SPRING 2019           


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  • Rural Business Case Studies  Conducted in Buyobo, Uganda
  • Phyllis Wamboga Memorial - A WMI Borrower's Bustling Primary School
  • WMI Screens Liyana  
  • WMI Partnering with BeadWORKS in Northern Kenya
  • Loan Hub Manager Training
  • Graduation from the Girl Empowerment Program in Kabale, Uganda
  • Profile of Dorothy Lowatuk, Animal Caregiver at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary 
  • Georgetown University Students Present Paper on WMI
Business Case Studies Come to Buyobo  
Will Kuenster, a business major and recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, spent six weeks this spring as an intern in the Buyobo loan program in order to prepare business case studies of some of the larger businesses started by borrowers. In addition to looking at the enterprises' finances, he interviewed owners about their business practices, human resources guidelines, planning, budgeting and the impact the business has had on their lives. After reviewing the information, he collaborated with WMI's financial manager, Milly Walimbwa, and WMI Fellow, Caitlin Seandel, to make recommendations to the business owner on areas for improvement. Will prepared a write up of his experience in Buyobo:
Case Study Process Overview
During my six weeks in Buyobo, I have interviewed two school directors, a pharmacy owner, a furniture store owner, and a mobile money/petrol shop owner (all of whom volunteered their participation). The case study process is very similar for each borrower, but the conversations have varied considerably. For each case, Caitlin and I spend a couple of hours or an entire day at their business, observing the operation and conducting an extensive interview. The interview is wide-ranging, but revolves around two central themes: how they run their business, and how their business and WMI have affected their lives more broadly. Following this conversation, we offer to look at their books and collaborate on areas for improvement, which leads to a follow up meeting where we continue the financial management conversation and track progress.
The Challenge Surrounding Financial Management  
For every individual I met, record-keeping and money management represent significant hurdles on the journey toward financial security. Before receiving a loan, each borrower participates in a training program that includes basic record-keeping skills. As a result, every borrower knows how to keep track of their income and expenses. But the leap between knowing how and knowing why they are doing it and what the numbers actually indicate can prove to be difficult.
On top of this are multiple factors that exacerbate this problem, including: the quick and informal nature of business transactions, lack of access to computers and record-keeping software, and an entirely cash-based local economy. This knowledge gap and related issues can prevent a macro-level understanding of how their business is performing and limits investment and savings opportunities. For example, one of the school directors believed her school's annual income was 500,000 UGX. Our calculations, which came directly from her records, put it closer to 15,000,000 UGX, or 30x what she thought. Caitlin and I are working with the borrowers to fill this gap using increased financial awareness and additional record-keeping and savings practices.
A Western business education provides little useful insight for rural businesses in East Africa  
To some degree, I expected this to be the case due to the differences in scale and scope of the businesses I would be learning about. But it did not take me long to realize that my financial modeling and business case solving experience would not provide any significant value. The constraints created by poverty, such as customers having essentially zero disposable income and seeing any price increase as immoral, change the "rules of the game" entirely. Understanding how the environment and culture impacts daily life is essential before suggesting any shifts in business practice. This is a steep learning curve.
The positive societal externalities of financial inclusion for women  
The fact that financial inclusion helps women in ways beyond increasing family income is well researched and documented, but it has been rewarding to see this impact on an individual and human level. Each woman I've talked to has experienced these benefits in a different but impactful way. Phyllis, a WMI coordinator and school director, leaned on the group of WMI leaders for support following the death of her husband. Rosi, the furniture store owner, spoke about how her business success has dramatically increased her self-belief and confidence, which permeates through her household and three children. The benefits go far, far beyond dollars (or Uganda shillings!) and cents.

Moving Forward  
A summary of one of the case studies is included in this Update. It provides a detailed window into how one of the larger rural businesses in the WMI loan program operates. Periodically, we will send out case study summaries of additional businesses. We are developing an ongoing business case study analysis program to provide support for the growing businesses operated by WMI borrowers.
Our leadership team was very impressed with Will's work. As our Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa, said, "While with us, Will showed us a very good picture of himself, very humble, approachable, respectful, and jolly - which is not always the case with everyone who visits. He was very hard working and we shall miss him."  WMI is extremely grateful to Will for volunteering his time and talents with our loan program.




