WINTER 2020           


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  • 2020 Field Visit to WMI HQ in Buyobo, Uganda 
    • Loan Update
    • Women's Businesses
    • Improving Women's Lives and Expanding the Regional Economy
    • Infrastructure Improvements 
    • Table Tennis Comes To Buyobo
    • Celebrations
  • Mubende and Kyegegwa Loan Hub Visit, Western Uganda
  • Lewa, Kenya Loan Hub Field Visit
  • New Hub Launched in the Maasai Mara, Kenya
WMI President, Robyn Nietert, spent several weeks in January at our Buyobo, Uganda headquarters and is pleased to provide an update on loan program activities.  

The 2020 annual field visit to WMI loan hubs went very well. Our well-trained team at WMI headquarters in Buyobo, Uganda is both managing our largest loan hub and providing excellent leadership, training and mentoring for our other loan hubs throughout East Africa.  We have developed a very strong partnership with both our leadership team and the women in the loan program and that is resulting in program expansion and economic gains for loan program members.

  • Loan Update
      Loan collection at our Headquarters
While in Buyobo, I had a chance to sit down with our staff of over 50 village women and review our operations in depth. During 2019, the Buyobo loan hub alone issued 4,775 loans to local women, totaling just over $580,000. Overall, in 2019 WMI issued nearly 8,000 loans to village women in East Africa, totaling just under $1,075,000. 
Meeting with WMI operations manager, Grace Mangala

The level of administrative oversight exercised by our local staff to manage this extensive operation is truly impressive. Our ladies have developed and adapted effective financial controls to safeguard the integrity of the loan program, create  redundancy in our loan tracking, and ensure transparency.
They have set a high performance standard for themselves and are heavily invested in the loan program's success.

The loan hub finances are in excellent shape. The program is generating 
more revenue than it expends on operations and the excess income is used 
Milly Walimbwa, WMI finance manager, meeting with PBU staff
to support community-wide improvement projects as well as fund additional loans. Our team has definitely mastered the skills sets needed to continue to operate and expand the loan program on a self-sustaining basis. This is quite an accomplishment in the world of village-level finance 
programs.  The ladies have developed an excellent relationship with Postbank Uganda which provides the loan program with routine banking services.
Sorting rice for a catering job

There is never a quiet moment at our Buyobo Headquarters. Whether
Director Olive Wolimbwa and Milly reviewing expenses
the ladies are in the pavilion collecting loan payments, preparing for a loan issue, training borrowers, entering data in the computer system, reconciling bank accounts, renting out chairs and tents as an ancillary income stream, preparing food for a catering gig, meeting with the Postbank staff
, or discussing community development strategies with local officials, the compound is always a beehive of activity.

  • Women's Businesses 
One very noticeable impact of the loan program's longevity is the way women's businesses have evolved and become more complicated and diverse. Businesses in the busy local markets utilize  extensive distribution networks to transport goods over long distances and connect to distant suppliers. Women make large investments in capital equipment (trucks, power saws, motorcycles) to increase profitability.

Allen N. Going somewhere? The only way to get around quickly is on the back of a motorcycle taxi called a boda-boda and Allen just happens to own one that she bought with a WMI loan. It cost about $1,200. She took an $800 loan and paid for the rest with savings from her charcoal business. Her son drives the boda-boda and she earns enough income to make her loan payments, provide him with a salary, and cover the maintenance. In 10 months, she will have paid off her loan and own the motorcycle outright, which will mean a substantial increase in her monthly profit. Allen is also a member of our local staff and supervises several loan groups.  She qualified for the largest WMI loan amount available.

Topi W. The logistics of Topi's bogoya/tomoato/charcoal business are dizzying. She sells 40 bunches of bogoya (bananas) a week at the market in Sironko District where she lives. She also transports branches of bogoya (a branch will have about 100 bogoya) to the market in Soroti about 70 miles away. Her truck comes back loaded with 60 kilogram sacks of charcoal which she sells in Sironko and she then sends back 10 kilogram bushels of tomatoes to be sold in Soroti. 

