1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative
WMI Training Session
WMI Training Session

Just 5 years ago, in January of 2008, WMI issued its first 20 loans; this year WMI will issue its 10,000th loan. 
The loan program has had an enormous impact in improving living standards for the rural women of East Africa and their families.  Olive Wolimbwa, WMI’s in-country program director reports several key developments that illustrate the loan program's success in bringing about fundamental social and economic changes that improve the lives of women: 

  • Women are buying land and building permanent houses;
  • Women are opening bank accounts and using ATM cards;
  • Domestic violence has reduced;
  • Loan hubs are thriving in areas recovering from insurgency fighting;
  • WMI trainers cover East Africa to pass on business skills to rural women;


Sarah sells second-hand clothes at a market where everyone else sells second-hand clothes also. She doesn’t always sell all of her clothes. What should she do?

Allen sells flour, maize, vegetables, cooking oil, and batteries at a road-side shop nearby. Which element of her inventory will likely sell the slowest, and why?

Lena has been selling flour for months. Every month her profits remain constant. Is her business growing? How can Lena reinvest more money in her business?

The fictional stories above were scenarios presented during a recent training session for WMI’s local coordinators in Buyobo, Uganda. The training was conducted as a TOT – or “training of trainers.” WMI’s 17 local coordinators present at the training serve as liaisons to their own communities around WMI’s headquarters in Buyobo, as well as liaisons to all of WMI’s rural loan program partners throughout East Africa. These liaisons visit WMI’s other affiliated programs on a quarterly basis to conduct 2-3 day business trainings for new borrowers to the loan program.  The “training of trainers” builds upon the coordinators’ existing framework of business knowledge, particularly so that they can incorporate this knowledge into the trainings they conduct quarterly, as well as pass this knowledge along to local borrowers in Buyobo whom they visit on a monthly basis to supervise and coach them on their businesses.

A common challenge with small businesses in Uganda is that entrepreneurs often find it challenging to find a proper product mix. The trainers emphasize the importance of conducting market research to determine market opportunities, using fictional scenarios and encouraging the women to act out scenarios to illustrate their points. They learn how to improve their products/services and sell new, complementary products and services.

WMI’s 17 trainers will train over 1,700 new borrowers in 2013.  Here is a picture of one of our training
sessions in Ngarendare, Kenya and one of our borrowers at her store.


Each year WMI surveys borrowers in the loan program to collect data on program impact. In 2013, WMI's college interns analyzed data from over 1,000 participants in the WMI loan program to assess the impact of the program in empowering rural women and improving household living standards for their families.  Each of the loan programs WMI funds in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania serves rural women from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds
who face different local challenges; but, they have one thing in common - they are systematically excluded from access to financial services. This exclusion severely limits their ability to provide for their families and improve their
living standards.

The full reports are available on our website www.wmionline.org.  Here are some highlights:

  • Income Gains – Only 11% of our borrowers earned more than $1,000 per year when entering the loan
    program.  Within 6 months, 72% borrowers reported earning more than $1,000 (annualized)
  • Savings Gains – By one year, 59% of borrowers reported saving at least $10 per month.

Across WMI loan hubs in East Africa the results continue to be impressive!   Over 1,000 borrowers have now graduated from our training program.  By empowering women to become economically productive through a formal credit/training program and graduating them into regulated banking WMI has proven a sustainable economic model for reducing poverty and social injustice.   Thank you so much for your on-going support! 

Training in Ngarendare, Kenya
Training in Ngarendare, Kenya
Toppie at her Shop
Toppie at her Shop

This January, the Women's Microfinance Initiative celebrate its five-year anniversary. Since our humble start in 2008, we've given over 8,000 loans to poor women in rural East Africa. The women are using these loans to start and grow small businesses so that they can support themselves, send their children to school, and gain standing in the community.

Our local director in Uganda, Olive Wolimbwa, discusses WMI's progress over the last five years in this video. Olive notes that borrowers are purchasing land and building houses, using formal banking services, enjoying more peaceful households, and learning business skills from WMI trainers.

A few months ago, WMI launched a new loan hub - a village where we partner with a community based organization to start a loan program - in Ngarendare, Kenya. Read the inspiring story of a woman who grew up there in our spring newsletter.

In April, WMI helds its first countrywide conference in Mbale, Uganda. Leaders from each of our Ugandan loan hubs attended to share ideas and best practices. They also participated in panels led by microfinance experts.

As WMI grows, we need your support more than ever to ensure that we are doing our best in every community we work with.


Ladies from the Busita loan group
Ladies from the Busita loan group

This winter, WMI President Robyn Nietert traveled to our primary loan hub in Buyobo, Uganda, and to several other loan hubs. She attended graduation ceremonies, in which WMI borrowers who have been in the program for two years celebrate their transition to formal banking with PostBank Uganda.

At the graduation ceremonies, community members testified to WMI's impact on the community beyond the lives of the borrowers. At the primary school in Buyobo, where many of the borrowers' children are educated and which WMI has been working to improve, students had their highest test scores ever in 2012. Some of the children of our borrowers wrote very sweet letters thanking WMI for our assistance to their parents and communities. A new healthcare clinic has relocated closer to Buyobo, and borrowers report taking advantage of its services.

