November/December 2015            




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In This Update...

  • WMI's Brand of International Aid Ensures Donors A Return on Their Investment
  • Meet Purity Mwende, Loan Program Manager in Central Kenya
  • Cordes Foundation Keynotes NYC Financial Conference with Shout-Out to WMI
  • Former WMI Fellow, Hannah Kahl, Back in Uganda To Assess Program Expansion


WMI's Brand of International Aid Ensures Donors A Return on Their Investment
Last month, the Sunday NYT magazine On Money series featured an article by Adam Davison entitled, Saving the World Start-Up Style. The article contends that world aid has failed on a massive scale to help the poor in developing countries, and it suggests a new paradigm for successful aid programs.
"The United States government spends about $30 billion a year toward this end, while the rest of the world's governments spend an additional $100 billion combined. Since World War II, that adds up to trillions spent on foreign aid. For decades, grand theories were developed in rich countries about how to alleviate poverty, and huge amounts of money were spent, with stunningly little regard for their actual impact. There was the big-push model, the dual-sector model, the critical minimum effort, the Fei-Ranis surplus-labor model, capital accumulation, capacity building and, widely adopted and then thoroughly repudiated, the Washington Consensus. Each theory promised an elegant, compelling solution to world poverty. Each has fallen short, in many cases making poor people worse off."
The article goes on to explore what over the last decade has been, "a quiet revolution in the way many scholars and advocates think about aid. We can call it the post-theory approach. The idea is that rich countries should...allow the poor ones to determine what they think needs to happen - more girls in school, more vaccination, better access to global markets for farmers - and then pay money to whoever comes up with an actual solution." The article predicts that future successful aid organizations will mimic the characteristics of successful start-ups: "new ideas start out with minimal funding and, as they prove themselves, attract greater and greater sums... the ideas are shaped themselves by this process as they are continually tested against reality to see which ones work and which don't...Business schools and corporate executives now talk about learning organizations, adaptive leadership, continuous improvement and lean start-ups, i.e., companies that are designed to respond constantly to markers of success or failure. They set up systems to pour resources into those projects that are working and away from those that aren't.
Welcome to the "post-theory" world of WMI! This, in a nutshell, reflects our ethos. Our approach is not glamorous, but it is effective.
Everyday ladies in WMI's rural Buyobo, Uganda headquarters get up at first light and do their jobs: they issue and collect loans; visit borrower businesses; follow up on defaulters; double-check spreadsheets of loan repayments; track program performance; write status reports; petition government officials; collaborate with the 14 other loan hubs in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania; brainstorm new loan products like matched savings bonuses; organize village presentations for sustainable products like in-home solar systems; arrange ancillary program services like cervical cancer screenings, and develop outreach programs like Girls Empowerment Group. As the daylight fades and the solar lighting in the WMI building kicks on, the ladies participate in ongoing nightly meetings to review, revise and revitalize systems operations and budgets. Processes that are working are amplified and expanded; systems that are struggling are revamped and relaunched; and, most significantly - whatever isn't working is jettisoned - never lightly, never without thoughtful debate and deliberation, but most assuredly, the ladies the are not adverse to cutting the cord on something that seemed like a good idea, but turned out to be a dud. They don't tolerate non-performance in their own businesses and they certainly won't tolerate it in the loan program they have worked so hard to build.
This is the reality of what we do at WMI. Our team in Buyobo and those in every other loan hub as well, is intimately connected to the unique rhythm of small business operations in rural villages. What we do is deeply connected to what rural women have told us over and over again they want and need to improve their household living conditions. It's a network of informed decision-making based on continual feedback from the women we serve - it has rough edges - it evolves over time. It's organic and can adapt quickly to changes in local circumstances. Our local leadership, of over 100 rural women, is shrewd, agile and dedicated. And, now, after eight full years of operations, the WMI leadership is experienced. Certainly, they haven't "seen it all" - but they have surely seen a lot! That experience allows them to make better, more informed judgments that lead to improved program outcomes.
Starting in 2008 with just 20 loans totalling about $2,000, WMI is ending 2015 with a lending track record of just over 8,000 loans totalling $3,200,000. When you consider that each loan positively impacts at least 10 people, including nuclear and extended family members, WMI has been able to reach over 80,000 impoverished individuals and improve their lives.   
Program outcomes are supported by ongoing surveys, interviews and status reports. Incomes double within the first year of launching a business. Savings skyrocket - annual surveys show dramatic improvements in savings of anywhere from 300 - 600 %, primarily because the vast majority of people never saved money before entering the loan program. Teaching women the value of savings is one of the most profound impacts of our financial literacy and business skills training. Across borrower households, more elementary school children are going to school, more senior high students are staying in school, and more graduates are attending University. In addition to children's education, there is improvement in all basic categories of household well-being: nutrition, healthcare, sanitation, and home maintenance/furnishings.
All of this is the result of a grass-roots loan program structure that is built for success and a core of "angel investors": our donors. Your generous donations made the WMI loan program a possibility and the hard work of the ladies in Buyobo, and in all the other loan hubs, turned that possibility into a reality - a successful, self-sustaining resource that will benefit generations of rural women. Thank you so much for your loyal and ongoing support!  

