1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative


WMI President, Robyn Nietert, just completed a month long field trip to visit WMI borrowers and staff in village loan programs throughout East Africa.  The trip results were excellent.  The women in the loan program are continuing to expand their businesses, improve their families' living standards and transition to bank loans and the formal economy.  Through funding from supporters, WMI has been able to continue adding new loan hubs so that more impoverished women can have an opportunity to launch a business to support their families.  Check out the blog posts and pictures on the WMI web site to see the progress on WMI borrowers in 2012: http://wmionline.wordpress.com/


 Borrower Progress: 2011 was a year of many accomplishments for the women in the WMI loan program.  Here is a quick review of their progress:

·         99% of Borrowers doubled their income in the first 6 months of joining the loan program;

·         100% of Borrowers increased savings;

·         75% of Borrowers transitioning to independent loans report they are earning at least $3,600/year; 40% are generating very large annual incomes of over $6,000/year; and, a startling 10% are earning over $8,000/year.

·         75% of Borrowers have acquired additional farm animals;

·         99% of Borrowers have improved their household meals;

·         85% of Borrowers have improved their business skills;

·         20% of borrowers have begun to hire employees to help with their businesses;

·         97% of borrowers indicate the loan program is having a positive impact on their family.  

Loan Program Expansion: During 2011, WMI expanded the loan program dramatically.  By the end of the last loan quarter of the year, WMI had funded its 4,000th loan.  A total of over $550,000 has been lent since WMI launched in 2008. A complete table of WMI's lending history is available on the web site at: http://www.wmionline.org/Borrower-Loan-Summary-October-2011.pdf.

Loan hubs were added in Konokoya and Gulu, Uganda as well as Shikokho, Kenya.  Additionally, all preliminary site work was completed on the ground to launch a new hub in Tanzania in January 2012.  WMI's Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa, and a dedicated team of experienced trainers from Buyobo, Uganda visit all new loan hubs, train the first borrowers,and orient the Head Co-coordinators.  Sometimes this means an arduous two day journey using erratic public transportation; but, the peer-to peer transfer of knowledge is crucial to the success of the loan program.  As the staff in these new loan hubs becomes more experienced, they in turn will be able to go out to mentor loan hubs added in the future.

 Local Capacity Building: WMI is not just about loans.  The program builds human capacity in the villages where it operates:

·         Twenty new trainers went through the World Bank developed "Training-to-Train" program, increasing WMI's capacity to effectively train new borrowers;

·         Advanced business planning training for experienced borrowers was arranged throughCarmelo Cocuzza at FinAfrica in Kampala;

·         Three new classrooms were constructed at Buyobo Primary School with volunteer donations, villager support and intern labor;

·   A Bun and Tea Program for the teachers at Buyobo Primary School entered its second year;

·   Vestergaard Fransden donated 100 treated mosquito nets to WMI;

·        Reading and math books for 60 students, grades 1 - 6, were delivered to Buyobo Primary from a Williamson, NY school district;

·         Fifty-eight boxes of children's books donated by WMI supporters were shipped for free and arrived in Kenya for use by village children in WMI's Siaya loan hub;

·         Thousands of eyeglasses were donated to the larger Buyobo community through intern collection efforts;

Bank Partners: PostBank Uganda has proven to be an excellent banking partner for the transition to independence program.  It has worked closely with WMI's Local Director and loan hub team to streamline operations and make certain that the ladies transitioning to bank loans understand the banking process.  WMI is now working with Co-Operative Bank in Kenya to put a transition program in place for the ladies graduating to bank loans in the Kenya loan hubs starting in 2012.

Loan Program Accountability/Inpact/Validation:  Though small, WMI has run a very structured program since its inception.  In 2011, we continued to survey borrowers on a regular basis and analyze that data so that we remain accountable for program operations and so that we can measure loan program impact.  This year we expanded the fact book analysis and supplemented it with a presentation on the transition to independent banking program and a 3-year comparison of borrower baseline data. http://www.wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html

Financial Support: WMI continued to expand support from foundations, corporations, giving circles and other non-profits.  This year WMI was very gratified to receive a pledge of support from The Greater Contribution, a non-profit located in northern California.  WMI works closely with TGC's president, Karon Wright, who has organized a 2012 trip to Uganda for herself and other TGC supporters so that they can witness the WMI loan program in action.  In 2011, TGC generously contributed $50,000 to WMI.

The IMF Civic Fund, Towards Sustainability FoundationBoeing Company and Global Giving all issued major follow up grants to WMI.  Additionally, the US Ambassador's Fund issued a major grant to install solar power in the WMI building in Buyobo.  In the fall of 2011, Greenlight Appareljoined the WMI team, pledging 12.5% of its profits to WMI (see separate article).  In 2011, WMI became eligible for the Federal Combined Giving Campaign and participated in presentations and charity fairs at a number of federal agencies.  Individuals distinguish themselves year after year as the mainstay of WMI's financial support.  This year two people made extremely generous donations to WMI of $15,000 or more.

