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!