March/April 2013 




In This Update:





Just 5 years ago, in January of 2008, WMI issued

Olive Wolimbwa at WMI building, Buyobo, Uganda

is first 20 loans; earlier this year, WMI issued its 8,000th loan. WMI's local director, Olive Wolimbwa, has created a short video so that donors worldwide can understand the enormous impact the loan program has had in improving  living standards for the rural women of East Africa and their families.


Olive highlights several key developments that illustrate the loan program's success in bringing about fundamental social and economic changes that reduce poverty: 


1. Women are buying land and building permanent houses;

2. Women are opening bank accounts and using ATM cards;

3. Domestic violence has reduced;

4. WMI trainers cover East Africa to pass on business skills to rural women;

5. Loan hubs are thriving in areas recovering from insurgency fighting;


Land and Homes.  Many women live in semi-permanent homes when they enter the WMI loan program. The roofs are made of thatched grass and the floors are dirt. In the dry season, the houses are dusty and in the rainy season they are wet and damp. Accumulating the funds to build a permanent home is a major triumph for the women in the loan program.


Very few women, if any, own land when they enter the WMI loan program. It is not just the expense that prevents women from purchasing property. As a cultural norm, land is traditionally owned by men. Actionaid's 2010 study found only 7% of productive land in Uganda is owned by women. In WMI's 2012 longitudinal study of the pioneer borrowers in the loan program, we found that nearly 60% of the women had purchased land. This is a testament to the power of village-level microfinance to reform long-standing traditions that have cut off rural women from economic empowerment.


Bank Services.  As borrowers progress through the WMI village loan program 2 year cycle to graduate to a bank loan, they learn how to deal with a regulated financial institution. Upon graduation from their transition bank loans, 84% of borrowers are actively using savings accounts and 67% are 

WMI borrowers receive loans at Postbank

regularly using ATM cards. Savings are also critical and 80% have increased their regular saving habit.


Access to institutional financial service is critical for rural women and their families to achieve long-lasting economic gains. As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's ESA Working Paper No. 11-207 (2011) found:


Policy-makers have long understood that rural producers who cannot meet their needs for capital must settle for suboptimal production strategies. When producers are unable to make the necessary upfront investments or cannot bear additional risk, they have to forgo opportunities to boost their productivity, enhance their income and improve their well-being (Besley, 1995; Boucher et al., 2008, and; World Bank 2008a).


Despite this widely accepted notion, rural financial programs have been largely designed, crafted and implemented with the male head of household as the intended client... Even though millions of women throughout the world contribute to national agricultural output and family food security, detailed studies from Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa consistently indicate that rural women are more likely to be credit constrained than men of equivalent socio-economic conditions (Fletschner, 2009 and Diagne et al., 2000).


Well-designed products that enable women to adequately save, borrow and insure against unexpected shocks are therefore essential in any efforts to strengthen women's role as producers and expand the set of economic activities they can undertake, the scale at which they can operate and their ability to benefit from economic opportunities.


Reduction in Domestic Violence.   One of the advantages of the WMI loan program being imbedded in rural villages is the ability to witness changes in local attitudes. Rural, under-educated, and economically disadvantaged women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. The international organization, Violence is Not our Culture (VNC) reports:  


According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2006, more than two thirds of Ugandan women experience violence from their partners. Rural women suffered more violence than urban women. Likewise, uneducated women suffered more than their educated colleagues.   


Women in Uganda generally accept violence as part of male-female relationships, which is not surprising because traditional norms teach women to accept, tolerate and even rationalize battery. Acceptance of wife beating is generally lower among women in urban areas, those residing in Kampala, those in highest wealth bracket, women with higher or secondary education and women who are employed. On the other hand, women in rural areas, those living in eastern and West Nile regions, less educated and the employed but with no cash payment, are more likely to agree to being beaten.


Why it persists: Dr. Lydia Mungherera, the founder of Mama's Club, says "as long as women are poor and uneducated, it will be hard for them to resist domestic violence."  Most women are dependent on the spouse for economic well being. Having children to take care of, should she leave the marriage, it will increase the financial burden and make it difficult for her to resort to divorce. Dependency means that women have fewer options and few resources to help them.


Sylvia Akello, leader Atiak loan hub, with her husband and baby

WMI's loan program helps change this paradigm by upsetting the economic gender inequality that can lead to domestic violence. It creates an environment where spouses can work side-by-side at a small business to make it a financial success for the benefit of the entire family. And, that is typically what we see in WMI businesses - husbands and wives combining their efforts to produce maximum household productivity.


