Robyn Nietert, WMI president, with Olive Wolimbwa (right), WMI Local Director and Jackline Namonye (left), WMI Assistant Local Director for East Africa Operations
   WMI UPDATE      

   Winter 2018






 donate          visit our website


In This Update...


WMI President, Robyn Nietert, just returned from her annual trip to WMI loan hubs in East Africa and has the following report (to see pictures and videos from the field, visit WMI on Facebook and follow us on Instagram):


WMI Continues to Expand Its Impact
It was such a pleasure to visit loan hubs throughout Uganda and Kenya on the 10th anniversary of WMI's launch. Our staff and borrowers alike were delighted to join in celebrating this milestone.

WMI operations continue to expand in geographically contiguous areas so that we can utilize our embedded infrastructure efficiently and maximize our impact. Women are continuing to innovate with value-added businesses to improve profit margins. They are accessing more sophisticated business training to better understand productivity issues and ways to engage in creative problem-solving.  Our loan hub administrators are using more computer-based record-keeping and spreadsheets to track loan program operations.

The impact on the local economy of the villages where WMI businesses are concentrated is immediately noticeable - more shops, new businesses and vastly improved residential housing. There is an abundance of physical evidence affirming how the women's businesses have improved the overall local economy.

Borrowers in every village we visited wanted to make sure we let WMI supporters know how grateful they are for the loan program. Women were keen to tell us how the business training has opened their eyes and how their business income had changed their lives.

Spending a month with borrowers and staff gave me a chance to see how being embedded in the villages we serve has resulted in an unparalleled opportunity to provide consistent resources that women can rely on to support their ongoing business needs. Three separate aspects of the trip really brought home the powerful impact WMI has had on reducing poverty and improving household living conditions for rural women and their families.
Women's Empowerment 
WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT - this is a term frequently used, difficult to define, and harder yet to quantify - until you hear Pamela Kilua speak directly from her experience and her heart.

Five years ago WMI started a loan hub in Ngarendare, Kenya, to serve local Maasai women, with Pamela
Pamela Kilua
as the Chairwoman. Several years later we merged our operations with the microfinance program at nearby Lewa Conservancy, which is a leader in community conservation. The partnership with Lewa has been extremely fruitful - our combined operations allow us to provide loans and training to greater numbers of rural women. 

Meeting up with the women from the original 20-member loan group was like a reunion of old friends - the women remembered when I'd first visited to launch the program, when Olive Wolimbwa, our Local Director for East Africa, conducted the first business skills trainings, and when Pamela travelled to our HQ in Buyobo, Uganda to learn about loan program operations. I asked Pamela what had changed in the last five years and this is what she told the group:

Before WMI loans only husbands supported the family. Wives were always asking husbands for money for children and school fees so the domestic relations were tense. Everything was about the husbands and that made life hard. The WMI education and loan was life-changing. Women now earn money to help pay for family needs and that makes the husband happy. Women are paying school fees with business income and that makes the husband happy and the family calm.

Women were seen as cows, to give birth and care for children - they brought no outside resources to the family. With their businesses women are gaining respect. Thank you for supporting us and letting us come up. The loan program goes to the deepest recesses of our culture. It used to be that only boys would go to school. Once women had a little money we decided we can educate our girl children. Most women have only gone to Class 8 and want better for their daughters. Women with businesses are now providing that.

No issues like this have ever been addressed before because women had no economic power. Now women have businesses and can speak. If we look at where we were and where we are now there have been a lot of changes because of the loan program. Women can manage some things now.

Women work hard at their businesses and move up to certain positions of respect in the community. Little kiosks have grown into big shops and you can see the improvement.

Women have saved a little as well. Women are buying land. This is something that never happened before. WMI has done great things starting us. We appreciate the training. It has opened our eyes. It has given us independence.

It is better that women become educated so that they know their rights and not be treated like a slave - so that they can do something in their family. We want to end the culture of women being married at 13 or 14 - end it so ladies can be employed and choose their life.

We are starting our own Table Bank for other women in our community. Those of us with businesses are contributing 200,000 Kenya shillings ($2,000) to start a loan group of 20 women who will get $100 loans. We are using the WMI loan model.

Being seen as a woman of WMI we are admired by the other women. We said to ourselves, "don't be selfish as we progress." We need to help the others.

We went to Uganda and saw our sisters there - 2,000 of them so happy and successful. We will keep the spirit and keep things moving here.

The WMI loan program has given the women a sense of identity and the independence to make decisions about their children's education and future. I can't wait to return to Ngarendare next year to see how Pamela and the ladies are doing with their Table Bank!
Changes to Social Institutions
Social changes come slowly to the rural areas in East Africa where WMI works. Village hierarchies are typically patriarchal. Change only happens when people have the ability to make choices and historically women in rural areas have had few choices available to them. The loan program is altering that dynamic. Emboldened by the income from their businesses, women are taking the initiative to implement changes in local social institutions to secure a better life for themselves and their families.