WMI looks for ways to support the women in the loan program with ancillary inputs that help them and their families stay healthy. Years ago we established the Girls and Boys Groups in Buyobo, to cover topics like healthy relationships, entrepreneurship and career goals. It is a special place where the teen-agers can talk about the concerns and fears impacting their lives and ask questions about reproductive health.
Last month WMI obtained a 2 year license to show the film Liyana to groups of boys and girls whom we work with in our loan hubs. This is an innovative documentary that tells the story of five children in a Swaziland orphanage, who under the guidance of acclaimed African storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe, collaborate to create the tale of a young heroine, Liyana, who undertakes an epic journey to save her young twin brothers from kidnappers. The children's creative process is filmed in real time and viewers can see how the plot twists and turns they suggest are drawn from some aspect of their personal experiences, reflecting their memories of painful events as well as their hopes and dreams.  The fictional character Liyana and her dangerous adventures are brought to life through animated sequences that are interspersed with the children's reactions watching her deal with the perilous situations they created. The experience of writing Liyana's story gave the children a safe space to give voice to their private emotions.
The children begin Liyana's story with the death of her parents from HIV/AIDS. Other difficult circumstances abound but the heroine perseveres and the film emphasizes the joy and resilience of everyday life and collaborative experiences. The children acknowledge that life does not always turn out happily but that should not discourage each individual from nurturing hope and continuing to struggle in the face of adversity.
We have already held one showing of Liyana for our Girls Group and Boys Group in Buyobo. Our youth leaders discussed the film with the students beforehand to let them know the heroine would struggle with difficult situations and that there would be a discussion time afterwards,  Both the kids and the teachers loved it. The kids are will be on holiday for the month of May but when they return the teachers and group leaders are going to conduct story writing and telling workshop with them to let our students in Buyobo tell their own stories and give voice to their own fears, hopes and dreams.  

WMI is connecting with local NGOs in East Africa to find collaborations that allow us to amplify the impact of existing networks of rural women who are successfully implementing programs to increase their access to economic opportunities. In April, WMI began a partnership with BeadWORKS, which helps pastoralist women in northern Kenya to translate their traditional skills into much-needed income. A part of the Northern Rangelands T rust, BeadWORKS is aligned with a movement to transform lives in a very isolated part of the country where there are very few economic opportunities for women. BeadWORKS promotes strong village-based partnerships that also focus on conserving natural resources and wildlife through community-owned and governed conservancies and sustainable, social and ethical enterprises.
  Like WMI, BeadWORKS is geared to rural women who need to access program services in the villages where they live and manage their households - their lack of mobility frequently isolates them from participating in outreach programs. BeadWORKS collaborates with community conservancies to organize women's groups, provide training, furnish materials and supply support to create a community-to-market value chain for beaded jewelry and home d├ęcor items as well as leather goods.
With over 100 women already participating in the business, WMI is providing materials to support the training of an additional 440 women across nine rural conservancies so that they can make beaded accents for high end leather goods, like tote bags and belts, which BeadWORKS markets. Expert beaders are contracted to travel to the villages to conduct the trainings. The women work at home and this makes it possible for them to earn income and retain their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle.  Training has already been conducted in Lekururki and Naibunga. The events are intensive and highly  individualized. The women are very focused on learning the new skill sets and   techniques. 

The products the women create are gorgeous - check them out for yourself on the BeadWORKS web site: http://www.beadworkskenya.com/gallery

WMI's executive team at our Buyobo headquarters welcomed the leadership teams from the WMI loan hubs in Kibaale, where we partner with the Buseesa Community Development Association (BCDC), and Arua, newly launched in July 2018, where we partner with the Arua Women United For Poverty Eradication (AWUFPE) for a full week of management training. Each day our experienced loan coordinators and finance team covered different topics ranging from risk management, to strategies for encouraging support group meeting attendance, to budgeting and how to assess a loan application.
In order to be accessible to rural women where they live and work, WMI utilizes a unique, village-based structure and does not follow generic microfinance operating protocols. Over the years, our executive team has refined our approach to be responsive to the financial needs of village businesswomen. In the week-long seminar, our senior staff were able to provide peer-to-peer training for the leadership in these other loan hubs. This type of knowledge transfer helps ensure the loan hubs have access to the best practices and effective problem-solving strategies.
The training was a big success for everyone involved. The loan hub leaders had a chance to meet other loan hub managers hailing from vastly different areas of Uganda and share their experiences and challenges and strategize for future plans. It helped the managers who are working in remote areas bond and connect to other concerned village leaders who are working with WMI to build a road out of poverty. Staying together in the WMI Guest House in Buyobo, the participants had a chance to get to know one another on a personal level. They are creating their own network of rural financial professionals who can be a resource for each other as their loan programs expand.   

