January/February 2017             







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In This Update...

  • WMI 
    Begins Its 10th Year of Service
  • Making Financial Inclusion a Reality for Rural African Women
  • Businesses That Include the Entire Family with Room for the Next Generation
  • Moving on to the Next Level of Expanding Lending Capacity 
  • Successful Completion of Major Community Projects
  • Building and Maintaining Infrastructure
  • Networking in Kenya to Empower More Village Women
  • Setting an Example for Success
  • The Entire Village Celebrates!
WMI Begins Its 10th Year of Service
WMI President, Robyn Nietert, has just returned from her 10th annual trip to the WMI loan hubs in East Africa and has much good news to share!  

The loan hubs continue to extend financial services to ever increasing numbers of rural women, while also expanding the scope of community development projects.  

This Update issue is dedicated to Robyn's report.  We were able to provide a few Facebook updates and blogs during her trip and are including some of them here for those who don't regularly access social media!

Making Financial Inclusion a Reality for Rural African Women

I am very pleased to report to all of our supporters worldwide that WMI is continuing to make huge strides in delivering credit and savings services to rural African women who have been marginalized from access to conventional financial institutions.  By concentrating on developing the human capacity of our village-level staff in East Africa, we have evolved efficient local operations that allow rural women to access loans easily and conveniently right in the communities where they live. 
Our staff has built a legacy of trust and respect for the WMI loan program that has resulted in extremely low loan loss rates and very high demand for more loans in larger amounts.  They have also become experts in peer-to-peer skills training and knowledge transfer.  This means borrowers receive the training they need to start a business and stay in business.  The results are evident throughout WMI loan hub regions - everywhere you look a WMI-funded business is busily serving customers!
Businesses That Include the Entire Family with Room for the Next Generation

Over the years, WMI's grassroots approach to providing business skills training and loans has become increasingly important because jobs in the formal economy in  East Afri ca are few and far between.  Women and their families are more dependent than ever on creating small enterprises to generate inco me to meet household needs. 

In Uganda, colleges and universities routinely graduate 400,000 young adults annually into an economy generating fewer than 100,000 new jobs each year.  In Kenya, estimates are that it takes 5 years for a university graduate to obtain a job.  In Tanzania, the graduates who do obtain formal employment rarely do so before the age of 30. The end result is that the vast majority of people still remain employed in the informal sector, with the primary focus on agricultural production.
Traditionally, educated young adults have been reluctant to return to the rural, subsistence farming life-style of their  parents. Fortunately, that's one area where WMI is making a critical difference.  With a loan and training, women are able to launch and expand businesses that transcend subsistence farming and move on to value-added products, providing essential goods/services to larger businesses, and delivering large volume commodities to help fulfill government contracts or corporate demands. These businesses can become family enterprises with different family members providing input to help the business grow and prosper.  
Moving on to the Next Level of Expanding Lending Capacity

During my visit, WMI, and the local women's groups that we partner with in Uganda, negotiated a new banking arrangement to increase the loan capital available for women who are expanding their businesses.  For the first time, our community partners will become wholesale borrowers from Postbank Uganda (PBU) and on-lend the borrowed funds in a village-level loan product they developed specifically for experienced, rural businesswomen who have graduated from WMI's 2-year loan program.  This unique partnership with PBU will add liquidity to the WMI loan fund and support the needs of maturing businesses.
In Kenya, women are graduating from WMI to follow-up loans from a regulated bank (KWFT) and also to jumbo loan products developed by WMI.  In Tanzania, our first contingent of graduates is working with Uchimi Bank to graduate to newly formed SACCOs managed by the ladies in the loan program.
WMI is proving that it is feasible for a village-run loan program to become entrenched in a community and provide consistent and reliable financial services to local businesswomen over an extended time period, and in a manner that is 100% self-sustaining.  This is not only a fresh approach to poverty alleviation, but raises intriguing questions about the nature and role of non-profits in international development.  Along with our local partners, WMI is building a grassroots tradition of community service that makes economic sense.   
Successful Completion of Major Community Projects

As the loan program continues to expand, so does the budget available for community development.  A few of the valuable inputs WMI has been able to provide to the villages it serves:
Renovation of the Buyobo Water System: Pure, clean water that you can drink from the tap! One of the highlights of my trip was inspecting the completely renovated and expanded Buyobo water system with the region's Chief Water Engineer, Alex Gidudu.  He certified that it was now one of the few water systems in all of Sironko District where the community can feel confident drinking the water directly from the taps without treatment.  It is providing clean water to over 5,000 residents, as well as customers at the new shops, students at Buyobo Primary School, and visitors to WMI's headquarters building.