Family Planning. I spent a gorgeous afternoon and many cups of tea with a loan group of 20 women in Ntirimiti, Kenya in Meru County. They started an economic self-help group in 2008, circulating their own funds, and then joined the WMI/Lewa microfinance program two years ago to access more capital. We had time to discuss the ways they felt the loan program had changed their lives.

Going around the circle each of the women stated her age and number of children. The breakdown was startling. Those over 50 had 6 - 8 children. Those under 40 had 2 or 3. The younger women talked about how having a loan and starting a business made them more aware of their financial situation and the cost of catering for a larger family. School fees, transportation, food prices have all gone up. They wanted to limit their family size to one they could manage. All of the younger women indicated that they utilized some type of family planning - and that was easily accessible and affordable.

Education of Children. In talking to loan groups in both Uganda and Kenya, there was a parallel emphasis by the ladies on educating their children. It is perhaps their number one priority for use of their business income. Rural women are very aware that the career opportunities for their children are severely limited unless they obtain a post secondary-school education. This ranged from an academic degree at a University, to teachers college, to technical schools that offer 2 year degrees and focused on vocational training in fields like carpentry, plumbing and electrical.   Women were well aware that the education of girl children had lagged behind that of boys and they were determined to change that paradigm - but overall they want to educate all of their children.

At the same time, the women in both countries were very concerned and frustrated by the lack of formal sector jobs for young people. They felt like it was crucial to know someone in a high position of authority to get a formal sector job. Barring that fortunate occurrence, women were indeed brainstorming on how to utilize their children's formal training in their own businesses.

Purchase of Land. Experienced loan program members in both Uganda and Kenya were eager to report that they used their income to buy land. This is a significant break-out from the traditional pattern of male land ownership, particularly in rural areas, and the women were positively triumphant in announcing that land purchases by women in the loan program are increasing.  The land itself is a very good investment and has intrinsic value - but the additional significance of breaking the male ownership mold was clearly meaningful to ladies.

Although Kenya has undergone land ownership reforms that are geared to level the playing field, it is still rare for women to own land in rural areas. In Uganda, the government has been slower to revise family and inheritance laws that would promote greater gender equality, and again it is rare for women to own land in villages. The business income generated by WMI borrowers is giving rural women the means to make conscious decisions on land acquisitions and thereby catalyze social changes that promote gender equality in the real estate arena.

Improvements to Physical Facilities

Loan Program Pavilions. To the great delight of loan program members in the Busiita and Zesui areas of Sironko District, Uganda, WMI has constructed sub-hub pavilions to serve the community.  Dedicating 
the pavilions was a highlight of my trip. With the Buyobo loan hub serving nearly 3,000 women in Sironko and surrounding districts, it was becoming very crowded at the Buyobo HQ on loan repayment days. Additionally, with the expansion of the loan program service area, ladies were travelling increasingly long distances to attend meetings, which is both costly and time-consuming.

By constructing 200-300 seat pavilions at strategic locations, WMI is establishing sub-hub transactional points for loan program activities. The pavilions also serve as a venue for community events, outreach programs and local government meetings.

Latrines. They are not much fun to talk about and even more difficult to find in a public place in Uganda.  In a city of f 1.5 million people, Kampala has 17 public toilets. The ratio is even worse in rural areas where no funds are expended on this public sanitation problem. As part of its commitment to good governance and re sponsible growth, WMI is adding public latrine facilities to all of the pavilions it constructs.

With so many women gathering daily at the WMI HQ building in Buyobo for loan repayment, meetings and outreach programs, WMI activities are routinely drawing hundreds of people a week to Buyobo. To accommodate the crowds, WMI has constructed a five stance public latrine on the government-owned land adjacent to its building.

Water and Solar . In 2016, WMI constructed an office building for the loan hub in Buputo, Manafwa District, Uganda. The loan program there is serving a wide geographic area and the ladies needed an administrative hub to operate efficiently.   The building has been utilized extensively and to make it more user-friendly, the members have added solar power and installed a water pipe and tap for free flowing water out back. WMI added a three stance latrine this summer. It is now a full-service facility!


As is the WMI tradition, a community-wide celebration honoring the loan program graduates and staff is held at the Buyobo HQ each January during my visit. Added to this were the festivities dedicating the new pavilions. It was a trip filled with much singing, dancing, rejoicing and a magical cake that somehow served 500 guests! Please visit our Facebook page and follow WMI on Instagram for up to date pictures and videos.

Thank You!

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                   
Join our mailing list!