Topi is on top of prices and inventory every day. Her hard work pays off. She is clearing $500 - $600 a month, which is more than the base pay for bank tellers and clerks who work in town.

Allen and Peter N.
Along with her husband Peter, Allen has formed a true partnership of equals to run a very successful carpentry business near Sinoli Trading Center in Sironko District. They make dining tables, coffee tables, chairs, stools and bed frames, which are extremely popular.  Peter does the basic carpentry and Allen does the sanding and finishing work on the furniture.  It is a fairly steady business as people always need furniture but there is definitely an uptick 
in purchases when local farmers are harvesting large crops like coffee and maize and profits are high.

Working by hand limited their productivity and they decided they needed a power saw to grow the business. It cost about $1,000 and Allen took a $600 loan from WMI to cover the major part of the purchase, paying the rest in cash from their business savings.  They are now able to pay all of their overhead, including servicing the loan, and clear about $300/month. By mid-year the loan will be paid off and their profits will increase dramatically.   Between them they have nine children. Allen said she is able to cater for all of their needs and was also able to buy land as an investment.  It is still unusual for a rural woman to have the resources to buy land but the incidence of land ownership is increasing as women's businesses grow.
  • Improving Women's Lives and Expanding the Regional Economy  
Borrower constructing a brick house  with cement floor
As their businesses succeed, women improve their household living conditions and also acquire assets.  The income they earn pays for better meals for their families, access to healthcare, upgrades to their homes and school fees.  Brick houses, 
new tin roofs, cement floors, a water tap in the yard - all of these improvements are within their reach.  Plus women are buying land, cows, smaller livestock, and farming equipment.  These are hard assets that are both investments and income-producing vehicles. And, if you ask a WMI borrower about the impact on her family life she will invariably answer that it has improved domestic harmony.

One of the dramatic impacts of the loan program that we have been witnessing for years is what we call the multiplier effect.   It is not just the loan recipients and their immediate families who benefit from the access to 
Busy Bwiri market where many WMI borrowers have businesses
the capital and training that WMI provides. The entire regional economy as a whole benefits. Women entrepreneurs spend their loan funds to buy supplies, stock inventory, hire employees, construct shops and pay for transport; they spend their profits on local goods and services supplied by businesses run by their colleagues.
One question economists ask us is the impact the loans have on inflation in the local villages. We have not seen any local  inflationary effects and we think it is because these days the villages are so interconnected with regional and larger national markets.  Some of our ladies in Uganda are shipping their products as far as Kenya and South Sudan and receiving goods from equally long distances.  The ladies are not operating in a closed environment.  Plus, Uganda is a very densely populated country - it is the size of Oregon but with 42 million people (that's more than the population of California).  This means there is a big labor market.  The new businesses help channel surplus labor into economically productive activities. 

  • Infrastructure Improvements
Even though the pavilion at out Headquarters compound seats 500, it can't accommodate all the ladies during loan issuance, loan repayment and trainings. So WMI is building smaller, 250-seat meeting halls in our remote centers which have at least 10 loan groups (200) borrowers within a few kilometers walking distance.  The ladies in the remote centers pool their funds to buy the land and WMI finances the building construction. We believe that investing in the land gives borrowers a stake in maintaining and managing the new buildings.

Building a remote meeting hall that belongs to the ladies in the loan program is a huge source of excitement, joy and pride for them.  There are few buildings of that size in rural villages: the ladies are so proud to have a place to call their own where they can meet and conduct their activities.  It's so much better than meeting under a tree. Plus, when you have a building it provides a meeting place for ancillary programs, trainings and support activities.  It is also very unusual for rural women to own land in Uganda so
 it is a big achievement for them.

During my visit we christened WMI's sixth remote meeting hall, located in Mutufu, Buhugu, SironkoDistrict.  Dedicating the building meant a ceremony of hundreds of elated village women singing, marching, dancing and cooking up a storm to commemorate the happy occasion.  All of our HQ leadership team dressed in their bright gomezi and traveled to Mutufu to congratulate the Mutufu ladies on their hard work and to celebrate this jubilant occasion with them.

