January/February 2016            




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In This Update...

January and February were busy months for the loan program as WMI President, Robyn Nietert, made her annual field visit to East Africa.


Her trip coincided with: the completion and dedication of the 500-seat pavilion at WMI headquarters in Buyobo, Uganda; the launch of a new loan hub outside of Kampala in Mukuno; the issuance of larger loans in the Buseesa loan hub; and, the successful merger of the WMI loan program with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy's microfinance outreach to rural women in northern Kenya.  


With so much good news coming out of rural East Africa on the loan program front, we decided to dedicate this Update to pictures and articles summarizing the field visit highlights.


Loan Program Growth 
Each year when Robyn travels to Buyobo, she and the team from the Buyobo Women's Association (BWA) - led by Olive Wolimbwa, Jackie Namonye and Irene Wetaka - sit down and review loan program operations and finances. The loan program experienced tremendous growth last year - but we didn't know exactly how much until we sat down and did the numbers.
The Buyobo loan hub is the main location where we develop expansion protocols, introduce new savings and loan ideas and closely track program impact. In 2015, the Buyobo hub alone issued nearly $300,000 in loans and served just over 1,500 borrowers. In 2016, it is projected to issue nearly $500,000 in loans and serve over 2,000 borrowers.
To our surprise, our banking partner, Postbank Uganda (PBU), informed us that the Buyobo loan hub has become the largest client of the bank's Mbale Branch. Combined with the eight other WMI loan hubs in Uganda, the WMI program is now one of PBU's largest customers nationwide. Overall, WMI issued nearly $825,000 in loans in 2015 and is projected to issue over $1,000,000 in loans in 2016!
The annual financial analysis also yielded more good news on the expense side. The loan program is being managed diligently by the BWA team, which employs a staff of nearly 30 rural women. All of the local operating expenses of the loan program are being covered by income from the loans. (Contributions to WMI are used to increase the number of loan groups so that the base of the program can continue to expand and serve more rural women and their families.)
null The program is generating significant income over expenses so that it can provide a number of crucial community services, including: school lunches and practice exams for 6th and 7th grade school children, financial support for the all-volunteer Village Health Teams, snack break for primary school teachers, cervical cancer/breast cancer and HIV screening, eye exams, and Girl's Group Reproductive and Entrepreneurial Education.
This progress is startling, even to our combined BWA/WMI team of women who deal with the loan program every day and are familiar with its operations. Stepping back and viewing the progress through the rubric of the increasing number of rural families who are served, not just by the loans themselves, but by the improvements to community infrastructure, is giving us a more complete picture of the multi-level impact the loan program has in improving living standards for historically disenfranchised village women.       

Buyobo Graduation Ceremony and Pavilion Dedication 
With the good news about the loan program performance added to the inauguration of the 500-seat pavilion, the 2016 annual WMI Graduation Celebration in Buyobo was just spectacular. The BWA ladies outdid themselves in preparing for 700 guests and speakers. The cooking started 2 days beforehand because there is no such thing as a celebration in Uganda without a feast to accompany it. Loan groups contributed food and labor in large quantities! And, in a sign of the times, a local music group commandeered a laptop recording studio to turn out a professional pop WMI anthem that played during the ceremony. It was a day for the community to show its pride in its accomplishments.
Much to our delight, Stehpen Mukweli, the Managing Director of PBU (center in picture), served as the guest of honor for the event. First order of business was opening the just completed pavilion to the cheers of borrowers and villages alike, who welcomed one of the largest meeting spaces in all of Sironko District to their backyard.  
WMI's Assistant Local Director Jackline Namonye's energetic master of ceremonies performance recalled a younger (female) Mick Jagger; while, WMI Local Director Olive Wolimbwa was regal in her speech outlining the loan program's accomplishments during 2015. Joined by Irene Wetaka, Deputy Assistant Local Director, this triumvirate sets the tone of professionalism embraced by the nearly 30 staff members (who looked stunning in their blue or pink saris, made especially for the occasion).
Of course no graduation is complete without speeches and there were plenty of officials on hand who wanted a chance to congratulate the ladies on their accomplishments. But the one the crowd was waiting for was the bank's managing director. Accompanied by Esther Mututta, the bank's recently promoted microfinance chief, he expressed admiration for the ladies' hard work when acknowledging that they have grown to become one of the bank's top clients. When he announced the bank's graduation gift to the ladies of a satellite dish and big screen TV (which they can use to start a movie house in the pavilion) the crowd erupted in cheers and the ladies danced in approval. It was quite a surprise for he crowd to be treated to a freshly baked cake to celebrate the occasion.
Robyn had the honor of giving out the gifts to the best savers from the graduating loan groups (energy efficient solar flashlights). Delivering a speech in Ligisu, she also congratulated the ladies on all of their hard work and dedicated management. It was a terrific show of support to have the WMI president on-hand to celebrate the opening of the pavilion and the loan program successes.
WMI loan hub leaders from Tanzania flew to Uganda and then drove up to Buyobo to show their solidarity with the Uganda ladies. It was very special to have our Swahili-speaking sisters join the celebration and try their hand at Ligisu!  The language barrier was no problem when it came to celebrating the successes the women from both countries are experiencing with running their rural loan programs.
  It was a jam-packed day of much singing, dancing and speechifying. As twilight fell on Buyobo, exhausted adults drifted toward home and the children took over the compound, surrounding Ashley Van Waes, WMI's Resource Fellow, who has become a favorite with villagers young and old alike.
IMF Visit to Buyobo

