September/October 2013  

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In This Update...


  • WMI's Combined Federal Giving Campaign Number - 40340
  • New WMI Fellow Arrives in Buyobo - Good-bye to Liz and Britta
  • WMI's Local Administration Team
  • Advanced Business Training for Experienced WMI Borrowers
  • WMI Kabale Loan Hub Hosts Graduation
  • Martha's Vineyard Fundraiser for WMI
  •  WMI Clean Water Initiatives

 SAVE THE DATE: WMI 500 Cocktail Reception - Dec. 8 


Combined Federal Giving Campaign Number - 40340

For the third year in a row, WMI is participating in the Combined Federal Giving Campaign. Last year this initiative raised nearly $40,000 for the loan program. If you work in the Federal government, please consider making a pledge to WMI during the campaign. Our CFC number is 40340.

The CFC is one of the largest fundraising events in the country. Many individuals participate and frequently choose organizations based on recommendations from co-workers. Please consider taking a few minutes to send an email about WMI to your federal government colleagues - it is an easy and effective way to expand WMI's exposure during this nation-wide fundraising effort.


New WMI Fellow Arrives in Buyobo - Good-bye to Liz and Britta

After eight months of service in Buyobo, our current resident fellow, Liz Mooney, will be leaving to return to the US in mid-November. Her replacement, Melissa LaReau, arrived in late October and is settling into village life.

Melissa holds a master's degree in international affairs from Texas A&M University and bachelor's degrees in economics and political science from Hartwick College (NY). She also holds a professional certificate in photography from the Washington School of Photography and is certified to teach English as a Foreign Language.

During graduate school Melissa studied international affairs, with a concentration in international economic development, at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. She worked closely with the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and was involved with the creation of their post-conflict and development database.

Melissa's undergraduate economics thesis was a case study on microfinance. She spent time in Ayacucho, Peru gathering data on group lending and developed a game theoretic model that demonstrated why women are incentivized to pay back their loans. Her political science thesis was based on research she did in China and involved research around the Chinese adoption policies and the migration of Chinese children to the United States.

In addition, Melissa was an exchange student in Recife, Brazil and has studied abroad in Ireland, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. She has travelled to more than 15 countries and speaks Portuguese and Spanish. Melissa left her position as a senior transfer pricing economist with Ernst & Young (where she has worked since 2011) to join the women of Buyobo for a one year term. Welcome, Melissa!

It is a bittersweet transition because welcoming Melissa means that the fabulous Liz Mooney is leaving her Buyobo home. During her fellowship, Liz was responsible for implementing numerous improvements in loan program operations and infrastructure. Notably, WMI now has an in-house operations manager, Grace Mangali. Liz set out the parameters of the program's internal systems operations and the wonderful Britta Burtis, a WMI college intern who extended her stay in Buyobo for 3 additional months, trained Grace on the computer. Together they also expanded the reach of WMI's very popular Girls Groups program. The teen-age girls are now receiving business training and certificates when they complete the program. We are grateful to both of them for their dedicated and extremely effective service.


WMI'S Local Administrative Team

Irene Wetaka, one of WMI's local coordinators, is fond of the phrase: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others."

This simple saying encapsulates the attitude we have at WMI. The success of the loan program and its impressive growth throughout East Africa is contingent on a large (and growing) network of rural women who are dedicated to empowering their counterparts through WMI microloans. We understand that while visionary leaders on their own can pioneer meaningful change, it takes a team to make a lasting impact on a community.

This is the rationale behind WMI's administrative structure. Every one of WMI's 12 rural loan program partners has a single head administrator who is supported by a robust team of local coordinators. The coordinators are responsible for collecting loans on scheduled repayment days, visiting borrower businesses, writing reports, running support group meetings, interviewing potential new borrowers to the program, and mobilizing group members to follow up with defaulters. Many of these coordinators go above and beyond their assigned duties to assist the head administrator with additional tasks. The position is at least a 20 hour commitment per week.