  • Table Tennis Comes to Buyobo
T hough known primarily as a recreational pastime here in the US, table tennis (ping pong) is a fiercely competitive sport in sub-Saharan Africa, with students competing for all-expense paid scholarships to secondary school and university, and graduating to become competitive players on the pro-circuit as well as Olympic hopefuls. In January, we started a new tennis table program for the Buyobo village youth. It is the brainchild of Kevin Mafabi, a Top Table Tennis player and certified Level 1 International Table Tennis Federation coach, who has family roots in Buyobo. He and his cousin, (WMI board member) June Kyakobye, received University scholarships in the sport. Kevin is now one of the best Ugandan professional table tennis players and, though officially retired, June competed in the 1996 Olympics and the 2001 U.S. Open.

Kevin  and his cousin Denise, who is attending University in Kampala on a table tennis scholarship, volunteered to coach our Buyobo youth while WMI funded the purchase of the tennis table and equipment. Students in larger cities have access to professional coaches and top-flight training facilities to prepare for the tournaments that are the gateway to educational scholarships. But the major keys to success are dedicated, high-quality coaches and talented, determined students. And, that is something that we now have in Buyobo!

During the January school break, our Headquarters pavilion transformed into an athletic training center for 3 hours a day, where Kevin and Denise instructed 76 students in game basics. With the children now back in school, outstanding students were selected to manage ongoing training sessions after classes while the coaches are away during the week.

Their training has not been easy, but the children are enormously enthusiastic and have been practicing daily, going through drills to learn the "feel of the ball" and develop the fine motor control necessary for advanced stroke techniques. Providing regular reports, Kevin and Denise have already noticed several students who show natural talent and timing in hitting the ball. We are really very optimistic that with time and lots of practice, tennis table skills will open up opportunities for our local students that they never dreamed possible. We are sending out a very big thank you to Kevin and Denise for investing their time and effort in the children of Buyobo.

  • Celebrations
The annual community-wide celebration honoring the business success of the women in the loan program
Olive, center, Jackie at left and Irene on the right
is always a joyous and raucous event. It is a chance for WMI to publicly praise the outstanding performance of our local management team headed by: Olive Wolimbwa, Local Director; Jackie Namonye, Assistant Local Director; Irene Wetaka, Deputy Assistant Local Director; Grace Mangala, Operations Manager; and, Milly Walimbwa, Finance Director. Without their leadership the loan program 
would not be a success. The theme of Olive's speech this year was "Micro-loans and a Savings Culture Can Transform Lives." How right she is! 

In a much-appreciated show of support, the entire executive team of Post Bank Uganda's Mbale Branch attended the ceremony, with Branch Manager, Topister Nabwire, introducing the guest speaker, Patrick Woyaga, the Head of Credit, who delivered remarks for the Bank's new Managing Director, Julius Kakeeto. Local officials also took this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the loan program to their constituents and to pledge their support for the loan program's expansion.

This year so many members of the women's loan groups and girls in youth ensembles wanted to participate that "try-outs" had to be held to fairly allocate time slots. Many talented acts performed but the show was stolen by the littlest dancers, the KibukoStars, who had the crowd on their feet and dancing. With nearly 1,000 in attendance, this year's celebration was held in the pasture just outside our compound because our facility is no longer large enough to host such a big crowd.

I would be remiss if I didn't report that the celebration is a lot of singing and dancing and just downright fun for everyone. It is the one chance a year I get to address the ladies in a big group and
2020 - WMI President Enjoys Buyobo Graduation and Encourages a Cheering Crowd With Her Speech
2020 - WMI President Enjoys Buyobo Graduation and Encourages a Cheering Crowd With Her Speech
a little bit of badly pronounced Ligisu goes a long way to reinforcing our connection! We have a very special partnership with the rural women we serve and it comes through in their enthusiastic reaction to the encouragement and praise we offer each year during our field visit.  