Peer to Peer Skills Training.  WMI's local staff is proud to be on the cutting edge of peer-to-peer knowledge transfer protocols. The WMI trainers from Buyobo, Uganda travel as far as central Kenya, southwest Uganda, and Tanzania to bring business skills to rural women. Sometimes this journey can take 2 days and is punctuated by bus breakdowns, torrential downpours, and walking barefoot down muddy roads for several miles because there is simply no other way to cover the last leg into a remote village. The training by women who have themselves graduated from the WMI loan program and are running successful businesses is priceless. Their ability to relate to the anxiety, concerns and dreams of new borrows is unmatched. They have taken standard business training materials and embellished them in so many creative ways to make them relevant to the everyday life of a rural village woman. Through song, dance, and drama the trainers are able to achieve dramatic results in inculcating new borrows in book keeping, marketing and managing a small business.

Bullet-ridden building in Atiak

Loan Hubs in War-torn Regions. Over a million people were displaced in northern Uganda during the bitter fighting that marked a 20-year insurgency led by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Tens of thousands of children were abducted, land was seized and entire villages destroyed. Although Kony and the LRA were driven from Uganda in 2006, the north has been very slow to recover.


A Gulu IDP camp populated by homeless villagers




Local populations were relocated into governement camps (internally displaced persons camps known as IDPs).  Although the camps were officially closed in 2011, many still house families that have settled there because they have nowhere else to go. In April 2012, WMI opened another loan hub even further north in Atiak, the site of the largest massacre of civilians by LRA troops


As Olive points out, the ladies in the north are different. They have suffered enormous hardships and now seem extremely determined to rebuild their lives. They are very hard-working, resourceful and clever at taking advantage of the booming trade with South Sudan. The road through Gulu and Atiak is a direct pipeline into South Sudan, a nascent country with pent-up consumer demand for all manner of products. WMI is proud to play a small role in rebuilding the lives of rural women in this war-torn area.



WMI borrowers in the Gulu and Atiak loan hubs





This year WMI launched a new loan hub in a rural village outside of Nanyuki, Kenya - in the dry region of the Laikipia Plateau, where Maasai women have very limited access to any financial resources. Pamela Naitetoi Kilua is the loan hub's 31 year old Head Administrator, who told us she "grew up as a Maasai girl looking after goats before going to school and on weekends after joining school." She gave this inspirational speech to the loan hub's first group of borrowers:

Pamela Kilua and children in front of her home and shop

Sometimes they call us women the same word that they use for donkey. We are seen as work animals. A woman's life can be so miserable. You are expected only to have children and keep the animals. Your husband hardly allows you to leave the compound. You know life to only be hard work and no reward. I saw my mother live like a slave and my older sisters and I knew I would never allow myself to be put in that position.


I did marry a Maasai man and I have children, but my husband is educated and we work together to support our home and family. I started going house to house telling women that if our lives were going to improve it would not happen one by one, that instead we had to be united. I taught them beading. Even if their husbands wouldn't let them out of the house they could take their beading with them to tend the animals or while watching the children. We created a small collective and sold our work to a tourist lodge. This was good but it could only help a small number of women. I wanted to help more of the women in the area. I wanted to see them able at least to buy one clean nice skirt for themselves. I wanted to see them exposed to new ideas and other ways of living. I wanted them to gain some self-confidence and respect.  


When I see women coming to the trainings, getting knowledge, participating and laughing, I feel happy. WMI is the first program to give loans but also to provide training. This is the first time these women have ever heard that we have to save our money in order to work our way out of poverty. Our parents before us did not save anything, but now we are saving with our children in mind. We are saving because we want to see our children have better lives than we do.   


At first many husbands did not want their wives to join the group to get loans. They are afraid to let their women have any independence because they know if they are given the opportunity the women might perform better than the men. But now many husbands are regretting because they see the families of the WMI borrowers doing well. They are paying school fees and dressing smart. They are able to eat better and even improve the home. WMI women are proud of their businesses and the extra money they are bringing to their families. There is more cooperation in the home. I am determined to run this loan hub very well so that more and more women can be empowered and more and more families can work their way out of poverty.   


WMI held its first annual conference April 19-20 at the Green Gardens
Hotel in Mbale, Uganda. The conference was facilitated by Buyobo
Women's Association and attendees included leaders from each of WMI's
Ugandan loan hubs -- some of whom traveled 10 hours to get to Mbale.
Throughout the two day conference, panels were held on a diverse array
of topics including leadership, women's empowerment, budgeting,
reporting, and loan hub challenges/opportunities. Among the panels was
a presentation by Ugandan microfinance consultant Joseph Musogolo, who
advised the women on methods for identifying viable income generating

WMI loan hub staff attend the country-wide conference

WMI enterprises, and building networks with partners and stakeholders.

