The Microfinance Model Inspiring Female Entrepreneurship in East Africa


Women's Microfinance Initiative East Africa Credit 02

For Women’s Microfinance Initiative true change is more than simply lend a certain amount of money to rural women in East Africa but offering financial literacy training as well so they can actually achieve economic independence.

What began as a small project in this heavily populated country more than 10 years ago blossomed into a village-lending model that currently spans across three countries in East Africa.

American Lawyer Robyn Nietert launched WMI in 2008 after being recommended by church members to visit Buyobo, Uganda.

On her first trip to the nation she went with her family interested in learning more about the Bulambuli Widows Association in this location. During her travels, she saw how rural women had less options and fewer access to institutional financial services to have a sustainable income, build and grow their own ventures.

Although Uganda has significantly reduced its national poverty rate from 31.1 % in 2006 to 19.7 % in 2013, concentration of poverty in northern and eastern areas has been much slower, according to 2016 World Bank statistics.

Precisely, rural women in poor areas are estimated to earn less than $2 USD a day and getting higher education makes it harder not easier to find a good job, a situation the WMI model sought to solve.

“There is a concentration of wealth in a small group of people in power,” Nietert said. “You find that you are adding a huge financial component that is missing but I think there is a huge world-man divide. Urban people do not consider rural people their people”.

WBI began by loaning $20 USD to about dozens of women 12 years ago.

Currently, the venture has issued over 54,000 business loans and lent more than $7 million dollars.

From the start, Nietert found females had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and were very quickly to identify gaps in the market place pursuing ventures in different industries such as carpentry, hair plaiting, fashion, tourism, commodities trading and farming amongst others.

The loaning program grew to include trainings on the essentials of financial literacy, marketing and small business administration for long lasting social impact.

“When a family works together then the business has a better chance at succeeding”, the founder said.

One clear example of this model is how a female entrepreneur may use the loan to launch a wood shop and work alongside her husband, him doing the heavy saw work while she takes charge of the fine carving, sales and greeting customers.

With WMI setting an official village hub in eastern Buyobo, it started branching out by  creating new debt collection hubs in different areas to make it more accessible and eventually,  expanding its model to Kenya and Tanzania.

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WMI headquarter runs with a staff of about 50 Ugandans and Nietert travels annually to check on loan program operations and oversee hub expansions.

The goal was ultimately to make the model sustainable and independent from grants or fundraising campaigns in the US because “at some point donors change their minds, and foundations change their minds, we didn’t want to rely on constant infusion of capital,” WMI founder said.

Lately they were able to do so.

Once a loan hub reaches about 500 borrowers it becomes self sustaining generating enough income for its staff from the interests of the loan programs.

The repayment rate? Approximately 98 %.

One of the reasons why this statistics is so high is greatly due to community support.

Women who want to request a loan are organized into 20-member solidarity groups where members cross-guarantee each other’s loans and makes them feel more confident as if they are seen, valuable and part of a larger community.

There are regular follow-up visits and on-going business, financial and marketing training available for them to succeed in their venture of choice, according to the organization’s 2018 report.

You can learn more about WMI here: https://wmionline.org/

Photos Credits: Women’s Microfinance Initiative Facebook Photos

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