At the end of my visit, we always have a staff meeting to review operations and plan for the coming year. At this point in time, they know their operations inside and out so I am mostly offering encouragement, strategy input on new loan products, and advice on 
Jackie serving banana wine to the Buyobo staff
financing and expansion. I always try to think of a fun activity for us to do together and this year the enterprising  ladies in the village of Kyakatwanga in BCDC's loan hub in Western Uganda, who were making pineapple wine, gave me a  few sample bottles so I held a raffle with the Buyobo staff and the winner shared the wine with the rest of the ladies.  Now that was a big hit!  It gave 
Banana wine  producers  in Kyakatwanga 
more than a few of the ladies ideas for a new product line.  

The Buyobo ladies were also delighted to be sampling a product made 225 miles and eight hours away by ladies in a loan hub they have been mentoring for the past five years. The peer-to-peer knowledge transfer methodology WMI uses where our experienced teams of village women teach new groups of rural women how to run a loan program reinforces the solidarity among the ladies and is creating a network of trust and support that is growing throughout our programs in East Africa.




Mubende. Before heading to Buyobo, I spent several days at the loan hub in Mubende in 
Western Uganda that we manage with our partner the Buseesa Community Development Centre. We have been working with BCDC for over five years now and the progress of the loan program is very impressive there. Mentored by our team in Buyobo, the BCDC staff is exceedingly competent and they know their borrowers extremely well. This is one of the reasons for the very low default rate throughout the loan program.

Visiting borrowers and learning about their business operations is the best way to understand how the loan program impacts rural women and their families. Also, meeting with the women and listening to the types of loan products they need helps us adopt loan parameters that are responsive to a rural way of life.  The ladies were delighted to have a WMI representative from the USA visiting them and they welcomed me warmly with singing, dancing and local handicrafts before we began a tour of some of the ladies' businesses.  Many husbands accompanied their wives at the meetings and they voiced support for the loan program and the way it had positively impacted their families.

Resty N. could not wait to show off her well-stocked shop and her careful bookkeeping.  In row after row of neat handwriting, she meticulously records her income and expenses. Inventory purchases are logged and tracked so that she does not run out of popular items.   In front of her shop, on a wooden bench, she has an unusual product display. In addition to food, snacks, and  sundries, she sells petrol in several sizes of clear plastic bottles (she collects discarded mineral water and soda bottles).

There are conventional gas stations in the area and when I asked her why people would buy petrol in a bottle instead of putting it directly into their gas tanks using a conventional pump at a local station, she said it was because they could see exactly how much gas they are buying in the bottle and know they are not being cheated.  She caters to motorcycle  drivers (of which there are many) who use smaller amounts of petrol at a time. Resty's business is thriving. She typically sells 20 liters a day and clears about $200/month from the petrol sales alone. Her shop has thrived and she is able to pay university fees for her children.

A 25 year old single mom of two, Topi eked out a living farming a small plot until she got a loan from WMI last year and opened her tiny shop. A natural saleswoman, she sells 20 crates a week each of beer and soda, making a $3 profit on each crate. Together with income from snack sales she is now making over $500/month which has allowed her to greatly improve her living conditions.

Mukama K. is a fish farmer in Kyegegwa who built ponds to raise fingerlings, which she sells by weight at maturity. Constructing the ponds was a big undertaking, which she managed with the help of her family. Now she is using her first WMI loan to buy a better breed of baby fish, which she believes will double her current profit of about $100/month.  It is a very labor intensive business but with a burgeoning population, affordable food sources that are high in protein are in demand throughout the country.

Justine K. is the new loan hub coordinator 
Kyegegwa. About 25 miles from Mubende is the small village of Kyegegwa, where WMI started a loan hub this past fall under the supervision of the BCDC staff. Justine K. of the Mpasana Balema Tukwatanize Association contacted us and told us about the nascent bee-keeping co-operative and tiny lending program they had instituted on their own with small amounts of cash saved by women in their lending circle. The majority of the ladies in the group had some type of disability and their motto was: Disability is not inability to Development.