The beginning of April marked the graduation of over 125 young ladies from the Girl Empowerment Program funded by WMI at a half dozen primary school in the Kabale, Uganda area in collaboration with Runkundo International. Proud graduates paraded to the school behind a youth-led marching band. The graduation ceremonies included skits and songs that the girls and teachers wrote to explain what they had learned in the program. Head teachers, coaches and parents assembled to honor the girls' achievement. Local dignitaries were impressed by the girl's dedication to the 
program and presented small contributions as gifts to the girls enterprise projects. All of the girls received certificates which they proudly displayed. 

Parents, teachers, local government officials and the girls themselves are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the GEP after-school training. The program focuses on life skills and reproductive health, complemented by financial literacy and business-skills training.  In line with WMI's mission and objectives, a student-led entrepreneurial activity has been incorporated into the program, so that the girls begin to learn sound financial practices early.

The teachers report that the program has had widespread impact:
  • The girls have learned valuable life skills, including how to make healthy choices, how to positively communicate with the opposite sex and others, which will help them manage challenges they meet in their daily lives.
  • They have learned how to make crafts like baskets, mats, beads as well as how to grow commercial crops, which will help them solve financial problems.
  • They have received marketing and sales guidance so that they can sell their products and buy themselves knickers, pads, pens, books, sets, stockings, cups and plates.
  • The enrollment of girls has increased in schools which means the problem of dropouts has been minimized.
  • Discipline in schools has been restored because of the behavior girls have acquired from the program.
  • Girls who have graduated from the program are doing projects in their homes. For example a parent from Hamurwa Annex gave a testimony of her girl who graduated from GEP and is now in senior two. She has a project of growing vegetables at home.
  • Girls have developed self-esteem, for example all the girls who graduated in each school were able to write a speech about the program's impact on their lives.
WMI is looking forward to continuing the partnership with Rukundo in 2019 and adding an additional school to the program. The impact has been so profound for the grils who attend the program that we want to expand it so more girls can benefit.


Situated in the remote Mathews Range of Northern Kenya, Reteti Elephant Rescue is tasked with the mission of caring for orphan elephants found north of the equator. Its goal is to re-wild the orphans once they are old enough and healthy enough to survive on their own. Located in the midst of the Namunyuk Wildlife Conservancy, all of the animal care-givers are recruited from the local community. This is creating unprecedented opportunities for rural Samburu women who live in the surrounding villages. WMI is collaborating with Reteti to expand its economic outreach to these women and their families.

Dorothy Sasha Lowaktuk is a 24 year-old Samburu woman and the first female elephant keeper at Reteti.She grew up in Lolkuniyiani village in Samburu East, about 40 kilometers from Reteti. As the second to the last born in a family of three girls and two boys that was headed by a single mom, Dorothy had a typical village childhood, attending a local primary school and handling household chores like tending goats and fetching water. Money was tight in her family - there were only enough funds to send one of the children for further education and she was selected.

Ever since Dorothy could remember she had admired people in her community who were working to improve their lives. She grew up watching community organizers, village leaders and women's groups trying to marshal very limited resources to create better living conditions for their families. They inspired her to set her sights on improving life for herself and her family.

At the age of 10 Dorothy packed her meager belongings and headed to boarding school, returning home only on school vacations.   It was difficult for her to be separated from her family and snug village-life at such a young age, especially since she did not know much about what boarding school would be like. But, as she said, she had to accept it and knew it was a necessary step to get the education she dearly wanted. Friendships she made at school with other girls from Samburu County helped ease the separation from her family.

Performing well at boarding school, Dorothy went on to Riverside Secondary School in Nakruru County, 525 kilometers away from home - a 12 drive in a private car but a day long journey by bus. The distance and strangeness of being surrounded by teen-agers from all sorts of different backgrounds who grew up all over Kenya made the transition especially difficult. Dorothy was well aware that it was a privilege to attend such a well-regarded public secondary school - knowing that her mother, sisters and brothers supported her in pursuing her education gave her courage to persevere and gradually she settled in.