 Honored with an annual cocktail party (a highlight of the WMI fundraising season), the WMI 500 - a group of women pledging $250 a year to WMI for at least 2 years - expanded its membership role in 2011 resulting in contributions of over $15,000 to WMI. (If you'd like to join just email:staudaher@verizon.net). Other giving circles were formed as well.  Donna Boxer of Chevy Chase, MD and her colleagues formed a giving circle that has pledged $3,500 a year to WMI for 3 years and a contribution of $2,200 for a fourth year.  Amy Berger marshaled a $750 donation from her book club in Vermont. Sally Kelly organized successful "friendraisers" at her home. (To find out how to host one, email: salkelly@earthlink.net)

Beth Tomasello, Alison Ewing, Kathy Staudaher, Lisa Mitnick and Vicki Dorman represented WMI at local gift fairs and community events to raise over $2,500.  The WMI Holiday Tribute Card was also a big hit this year, raising not only funds for WMI but raising general awareness of our mission. Individuals honored are listed on the web site on the WMI Tribute List.http://www.wmionline.org/WMI-Holiday-Tribute-List.pdf

WMI's strategy in 2011 was to seek partners to affiliate with particular loan hubs so that there would be multiple avenues of support for funding loans and developing administrative capacity in the hubs.  This has worked extremely well as WMI counted as partners: Arlington Academy of Hope,Chevy Chase Presbyterian ChurchBIDEBarbara Wybar and the Budduda Vocational Centre,Judy Lane and the Maasi Sustainability InitiativeMpambarra-Cox FoundationEast Africa Center for Progressive DevelopmentChild Development Organization (Uganda), and Laikepia Community Empowerment Centre.

These divergent streams of support converged into a mighty river in 2011: WMI has raised $190,000this year. This is $20,000 more than in 2010!  These funds were truly a godsend for the women and families WMI serves:   $190,000 goes a long way in the developing world.  It was put to work effectively and efficiently by WMI's volunteer board and the dedicated local staff in the loan hubs (You can read about the local staff online at:http://www.wmionline.org/who/coordinators/local_coordinators.html)

Internships/Volunteers: WMI's unique economic model and collaborative structure drew increasing numbers of interns and volunteers who generously donated their time, effort and talents to improve loan program operations both in Buyobo and here in Bethesda.

Outstanding contributions were made by the eight Walt Whitman High School interns who traveled to Buyobo, Uganda this past summer.  The trip so inspired them that five of these committed young adults are returning to Buyobo again in the summer of 2012 with a new group of Whitman students chaperoned by teacher Bob Mathis. 

A dynamic group of college interns and recent graduates played an important role in strengthening WMI's infrastructure in Buyobo in 2011.  Eva StevensonJacklyn VouthourisErin Kelly and Ida Stuve each spent over a month in the village working on projects as disparate as sketching the wall murals for the new school rooms, revamping the loan hub budget and expense reporting system, and shooting top quality video biographies of WMI borrowers.  John Finch volunteered in Buyobo to interview villagers and prepare a booklet about Buyobo and the impact of the loan program (see separate article).  Local capacity for the loan program was increased enormously by the dedicated work of WMI's Project Directors Montana Stevenson and Ainsley Morris, who rounded out 9 months of service in the field in July 2011.  Their efforts resulted in the publication of a WMI Banking Manual, which is proving to be a valuable resource for the loan program.http://www.wmionline.org/Banking_Manual_FINAL.pdf

Not to be outdone, 10 high school and college students interned with WMI in Bethesda during the summer of 2011.  They entered and analyzed data and produced the annual Fact Books on the loan program's impact. http://www.wmionline.org/dataanalysis/profile/profile.html.  Additionally,Elizabeth Robbins, a senior at American University interned with WMI during the fall of this year.

On all fronts, 2011 was a marvelous year of loan program growth, internal development and increased financial support for WMI. 


Robyn Nietert and Alice at her gradution ceremony
Robyn Nietert and Alice at her gradution ceremony

In our newest installment in the Meet WMI Borrowers video series, we introduce you to Alice Monje, a mother of nine, whose WMI loan enabled her to start a poultry business that has transformed her family and her future. Alice lives in rural Buyobo, Uganda and was one of our first borrowers. She has now graduated from the WMI program and trasitioned to PostBank Uganda where she has an independent loan of $750 USD!

Take 3 minutes to check in with Alice, meet her family, and see how the chickens have created cash flow.