The Managing Director of PBU was not the only honored guest hosted by WMI/BWA during Robyn's visit to Buyobo. In January, a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made the 5 hour trip from Kampala to find out what's going on in Buyobo! WMI has been an annual recipient of an IMF Giving Together grant for the past five years. Thus it was a pleasure to be able to host the IMF team and show them the enormous impact their support has made in improving household living conditions through the launch of women-owned businesses in Sironko District.
Roger Nord, Deputy Director for the Africa Division of the IMF organized the trip and was accompanied by the IMF out-going and in-coming country chiefs, Ana Lucia Coronel and Clara Mira, as well as Caroline Ntumwa, an economist from the Uganda Central Bank attached to the IMF team, and Jeff Danforth an IMF Field Specialist. Once the visitors arrived safely in Buyobo, the BWA greeted them with, what else, a rousing rendition of the WMI anthem: Small Loan for a Big Change! The song's simple and instructive verses, such as, "I can now make a budget and spend accordingly, no more blind spending" were a big hit with this particular audience!
The meeting was a wonderful opportunity for Olive and Jackline to explain WMI's self-sustaining economic model and operations, while the BWA financial management team, led by the extremely efficient Grace Managali, showed the IMF visitors, step-by-step, how WMI loans and payments are tracked on the ever-expanding compendium of Excel spreadsheets. The IMF team asked questions about the process, which Grace was happy to answer in minute detail - she had found her audience - another group of financial mangers as interested in the intricacies of recordkeeping as she is!
Business owners operating near the WMI building had a chance to meet the visitors, show off their shops, and explain their operations. They very much enjoyed having international guests in their midst! They were proud to answer questions about how their enterprises had evolved and how the loan program had positively impacted their households and the community at large.
Graduation at the Buputo Loan Hub

Not to be outdone by their big sister Buyobo, the WMI loan hub located about 3 hours away in Buputo (Manafwa District), which was launched in 2013, also held a graduation celebration. The women of WMI's local CBO partner, Matuwa Micro Finance Women Group, have been operating an effective and efficient loan program that is graduating women to bank loans on a routine schedule. With several hundred borrowers participating on a regular basis, the program is expanding steadily.
The women have been meeting at rented locations, which is proving to be expensive. To solve the problem, they raised the funds amongst themselves to put a down payment on the purchase of a plot to construct a building. WMI matched the funds they raised and the plot was acquired. Building construction is now slated to start this quarter.
Robyn was glad to be on hand to cut the ribbon for the building plot, which is adjacent to a local church that has graciously offered to share its electrical infrastructure. Water is also available near-by. With this new facility, WMI is looking forward to continuing to support program expansion in Manafwa District.  The women's businesses are thriving!

