1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative

Happy New Year! WMI has started the year with a bang: our newest microfinance loan hub just opened its doors in the Mukono region of central Uganda in partnership with Suubi Community Projects.  Suubi is a Luganda word meaning Hope.

Let us tell you something about this region and why Hope is so important: Mukono has 9 villages and was severely affected by the 1981-86 Uganda civil war.  War contributed to the increasing poverty in the area since so many people who were involved in agricultural activities were displaced and many killed. The war weakened the social-economic structures in the community, caused moral degradation, and increased HIV/AIDS prevalence, and thus widows and orphans increased in number.  Almost all households fail to meet their basic needs because of low incomes.  There is almost no access to quality basic needs  -- service providers such as schools and a health center are miles away from this community. 

On the 8th January 2016, Suubi gave its first loans to 40 women.  36 were already into business and took loans to expand their businesses; 4 started new businesses. The women are engaged in food stuff stalls, retail shops, charcoal stalls, night shift hotels, and fish selling.  The president is happy to report that she has been able to visit and evaluate each of the businesses since the loans were issued, and reports evidence of new stock and increased activity.

The pictures are of Nabbosa and her business. She is our profile borrower this month.  Nabbosa is 43 years old, and has been a widow for 13 years. She has 4 children: 2 girls and 2 boys aged 17 to 24.  All are attending day secondary school.

She runs a restaurant called Biyinzika, and it is the only source of income for her and her children. Her restaurant serves breakfast and lunch to about 50 customers every day. She employs one woman and her children also help at the restaurant when they are not at school.

She always wished she could get more capital to buy new equipment like pans, plates, cups and tables. However, this was not possible because her profits were only enough to pay rent and school fees for her children.  With the loan taken from SWMI, she has been able to buy these items and she expects this to increase the number of her daily customers.

Won’t you help women like Nabbosa by contributing to our loan fund?  As we reflect on our prior 8 years, we are gratified to see that our brand of international aid – allowing local determination to guide our resources – is having huge results. Your generous donations have made the WMI loan program a possibility and the hard work of the ladies operating our 15 loan hubs, turned that possibility into a reality - a successful, self-sustaining resource that will benefit generations of rural women. Thank you so much for your loyal and ongoing support! 

Nabbosa Serving a Customer
Nabbosa Serving a Customer
WMI Borrowers Learn to Embroider
WMI Borrowers Learn to Embroider

Greetings from Buyobo Uganda!

One thing we often remark on is the industriousness of our borrowers.  Not only are the women primary caregivers for their children, they are also responsible for the home vegetable plot, providing daily meals cooked over a charcoal or solar stove, and running their businesses.  Most women operate several businesses to take advantage of seasons and markets.  They may not be driving their kids to soccer practice, but never underestimate the multi-tasking skills these women employ just to get through each day.

Always looking for a new skill to parlay into a business opportunity, a group of our borrowers have also taken up embroidery. This October marked the beginning of a new Craft Class for borrowers in WMI’s Buyobo hub. With the expertise of two WMI staff members, borrowers are learning to embroider and knit various crafts. They are currently creating tablecloths and placemats made of yarn and cotton. The women meet every Monday and Friday from 4 – 6:30 p.m. to sharpen their skills and create beautiful décor to take to market. After each lesson they take their projects home to continue their work.

In keeping with our philosophy of valuing more highly that which you pay for, the class worked together to raise 750,000 shillings (about $200, which was matched by WMI) to purchase sewing needles, embroidery hoops, and fabric.  To put this in context, our business loans are in the 300,000-500,000 shilling range, so any contribution from their savings was quite an investment for the women.  In addition to taking their crafts to market, the class also intends to display their finished products during graduation in January for visitors to purchase.  Although our women don’t generally focus on the export or tourist markets, it will be interesting to see if they discover new opportunities to sell their goods.

We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!  As you gather with your families this holiday season and count your many blessings, we ask that you remember the women of our loan program who work so very hard each day just to make ends meet.  By supporting WMI, your generous gifts help us to put into place the loan funds and systems that help to create the opportunities for our borrowers to succeed.  WMI loans are not a hand-out.  Each loan is paid back with interest, and interest earnings support all program operations and community projects.  Thank you!

Lydia Graduates from University
Lydia Graduates from University

With your generous donations we started the WMI loan program eight years ago with twenty loans. This summer we issued our twenty thousandth loan. Total lending is now over $3million. The numbers may sound small by U.S. banking standards, but they are certainly impressive when you realize our average loan is only $150. It’s even more impressive when you learn our average borrower has been earning less than $130 a month when she joins our program. For her, a $150 loan is not a micro-loan; it’s huge! So, why would she borrow so much money? The answer is simple: working capital is the key to increasing business profits, which increases household income and living standards.

We collect borrower information on every loan we make, and every summer our interns analyze the data and prepare Fact Books to show the loan program’s impact on improving household living conditions and empowering women to become financially independent.

We look very carefully at the data for trends. We continue to see a rapid change in a borrower’s average income once they enter our loan program. Whereas 99.7% of all borrowers earned less than $1,560 per year when they entered the program, that figure drops to less than 3.7% in just two years. Our average borrower more than doubles her earnings in the two years she is in our program.

The loan enables her to kick-start an existing or new business. Most businesses are agricultural or provide necessities of daily living, such as other foodstuffs, tailoring, used clothing, and medicine, and are local in market scope. As her profits grow, she can expand the business, add to savings, which greatly reduces the negative impact of emergencies or unforeseen expenses, and improve household living standard. In Uganda, where education is a top priority, 75% of the women surveyed said they spent their profits on school fees as an investment in their children’s future.