After visiting the Kyegegwa ladies, the BCDC team was very enthusiastic about starting a loan program there and we issued the first WMI first loans in October. The influx of WMI loan capital has allowed the women to start new enterprises and expand existing business operations. So far the program is doing excellently with full repayment and requests for increased loan amounts in the spring. All of the women I spoke with indicated they were not having any difficulty making their loan payments so we are looking at adding new loan groups in the spring. The reception from the loan group was really overwhelming. They were extremely grateful for the loans and the mentoring from the BCDC staff.

Lewa, Kenya Loan Hub Field Visit
With Lewa COO, Dr. Tuqa Jimro
What a pleasure to make my sixth visit to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where we partner with LWC to operate loan programs in the villages surrounding the Conservancy. Utilizing the expertise of Lewa's community 
outreach team, the women are receiving the support and training they need to continue to expand their businesses. 

It is an excellent arrangement for us because we are able to access LWC's professional staff and software to track the v illage loan program operations. LWC just implemented Salesforce software which has reduced the administrative burden significantly. It reflects the current status of each loan and automatically prepares update reports. We discussed how we could employ it at our other large loan hubs but the lack of reliable internet access in most rural locations makes internet-based solutions difficult.  We are also discussing funding continued education for women who work on Lewa's professional staff.

Climate change is affecting northern Kenya and the typically hot and dry season of January/February saw cool temperatures and much unexpected rain, which resulted in a lot of standing water and deep mud in the areas we visited. Many of the women in this region have agriculture-related businesses and they are struggling with how to cope with unpredictable weather patterns. We drove through the locust infestation that was swarming in the north and the devastation to the vegetation was extensive.  With all of this uncertainty, the ladies are very astute about diversifying their products so that they do not have too many eggs in one basket, as I learned while visiting their shambas (small farms). 

Catherine K. started with a tiny kiosk selling fruits along the road. With her savings and a WMI loan she bought a small shamba. She specializes in growing onions and cabbages that she harvests and sells at her kiosk but she also raises seedlings and sells those to other farmers. 

Diversifying into chicken raising, Catherine now sells eggs and broilers. By expanding her kiosk into three separate rooms she had enough space to add agrochemical products to her inventory, which all of the local farmers need and use. She also bought a second shamba. Successive WMI loans provided the capital for her business diversification. Farm land is becoming expensive in Kenya and a half-acre shamba now costs about $4,000 so Catherine's land purchases have turned out to be a very good investment.

Just down the road from Catherine, Angela A. has a one acre shamba she farms intensively. With four successive WMI loans she has developed an extensive onion sales and seedling business which she says is very profitable. The seedlings take only 3 months to mature and she will harvest about 800 pounds of onions twice a year and then plant potatoes in between. 

Angela has used the profits from her business to upgrade her home, which now boasts a television. She has three children and is paying school fees for the two oldest. Her husband works the farm with her and she says together they have a good life. She was extremely enthusiastic about her business and the way the loan program has given her the capital and training to continue to improve her operations.


After a year of planning, WMI launched a new loan hub in February with Maasai women in Aitong village, adjacent to the Maasai Mara in southwestern Uganda. The Maasai are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, shifting grazing lands for their cattle as the seasons change, but with the economic changes brought by modern-life, many have settled in areas adjacent to the wildlife conservancies that now dot their ancestral homelands. The Maasai live in close harmony with the local wildlife, sharing grasslands with herds of antelope and buffalo and the lions, leopards and cheetah that hunt them.

The first 40 borrowers in Aitong village are mostly operating very small businesses that need capital infusions to grow: small kiosks, a book-shop, bead and horn jewelry, agro-chemical supply, second-hand clothes, and creating Maasai Shukas. With only several hundred permanent residents, the village hosts 6,000 sellers and shoppers every Thursday when the weekly market operates from dawn to dusk and draws traders and customers from across the region.

Manuella S.
Our experienced team from Buyobo traveled to Aitong in December to train the ladies to run the loan program and manage their businesses.  Manuella S., the loan group's Local Coordinator, was thoroughly prepared for our meeting and had on hand all of the borrower data and financial information necessary to move forward.   In our last meeting before the loan issue, the ladies reviewed the administrative guidelines and asked excellent questions about repayment requirements. They were very grateful to be selected to join the loan program and we look forward to their future success.


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  

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