The fact that these women commit so much of their time to WMI is impressive when you consider the daily schedule of a typical coordinator, outlined below:

5:30 AM: Wake up to pray.

6 AM: Go to the gardens. Families in rural E. Africa typically have their own gardens in which they cultivate agricultural products such as bananas, maize, cassava, coffee, tomatoes, cabbage, etc. These gardens require daily work; depending on the season, women may be weeding beans, harvesting coffee, etc. Women often do much of the work in the gardens; waking up early in the morning you will see strong women walking through the villages balancing bunches of bananas on their heads and hoes across their shoulders.

7:30 AM: Return home from the gardens to bathe.

7:45 AM: Take tea.

8 AM: Go to school/work/tend business. Many coordinators are teachers at local primary schools; others may have businesses such as retail shops or salons that they tend. 

3 PM: Visit WMI office. The work required to be done by the coordinators changes on a daily basis; but typically the coordinators come to review their loan deposit books, conduct meetings with the Director, complete loan application surveys for borrowers, and file documents.  The ladies are diligent about maintaining their files.  WMI is also switching to computer tracking of documents and that requires constant updating of computer records.   Slowly by slowly, aspects of the program are being automated at the village level. 

6 PM: Return home from WMI.  Graze the goats, feed the cows and tend to other livestock.  This  is a time-consuming daily task as all families have animals to care for in their compounds.

7 PM: Begin preparing supper for husband and children. For most women, supper is comprised of a Ugandan staple food called "matoke", which is mashed unripe bananas, usually topped with groundnut paste or beans.  It is cooked in large pots and usually covered with corn husks to seal in the flavor.  Depending on the season, other local crops will supplement the matoke.

8 PM: Eat supper

8:30 PM: Clean up

9 PM: Do any preparation necessary for the following day. This may include preparing school lesson plans, or keeping business records

10 PM: Go to bed

At WMI we often say that a woman is the "mother of the nation". In Uganda especially, an astonishing multitude of duties are imposed on women within a family. Women are responsible for cooking meals, taking care of the children, tending to the animals, working in the gardens to bring home food to eat - the list goes on. For a rural woman, every minute spent outside of daily chores or lucrative business opportunities imposes a difficult trade-off.

The fact that our coordinators dedicate so much of their time to WMI is testament to their belief in the benefit that these microloans provide to their communities. This tenacity and sense of objective provides a common bond not only among the coordinators within a WMI hub, but between loan hubs - making for an international team of purpose-driven community leaders. We are grateful for the dedication, diligence, and excellence of our coordinators - WMI could not operate so successfully without them.  


Advanced Business Training for Experienced WMI Borrowers

Sarah sells second-hand clothes at a market where everyone else sells second-hand clothes also. She doesn't always sell all of her clothes. What should she do?

Allen sells flour, maize, vegetables, cooking oil, and batteries at a road-side shop nearby. Which element of her inventory will likely sell the slowest, and why?

The fictional stories above were scenarios presented in early September in Buyobo during an advanced business training for WMI's local coordinators. The training was conducted by a nonprofit based in Mbale town called MAPLE Micro-development. MAPLE is dedicated to reducing poverty, empowering women, and fostering self-sufficiency across generations. The organization provides small-scale entrepreneurs and community groups in East Africa a range of financial and educational services to help individuals and communities build sustainable business ventures.

The advanced business training was conducted as a TOT - or "training of trainers". WMI's local coordinators are liaisons to their own communities around WMI's headquarters in Buyobo, as well as liaisons to all of WMI's rural loan program partners throughout East Africa. These liaisons visit WMI's other affiliated programs on a quarterly basis to conduct 2-3 day business trainings for new borrowers to the loan program. MAPLE's "training of trainers" built upon the coordinators' existing framework of business knowledge.  They can now incorporate the new information they received into the trainings they conduct quarterly for new borrowers, as well as pass this new knowledge along to local borrowers in Buyobo whom they visit on a monthly basis to supervise and coach them on their businesses.