After many long hours of hard work by 10 college interns this summer, and supervision by project directors Montana Stevenson and Ainsley Morris, the 2011 WMI fact books have been finalized and posted on the WMI web site. The fact books document the loan program impact and the results continue to be impressive. They also provide an in-depth profile of the demographic characteristics of WMI borrowers on a village by village basis.   

WMI 2011 Fact Books   

Quick Demographic Profile: 

  • An astounding 90% of first time borrowers live on less than 50 cents per day when they enter the WMI loan program. The World Bank defines poverty as living on less than $2 a day, and "extreme poverty" as living on less than $1.25 a day.
  • 90% of borrowers reported having less than $25 in savings at the time of their first loan. 
  • Over 90% of borrowers lived in homes with dirt floors.
  • Only 5% of borrowers used electricity as their source of light.
  • Less than 50% of borrowers had mosquito nets for all household members.
  • The majority of borrowers have 4 or more children and additionally care for children who are not their own (many orphaned by AIDS). 

Because WMI collected the data separately in each loan hub, it is now able to compare the information from the different hubs. For instance, in the Bumwalukani loan hub in Bududa District, Uganda over two-thirds of first time borrowers are living on less than 10 cents per day. That's one-fifth of the amount of some of the other hub locations. The ability to compare statistics gives WMI opportunities to tailor the loan program to the specific needs of different loan hubs.  

The best news is that the loan program impact surveys demonstrate enormous gains by WMI borrowers after just 6 months in the loan program:

  • The number of borrowers living on less that 50 cents per day dropped from 90% to just 5%.
  • Almost 100% of borrowers reported saving regularly and listed their top three reasons for saving as: emergencies, healthcare, and businesses expansion.
  • Nearly 75% of borrowers have more mosquito nets after their loans.
  • 100% of borrowers report an improvement in their business skills since receiving their first loans.
  • Almost 100% of borrowers report that the loan program has had a positive impact on their lives.

The complete loan program impact fact books are posted on the WMI web site. Check them out!

Loan Program Impact Fact Book - Buyobo, Uganda 

Loan Program Impact fact Book - Siaya, Kenya  

For the first time, WMI was able to prepare a comparison of baseline data from information gathered from baseline surveys of borrowers over a three year time span. The data show that the general living standards of borrowers when they enter the loan program are fairly consistent over the 3 year period. This data implies that there are no external forces or circumstances in the villages or local economy that are resulting in improvements in the general living standards of local residents. It substantiates that improvements in borrowers' living standards after they enter the loan program are attributable to their businesses and not outside factorsComparison Fact Book.


Nalini teaches math
Nalini teaches math

Summer is a busy and productive time for WMI, both in Buyobo and at its headquarters in Bethesda, MD.  For the second summer in a row, high school interns volunteered in Buyobo, Uganda with the WMI loan program. They painted the classrooms in the new primary school buildings that last year's high school interns helped construct.  Their wall designs ranged from a detailed map of Africa to the solar system. The interns taught math and English to students in grades P6 and P7 (the equivalent of sixth and seventh grades).

Through the generosity of its donors, WMI collected 500 pairs of eyeglasses in May, which the interns sorted by prescription and distributed to the teachers and borrowers in the loan program.  WMI in Buyobo also welcomed George Washington University anthropology professor, John Finch, who helped improve the WMI Internet Café, which serves the village and which was started by last year’s high school interns.  He interviewed village elders and is preparing a history of Buyobo and written record of how the WMI loan program has changed the economic opportunities for families in the district.  Jackie Vourthius, a 2010  business major from UMD spent several months in the village teaching WMI’s local director how to automate loan program documents.   Erin Kelly, a 2010 UMich graduate, is in Buyobo through July interviewing borrowers and making a short documentary film about their businesses.  She is assisted by Ida Stuve, a third year student at University of Ediburugh in Scotland.   In Bethesda, 8 college inters are analyzing borrower data and preparing an updated fact book on loan program impact, while two high school interns are updating the web site and researching micro finance issues.

On the expansion front, WMI is excited to announce the addition of a new loan hub in Shikokho, Kenya.  Two more loan hubs (in Gulu and Kisese, Uganda) are on the horizon.  Their addition will bring WMI’s total loan hubs to 10 in the next six months.  All of the new hubs will be affiliated with existing community based organizations already operating in rural villages outside of the main towns in these areas.  This helps ensure a solid local infrastructure to support new borrowers and ensure that the local women administering the program have sponsors right in the village who can provide input and guidance.  The WMI loan program is thriving and expanding because of generous public support and WMI is so grateful to all of its donors. With your help, we are changing the face of poverty, one loan at a time.

Heidi talks to a child
Heidi talks to a child
Launch of Shikokho Loan Hub
Launch of Shikokho Loan Hub
Sorting through eyeglasses
Sorting through eyeglasses

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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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