The conference was a fantastic opportunity for local program leaders to solidify their leadership roles within the organization, exchange
insights, and form relationships with like-minded women relentlessly pursuing the work of empowering rural women through WMI. Participants left the conference with a broader view of the opportunities and challenges faced by their loan programs, and with a number of creative ideas on how to expand and improve their hubs in the coming year. As articulated by a local coordinator from Gulu, "We will take what we learned at the conference and pass it to everyone back at our program! We have learned much that will help us improve in the year to come, and made many new friends." All  attendees expressed hope that the conference would indeed become an annual  event. "Wanyala nabi" (Thank you so much!) to all who made the conference possible.



Betty Bigala, WMI's Head Administrator in the Konokoyi loan hub

Betty Bigale

in Bududa, Uganda reported this good news in the Bududa Learning Center Update - May 2013:


Our women's microfinance group goes from strength to strength. We now count 180 women as members and we are about to give out loans to 40 more.  A major step forward for us recently was the construction of our very own office. It was built as part of the development of the new campus of the Bududa Learning Center with financial support from our parent group, Women's Microfinance Initiative. We love it and it makes the organization and running of our group so much easier. We have also improved our systems making it simpler for our local coordinators to complete their reports. 


Bududa is experiencing a particularly wet rainy season. This makes things difficult in many ways and causes problems for our members who have stalls in the market.

I have visited several homes of our members and have been happy to see that most have made good use of the profits generated by their businesses. They have bought animals such as cows, goats, and hens, as well as utensils and hoes. Many have purchased school uniforms for their children. It is gratifying to see the positive effects that our program is having in the lives of the women in our village.


 teaching TZ  

It is with great sadness and enormous gratitude that WMI says good-bye to its first Resource Fellow in Buyobo, Hannah Kahl, who served from April 2012 - April 2013. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire and native of Martha's Vineyard, MA, Hannah lived and worked in Buyobo for a year helping Olive and her team improve and expand WMI loan program operations. Among her many accomplishments Hannah: 


Visited all loan hubs in Uganda and Kenya;

Prepared: General Analysis of WMI Systems Operations;

Completed budget format and switched accounting to Quickbooks;

Finalized and distributed Banking Manual;

Created Head Administrator Handbook (with training lessons);

Organized and facilitated 1st Annual WMI Country-wide Conference;            Managed New Projects: tree planting, cancer screening, girl empowerment;

Taught typing/computer skills to staff;

Created management systems to track activity of loan hubs;

Trained and supervised newly hired Data Manager;

Helped implement new reporting format for Local Coordinators; 

Regularly updated WMI blog and provided multimedia material.


Hannah receiving a gift from grateful loan hub staff

With enormous grace, good humor and insight, Hannah built wonderful working relationships with the WMI local staff, staff in all the loan hubs, bank staff, and all the organizations we interface with on the ground. She will be sorely missed, but her legacy will live on in the operating systems she has implemented for the loan program. WMI's new Resource Fellow in Buyobo, Liz Mooney, is now on the job. A 2011 graduate of Brown University and a native of Massachusetts, Liz is picking up where Hannah left over and already the staff is enjoying her on board.




This past Sunday, April 30, WMI held its annual Potluck Fundraiser at the Carderock Club House in Bethesda, Maryland.  WMI introduced Olive's 5 year impact video to an enthusiastic crowd. WMI President, Robyn Nietert, followed up Olive's impressive video debut with an in-depth discussion on how the loan program has made permanent in-roads into reducing poverty for rural women and their families in East Africa.


Combined with those annual contributions a few weeks earlier through the Global Giving Matching Campaign, over $15,000 was raised for the WMI loan program! Thank you so much to our generous donors. And, thank you to everyone who contributed to making the evening a success, including Kathy Staudaher, WMI's intrepid office manager, and Advisory Board Member, Sally Kelly.

WMI President, Robyn Nietert, center, chatting with supporters
Thank you!




The WMI Board of Directors



Robyn Nietert          rgnietert@aol.com  

Betsy Gordon          betsygord@mac.com
Deborah Smith        deborahwsmith@yahoo.com
June Kyakobye        junekyaks@yahoo.com

Trix Vandervossen    bvandervossen@imf.org

Jane Erickson          ericksonjn@verizon.net
Terry Ciccotelli             terryciccotelli@gmail.com