Most exciting is that we are seeing generational change. We tasked our Buyobo, Uganda summer interns with interviewing the children of borrowers, several of whom have now completed their university educations, to get their impressions. It’s amazing how each one chose to talk about the impact the WMI loan program has had on their mother, their community, and, especially, their own opportunities. East Africa isn’t a place where you are given a job – it’s a place where you take the skills you have and make your own job. Watch the video and you will feel really confident that these kids will succeed at whatever they do!



Thank you for getting me out of the dust and from being nobody….

With all of the turmoil in the world these days, sometimes it’s just nice to be able to share a success story - a story of someone who is grateful for her life, what small resources she’s been given, and what she’s been able turn those small resources into - someone who smiles all the time. Today I want to share such a story.

Jackline, one of our first borrowers, a designer of the loan program, and now head trainer, wrote us an email last week that began:


With much joy and honor I want to take this opportunity to extend my appreciation and gratitude to WMI and to all Donors for the tremendous work done in my life in the following areas;

  • For getting me in dust from nobody and raised me to somebody by giving me a loan which has created a very big change in my day to day life.
  • it has been a platform for me to meet school dues for my children
  • it has helped me to construct a house where we reside and I have been able to construct a septic tank for my family which was a very big challenge before
  • WMI appointed me as one of the staff members where I get a stipend to earn a living,
  • WMI has given me computer skills without charge - this is also a great chance given
  • I have been able to travel to different parts of the country and outside Uganda.

Without WMI (Women’s Microfinance Initiative) I wouldn't have gone this far. I remain thankful and grateful for the treasure WMI has given me. LONG LIVE WMI.       Jackline


We met Jackline almost eight years ago. She was a young mother in her late 20s with five children to support. Her home in Buyobo, Uganda lacked electricity, running water, and basic sanitation. It had a thatch roof, mud floor and the walls were plastered with cow dung. Despite these living standards, Jackline was better off than many - she was trained as a teacher and spoke English (her native language Lugiso is not written, so most education is in English). This skill brought her to us and she helped launch the loan program with 19 other determined women.

Philanthropists are always looking for hard evidence that their efforts are productive. Academics are always coming up with new theories. Today they focus on “metrics” as the measure of productivity. How many people were helped? How many shots were given, mosquito nets delivered? While these measures are important, they can also be manipulated and they are often difficult to verify. And, do they really measure lasting impact? This is something we at WMI look at all the time. We have realized that our village-level focus, being embedded in a small geographical area, has afforded us something very important: the opportunity to witness change over time. Not only do we see visible evidence of the change, the women also share ongoing narratives of how life has improved since the loan program launched.

Each of our 14 village programs has a small loan fund and costs less than $70,000 to set up. The programs are directed and run by local women and are designed to run self-sufficiently from the interest income generated by the revolving loan fund. This small amount of money has spawned change that is permanent. Visit Buyobo and you will see the new businesses – originally run from a mat on the ground, they are now housed in brick structures. You will see the children thriving and learning – and now going off to college through the profits from their mother’s businesses. You will see improved housing – concrete floors when a dirt floor once sufficed; tin roofs replacing thatch. You will see families working together on their businesses – and a significant drop in domestic violence. To see the change, all you have to do is look.

On behalf of the thousands of rural women and their families who have benefited from WMI, we wish to extend our sincere and heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to all of you for your generous support towards improving their social and economic conditions.  Your invaluable contributions have transformed the lives of a rural woman in profound and permanent ways. Without your support, all of this would not be possible. Thank you so very much.

Penina's Students

Along with running the WMI loan hub, our staff  are also teachers in Buyobo or nearby villages. It is a requirement our staff to be literate in English, and this targets the local teacher population. These women teach, coordinate loan groups and office operations, while also running businesses and raising their families. They are an impressive group of women!

Penina, one of the Local Coordinators, founded and directs her own primary school in nearby Budadiri: Ambassadors Preparatory Nursery & Primary School. She started her school in 2011, teaching four kids out of her living room. Four years later, another 130 young students have joined the original class, and the school has expanded to nursery through Primary 3.

Before starting Ambassadors Primary, Penina had been working at a school that honored her for her teaching but did not pay her for a year. She says it is much better to work for yourself! In order to expand, Penina used her four successive loans from WMI to rent a few shops in a row, construct a wall to close them in from the road, build an additional classroom, and buy desks.

Songs are built into the students’ daily routine. After a break in the courtyard, kids move off to their respective classrooms singing “class, class! We go to class, class, class! We go to class!” If a student volunteers or answers questions correctly, the teacher has her/him stand up with hands on hips, and do a little dance while classmates clap and sing: “Lovely, lovely, nice, a very good girl/boy!” Alternately they might give their classmate “flowers,” reaching their arms towards the student and waving hands for a few seconds in recognition. To remind students to sit still, teachers have them sing “I am sitting like a boss, boss, boss. I am a boss, boss, boss.” With their arms and legs crossed, they sit back in their seats and look silently all around them, like the big person in charge.

Respect for others, being humble, loving one another, and sharing: These are the leadership qualities that Penina exemplifies. She says to a fault she is slow to talk about her achievements. She prefers to let parents tell their neighbors about the school, and has expanded through word of mouth about the quality of education. Humble as she may be, Penina is ambitious too! She says her next steps are to own the land she rents and expand over the next seven years to a full secondary school. She wants to teach the original students all the way through up to college.

Today, Global Giving will give a 30% match to your contribution to Women’s Microfinance Initiative.  Won’t you take a minute to make a donation to support WMI’s loan fund and give another woman like Penina the opportunity to make her own business dream come true?  Thank you so much for your support!


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Organization Information

Women's Microfinance Initiative

Location: Bethesda, MD - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.wmionline.org
Project Leader:
Robyn Nietert
Bethesda, Maryland United States

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