Because of these and many other successes, WMI has been expanding. We added four new loan hubs in 2012 and will add two more in April 2013. In addition, some existing loan hubs have taken on sub-hubs: smaller organizations that report to the larger loan hub. This expansion allows us to increase our impact throughout East Africa and to help more women become independent, self-reliant and empowered.

WMI was one of several GlobalGiving projects featured in a promotion by the Hewlett Foundation to honor the Foundation's board chair who was stepping down after years of service, culminating in a very general donation of over $8,700 to our micro-finance project.  It was a very special surprise and the Board has designated the grant towards funding the three new hubs we are launching in April. A very big and very heartfelt thank you to HP for its wonderful support!

Ladies of the Mutufu sub-hub thank WMI
Ladies of the Mutufu sub-hub thank WMI
A graduating group receives formal bank loans
A graduating group receives formal bank loans
Local WMI officials at a graduation ceremony
Local WMI officials at a graduation ceremony
Thank you letters from children of WMI borrowers
Thank you letters from children of WMI borrowers


Borrowers attend a health and education seminar
Borrowers attend a health and education seminar

This year, WMI was able to raise over a quarter of a million dollars to fund microloans for women in rural East Africa. Some of the contributions we received were from large institutions and foundations, but more than half of them came from individual donors like you who have made a dramatic difference in our Borrowers' lives. WMI was able to issue 3,000 new loans this year to women in rural Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. After several rounds of loans, our Borrowers graduate to loans from a more traditional bank. We are proud to say that 450 of our Borrowers have now transitioned to commercial bank loans.

The empirical and anecdotal data WMI has been collecting from women in the loan program for five years now document significant and sustainable improvements in household living standards for borrowers and their families. The improvements are both immediate (more meals and better medical care) and long-term (continuing education for children, improved family health, upgraded homes, cleaner water, solar power installations, and increased access to financial services). Families are not just working their way out of poverty - they are staying out of poverty. As WMI borrowers become more experienced with each year that goes by, they are expanding their businesses, accessing institutional financial services on a regular basis, and bringing improvements to their villages as they become better advocates for themselves, their families and their communities. In addition to wonderful statistics about the improvements to these women's lives because of their loans, we also measured how we're using our funds to make sure your donations have the most impact possible. In 2012, only 1% of WMI's funding was spent on overhead, with all the rest going directly into the loan program. We're making the most of your donations by making sure they truly go to the people we're trying to help.

WMI provides loans, not subsidies, so there is income generated when women pay back the interest on their loans. We're using that capital to expand our health and education programs in our loan hubs. WMI's Borrowers have attended lectures by health and education officials to learn practical health tips and advice on educating themselves and their children. One of the government officials who visited the Bududa loan hub was so impressed by the Borrowers that he promised to get funding for development projects in their village.

Donations from individuals like you mean the world to WMI's Borrowers. If you want to get more involved in WMI's activities, consider becoming a Resource Fellow. The Resource Fellow spends 6-12 months at our original loan hub in Buyobo, Uganda working on the operation of our loan program there. Please visit our website for more information on the fellowship and more data on our Borrowers: www.wmionline.org. And don't forget to like Women's Microfinance Initiative on Facebook and follow @wmionline on Twitter!

This has been an exciting summer for WMI as we continued to expand our loan program to help more poor, rural women in East Africa. Here's what we've been up to:

This summer, a group of college interns analyzed data from Borrowers at each of WMI's loan hubs throughout Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. They found that 96% of borrowers who enter the loan program are living on less than $2 a day - the UN definition of living in poverty. That has not changed in the 4 years since WMI launched the loan program. There is no general improvement in the baseline poverty level of the rural women who seek out WMI loans.

But there are immediate and sustained economic improvements for WMI borrowers:

Within 6 months their incomes increase by an average of 66%. Within 12 months, nearly 75% of borrowers are earning over $6.50/day, with 35% earning over $10/day. By 24 months 51% of borrowers are earning over $13/day with 25% earning over $21/day. The women's increased earnings translate into significant improvements in household living standards. Check out the complete factbooks online at http://wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html.

This summer also marked the third year of WMI's high school intern program. The group of students traveled to the WMI loan hub in Buyobo, Uganda and taught at the local elementary school, created a teacher's garden and joined the women in carrying our simple business tasks like harvesting vegetables and sorting beans. The interns returned in early July and Della Turque-Henneberger wrote an article about her experience for the Washington Post Blog: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-16-year-olds-worthwhile-summer/2012/09/03/9262e0d6-f5cf-11e1-8398-0327ab83ab91_blog.html?wprss=rss_education

WMI gained a new board member this summer, experienced microfinance executive Archie Mears. Archie is the former Managing Director of Opportunity International Uganda, a regulated microfinance institution serving small and medium enterprise clients with loan, savings and money transfer services. He is a life-long banker specializing in African operations. He spent 28 years with ANC Grindlays Bank and also held executive positions at Stanbic Zambia and Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda.

Finally, former WMI intern Tobin Jones recently won the Echo Foundation's prestigious student international photojournalism competition for original photography responding to the question, "What does democracy or tyranny; justice or injustice look like?" See some of Tobin's photos of the women and family members of WMI attached.



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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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