signal?’

’20 kms’

‘So what shall we do?’

‘We will drive on it’

Fortunately we hadn’t bumped along far when we saw a Belgian couple that I’d chatted to earlier at a viewpoint. I’d been surprised to see Europeans driving in the area.

They kindly lent us their spare and we followed each other back. They told us they had bought fuel from a Maasai woman, which surprised them, as they expected to pay a man. When they offered the money to her husband he laughed and pointed to his wife as the person to pay. They asked if it meant that women were in control here? I said only when they have a loan and their own business.

I later learned from our staff that this woman is called Naihiki and she had a WTWT/WMI loan and has a business selling fuel to rangers and tourists. Our staff buys from her, too, and explained that she is one of two wives who were struggling to feed their children because their husband drinks. Since giving her a loan and supporting her in starting her successful fuel business things have got a lot better for the family.

Coincidentally, when we got back, we met Naihiki coming to grind her maize at the grinding machine. It was lovely to meet her with her daughter. She explained that she buys fuel in the town, brings it up by bus and then carries the cans on her donkey to the road for her customers.

Rachel reports that she attended several loan group meetings on her winter visit.  The women were enthusiastic about the success of their businesses and said many more people in the community are requesting loans.  Rachel told us they asked to us to fund more.  Each of the loan groups gives itself a name.  Sometimes they use colors or names of birds or fruit.  The picture above shows some of the women in the loan group they named Naidimi.  It means Able in English.

WMI has agreed to provide more funding in 2018.  Won’t you help?  We want to continue to provide business loans to all of the Naidimi women of east Africa.  You never know when an entrepreneurial woman will be standing by the road ready to sell you some fuel when you are low!

Naihiki and her Daughter
Naihiki and her Daughter
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Organization Information

Women's Microfinance Initiative

Location: Bethesda, MD - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @wmionline
Project Leader:
Robyn Nietert
President
Bethesda, Maryland United States

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