Visit to the Buseesa Loan Hub

In 2013, WMI began partnering with a village microfinance program,the Buseesa Community Development Centre (BCDC), which was started in 2009 by Nick Smith (who was recently received his Ph.D. from American University!). It was a village level microfinance program provider with a mission to alleviate poverty through small loans to impoverished women and men for their businesses. It also worked with a select group of best borrowers, mostly women, to help them access larger loans and transition them into conventional banking. Because our missions were so similar, WMI partnered with BCDC to provide larger loans to women with growing businesses and to help the best borrowers transition to bank loans.
This year Robyn had a chance to visit the BCDC loan hub and meet the women there who have made the program a success. In an admirable instance of projecting optimistic travel logistics for a good cause, what was soft-sold by Nick as a three hour journey from Kampala, over mostly tarmac roads, turned out to be nothing of the sort! Over five hours later, covered with dust and sporting a few new dings in the van's undercarriage, Robyn and Dominic, the indispensible team driver, arrived to a heart-warming welcome in Buseesa.   
The trip highlighted the travel logistics faced every day by the women who operate businesses in this rural area. Yet, they have managed to cope with the challenges and their businesses are growing bigger by the year so that we are looking at continuing to issue larger loans in this hub.   
Launch of the Mukuno Loan Hub

In January, WMI welcomed the hardworking women of Suubi Women's Group (SWG) to the loan program. This brand new loan hub, in Mukuno, Uganda, about an hour northeast of Kampala, started up with two loan groups last month, and if all goes well, will add two more in April. The loan hub is funded in part by a grant from the Light My Fire Foundation, which was started just a few years ago by Ellen Boneparth to support women-focused initiatives around the world.
SWG has been organizing community-based outreach for the past five years. It operates a very successful passion fruit tree project and is engaged in tree-planting through collaboration with 4H Club's Four Million Trees project. Faith Nabadda, SWG's administrator, and Steven Beingana, their advisor, organized the first borrowers and helped train them to receive their first loans. Robyn met the ladies during her field visit and was impressed with their individual businesses ranging from fresh produce, to shops, to fish-selling, to Faith's Boutique!   SWG will work with PBU in Kayunga to access regulated banking services.
Merger with Lewa MF Program in Kenya

In a unique new collaboration, WMI now partners with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, located in northern Kenya, to bring microfinance services to poor Meru and Maasai women living in the surrounding rural areas. Home to one of the world's largest populations of black rhino, Grevy's zebra and Rothchild's giraffe, Lewa Conservancy has been combating poaching and preserving wildlife habitat through community engagement and development.   With microloans for start-up capital and access to water collected in Lewa's holding tanks, the women have been able to plant and irrigate their farms so they can grow enough cabbages, onions and other crops for home consumption and retail sale.
Robyn was able to visit Lewa in February and meet the women (always adorned in gorgeous hand-beaded jewelry) WMI serves there. The women are very enthusiastic about how the loan program had helped them turn the dry country-side green with crops through irrigation and access to improved farming techniques and supplies. It is proving to be a successful combination.
WMI funding for business loans for women is having a dual impact. By working in partnership with Lewa's comprehensive outreach services, the loans are part of a network that improves community well-being through a thriving Conservation program. The better the Conservancy is managed, the more benefits it can provide for the local communities, who now have a vested interest in the Conservancy's success. WMI is thus able to leverage its microfinance input to create even greater impact.
Lewa has been successful at creating collaborations with other non-profits that bring a wealth of expertise to the table, such as the Nature Conservancy and the San Diego Zoo. WMI is enthusiastic about expanding the loan program in this region and helping to economically empower rural women so they have the ability to improve their household living standards and at the same time preserve and protect their unique wildlife heritage.



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 each and every one for making our outreach to the rural women of East Africa a reality.


Gratefully,oard of Directors 

Robyn Nietert          rgnietert@aol.com  

Betsy Gordon           betsygord@mac.com
Deborah Smith        deborahwsmith@yahoo.com

June Kyakobye        jgkyakobye@yahoo.com

Trix Vandervossen   trixvdv55@gmail.com 

Jane Erickson          ericksonjn@verizon.net
Terry Ciccotelli         terryciccotelli@gmail.com 
Contact Information
phone: 301-520-0865                   
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