Meet Purity Mwende, Loan Program Manager in Central Kenya


In 2015, WMI entered a new partnership with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in central Kenya, which had started a microfinance outreach for the local women who live in the rural villages surrounding the Conservancy. One of Lewa's goals is to reduce poaching by improving the local economy and the livelihoods of ruralpurity women. Lewa has built an outreach infrastructure of local women who speak the local languages and who have access to reliable communications and transportation.
During the fall, the borrowers WMI had been serving independently transferred to Lewa's microfinance program and Purity Mwende, Community Program Administrator, now handles the day to day financial management of the loan program. She holds a first degree in Business Administration and is close to completing a Masters in Business Administration. She is also a certificate holder of accounts training. Before joining Lewa in 2011, she worked for a rural bank project which focused on financial inclusion for villagers. She is extensively engaged in the business skills and financial literacy training for our borrowers in central Kenya.

Cordes Foundation Keynotes NYC Financial Conference with Shout-Out to WMI



Within the first six months of its launch, WMI had received a major infrastructure building grant from what would evolve into the Cordes Foundation - an organization that has provided us with over $50,000 in support throughout the years. Recently, the founders, Ron, Marty and Stephanie Cordes, were the cordes keynote speakers at the High Water Women's (HWW) Investing for Impact Symposium in NYC. HWW is a non-profit started by women in the hedge fund/ investment industry to provide educational opportunities for low-income youth and economic empowerment for women, including infrastructure development support for microfinance institutions in developing countries.

In their keynote speech, the Cordes gave a big shout-out to WMI! They talked about how their original and subsequent investments in WMI have yielded substantial returns in terms of providing economic opportunity for impoverished women and improving household living conditions for their families. 
Former WMI Fellow, Hannah Kahl, Back in Uganda To Assess Program Expansion

With a leave of absence secured from her current job, former WMI Resource Fellow, Hannah Kahl, decide to travel back to Uganda to visit the many close contacts she had made there while working with WMI in Buyobo during 2012/2013. Learning of her plan to spend several weeks at the Atiak loan hub, WMI asked her to conduct a review of operations to determine the feasibility of expanding this hub's service area. The local leadership had recently requested additional funds to add a second sub-hub to serve more villages to the east of town.   
hannah Hannah emailed that she'd made it to Atiak and is enjoying being back in the villages, "I'm having an incredible visit back in Uganda. It feels so good to be immersed again in all the rich details of Atiak village life. I spent Christmas eating all the local celebratory favorites, sitting in the shade conversing with elders in my broken Acholi/English and giggling with children in my broken Acholi/English."

"For those that have been here, you can probably picture the mountains of starches and the warm sodas being distributed. Pure delight! I had almost forgotten the sugary joy and the feeling of victory upon finishing the last bite of your mountain. People here love to take care of their visitors - which means feeding them lots. I've been revelling in mangos, papayas, and passion fruits...sitting with the children, devouring mango after mango!"



In this holiday season, we could not be more grateful for all of the support our donors have provided during the year. 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 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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