After secondary school Dorothy went to a business college in Nairobi and obtained a degree in community development studies. Upon graduation, she was awarded a year-long internship doing social work and finance in the town of Womba in Namunyuk, about 40 kilometers from her village. Before her year was up she heard that the newly completed Reteti facility was recruiting staff from the local Samburu community so she applied for a position and was hired. She had never considered a career in wildlife management but the minute she saw her first elephant calf she fell in love!
At Reteti, she began her training learning about weighing milk and creating special formulas for each infant elephant that entered the facility. The small calves have very sensitive digestive sys
tems. It is frequently a case of trial and error supported by round the clock observation and note-taking to find a concoction that can successfully replace the mother's milk. As her knowledge base increased so did her responsibilities: today Dorothy is one of the facility's senior staff members. She is a public voice for Reteti, conducting tours for visitors and spearheading youth outreach.

Since working at Reteti Dorothy has become passionate about wildlife conservation and environmental preservation. The Sanctuary provides educational programs for local village children so that they can grow up with an appreciation and respect for their wildlife heritage. She is also very aware of the economic opportunities the Sanctuary presents for rural women. Community conservation is a concept being pioneered in Kenya - it is built around the inclusion of local populations as an intregral partner in preservation. This means creating economic opportunities and partnerships with the local communities that surround conservancies and equitably distributing the income derived from wildlife tourism.  

Although she has chosen to follow a non-traditional path for a young woman from a traditional Samburuvillage, Dorothy's family is very proud of her. She stays close by, helping to support them financially, and encouraging her siblings to be aggressive in looking for non-traditional economic opportunities. Back home she is a role model for other young girls in the village who want to pursue higher education and professional careers. Guiding tours of Reteti for local school groups, she inspires them to aim high and work hard to achieve their dreams. She is a vocal proponent of caring for the environment and its wild creatures, emphasizing to school children that this is their heritage and they need to respect and protect it. Because of the work of organizations like Reteti, she believes the next generation will grow up with a greater appreciation of the unique natural environment that they call home.

With its existing facilities and deep connections to rural Samburu women, Reteti provides local infrastructure which WMI can leverage to help create more economic incentives for rural women and their families. We are planning a joint loan and training program similar to the one we pioneered with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Laikepia over five years ago, which has significantly increased village women's access to income producing opportunities.

Three international students at Georgetown University, Feng Dong, Hiroyuki Uehara and Sandra Aparecida Rubianes Teijelo Sampaio, hailing from China, Japan and Brazil respectively, all adults pursuing a Professional English Studies Certificate, selected WMI as the topic for their Final Project in a class on non-profit operations. Sandra had learned about WMI when she attended the International Night at Walt Whitman where WMI was the designated recipient of the evening's fundraising event.
After researching microfinance in general and WMI in particular, the team prepared a 25-page analysis of WMI's operations, management and impact. Though they are not experts on microfinance operations, we were pleased to read their very positive conclusion about WMI's loan program: "Since its inception in 2008, Women's Microfinance Initiative has been drastically  changing the lives of women and their families' in east Africa. By constructing a strict but  well-organized program that effectively solves the underlying difficulties of microfinance, such as high interest rates and multiple loans, the number of borrowers and loans have continued to  increase steadily for more than a decade. Although their programs are sound and excellent in  every aspect, a few issues were found from our research, for example, website utilization and  fundraising. For certain, WMI would thrive further once those points are addressed."
We also appreciated their input on ways to improve our web site and fundraising activities, which are areas where we are limited by our decision not to employ paid staff here in the US in order to direct our financial resources to the loan hubs.


WMI is extremely grateful for all of the support provided by our donors. Your commitment and thoughtfulness has allowed WMI to continue to expand and bring the benefits of economic opportunity to thousands and thousands of village women throughout East Africa.  
One of the most frequent refrains WMI President, Robyn Nietert, hears when she visits the far flung WMI loan hubs each year is: "Thank you for remembering rural women."  

A heartfelt thank you to every one for making our outreach to the rural women of East Africa a reality.
The WMI Board of Directors  
Robyn Nietert    Betsy Gordon    Deborah Smith     Jane Erickson  
      Terry Ciccotelli     Trix Vandervossen    June Kyakobye  
Contact Information
phone: 301-520-0865                   
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