Keep Buyobo Clean Campaign: One of my absolute favorite community projects is the anti-littering campaign we started last year, and which has spread like wildfire through the surrounding villages.  Much of sub-Saharan Africa is awash in plastic bags and uncollected litt er of every imaginable stripe.  Waste is routinely discarded by the side of the road.  

With the introduction of 2 trash containers, 2 full-time trash handlers, rakes, wheelbarrows and gloves, the main crossroads of   Buyobo are now literally spotless.  The community has wholeheartedly embraced the clean-up campaign, especially the business leaders, many of whom are WMI borrowers.  Recently, we extended the campaign to Sinoli Trading Center, 2 km down the road, also a stronghold for WMI burrowers - the community as so ecstatic that they organized a 3-hour celebration during my visit!  

Girls Group Introduced in Tanzania : WMI recently introduced this opportunity to young ladies in its Tloma, TZ loan hub, hosting local girls from 10 to 15 years old in an after school program where they can meet girls from different areas and get an in-depth and fun education on entrepreneurship, leadership and health. With an overarching goal of readying these young ladies for a healthy and successful future, the immediate aim is to provide a safe and relaxed environment to tackle important topics.
Building and Maintaining Infrastructure

Building physical plant is a big part of managing loan program expansion.  
Not surprisingly, the ladies in Buyobo have mastered the fine art of contracting for building construction. The headquarters pavilion they completed last year has been beautifully constructed and is exceedingly well maintained.

This year we are adding two additional sub-station pavilions in Sironko District to accommodate program growth.  They will be identical copies of the first sub-station pavilion that we built in 2013 in Buteza, which is being lovingly maintained by the ladies in the loan program who live near-by.

About 3 hours from Buyobo and a long way up a narrow mountain road, you'll find the Mutuwa Women's Group, our local partner for the WMI loan hub the far eastern Uganda district of Manafwa.  Their long-awaited and recently completed loan hub office building is being put to good use.  The building houses all loan program activities and also provides a venue for quite an array of village-level meetings.  It is really a tremendous asset to the local community and during my visit there we we were thanked profusely for constructing it.

In Kenya, we dedicated the expansion of the community development offices at the headquarters of our local partner, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The expansion was critical to provide working space for staff who handle loan program activities, which activities have expanded tremendously since we started our partnership with Lewa two years ago.   
Networking in Kenya to Empower More Village Women

Partnering with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya (35 km from Meru), to provide microfinance services to women in the surrounding villages, has introduced WMI to the concept of community conservation.  By supporting wildlife conservation efforts, communities bordering sanctuaries have become involved in operations and benefit from tourist income.
While working at Lewa last year, I learned about critical giraffe conservation efforts.  This year, my husband Malcolm and I helped found a giraffe and large mammal sanctuary in Samburu County (in the foothills of the Mathews Range) which should be completed this summer.  It will be overseen by the Samburu com munity and located near the existing elephant sanctuary, where Samburu village women are among the staff entrusted with the care, feeding and nurturing of orphans until they are strong enough to be reintegrated into local herds. 
Meeting Dorothy (pictured at left and right) after the morning feeding, I was able to talk to her about how her training as a wildlife keeper has empowered her to become a more outspoken member of her community and set an example for young village girls who want to obtain an education and pursue a career in wildlife management.  It was so encouraging to hear her talk about how the training and work experience has changed her view on what village women can accomplish!
Setting an Example for Success

Jane and her grandma live by the WMI office and Jane frequently greets me in the morning when I am staying  in Buyobo. She is 11 and helps with all of the usual housework expected of girls: fetching water, sweeping, and peeling cassava; but, Jane also goes to school. 

Her mom is in the WMI loan program - the shop she runs in the Sinoli Trading Center 2 km down the road generates enough income to pay Jane's school fees. Jane has grown up watching her mom run a business. 

Sometimes Jane will watch me working on my laptop and in her soft voice tell me she wants to do "businessi" when she grows up. 
The Entire Village Celebrates!

As is their tradition, Olive Wolimbwa, WMI's local director, and the staff of our local partner, the Buyobo Women's Association (BWA), threw a day-long celebration for the entire village at WMI's headquarters in order to honor the women in the loan program who have worked so hard to make their businesses a success.  Days in the making, the 500 attendants were treated to a marching band, singing, dancing, dinner, and of course guest speakers from the government and financial sectors, who encouraged the ladies to continue on their path to financial independence. 





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 everyone for making our outreach to the rural women of East Africa a reality.



The WMI Board 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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