The coordinators were lively participants in the training, eagerly contributing their experiences with their own businesses with the aim of exposing common challenges and brainstorming solutions. The trainers emphasized the importance of conducting market research to determine market opportunities, using fictional scenarios and encouraging the women to act out scenarios to illustrate their points. A particularly relevant segment of the module is how to improve products/services and sell new, complimentary products and services.

Oftentimes entrepreneurs will see that a small business down the road is selling certain products and doing well, so entrepreneurs will sell those same products, even when these products might not complement the rest of their inventory (i.e. selling batteries alongside agricultural products like milk and veggies!); this results in a lost opportunity for small entrepreneurs to differentiate themselves and create niche businesses with high growth potential.

During training, WMI's coordinators showed off their impressive wealth of knowledge surrounding business money management. As the trainers delved into topics on the importance of separating personal and business money, as well as using business loans solely for your business, the women discussed how important record-keeping is and how all costs of a business (including airtime, transport costs, etc.) need to be included in the records to ensure that your business is not making a loss.  Proper record-keeping was reviewed in-depth. 

In a country in which credit cards are virtually nonexistent, many small entrepreneurs struggle to find the balance between selling on credit frequently enough to penetrate the market, and giving too much credit to risky customers. The trainers assigned each woman a credit sale scenario based on another coordinator in the room; the trainees had to deliberate on whether she would sell on credit to her colleague/friend, then present her rationale to the entire group. This exercise led to an outburst of hysterics as many of the women denied one another credit sales, propelling  the coordinators to stand up theatrically to defend their honor.

Overall the TOT was a lively, informative 2-day event that introduced and solidified many of the business concepts that are fundamental to ensuring entrepreneurial success within the WMI loan program. Thanks to MAPLE trainers, and to WMI coordinators, for making the training a success!



WMI Kabale Loan Hub Hosts Graduation Ceremony



WMI's loan hub in Kabale, Uganda, managed by the Elsie Lushaya Women's Group (ELWG), held a graduation ceremony to honor the hundreds of women who are now participating in this WMI loan program in the far southwestern corner of the country. The event was filmed and aired four different times on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) channel - equivalent to a US network, as it is nationwide.


Two of Uganda's esteemed Bishops attended the event to congratulate the women. The ceremony highlighted, in particular, the achievements of the first 26 women in Kabale who this year graduated to transition bank loans. They are now part of a new ELWG sub-group called WISER Women! Post Bank, WMI's steadfast banking partner, was in attendance at the ceremony; the manager was pleased to hear speeches by the graduating women about how the program was intimidating to them at first, but that ELWG and Post Bank have both been very open and helpful in showing them the path to financial autonomy and helping them move to the next stage of business development. 


The WISER Women will convene meetings once a month as a separate group, something they are working through with Post Bank. The Kabale Branch Manager has been extremely supportive and we are working on several new approaches to expand operations in the coming year. 



Martha's Vineyard Fundraiser Supports WMI



Back on her home turf of Martha's Vineyard, former WMI fellow, Hannah Kahl, convened a local fundraiser to help support WMI through an organization she co-founded called: Local Women, Global Mission.


Joined by her good friend, Lila Fischer, who was serving as a mid-wife in Atiak, Uganda, when Hannah joined WMI in Buyobo, they spoke about their experiences with village development projects. Hannah and Lila's sojourn was documented as a television program produced by the Africa Channel, a cable news channel available in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. AFC introduces African cultural and lifestyle programming to American audiences.  They convened a panel of experts to discuss their personal initiatives in non-profit outreach.


WMI's President, Robyn Nietert, was asked to speak on the panel to explain how individuals can be pro-active on issues impacting global poverty. The panel drew from activists on both local and international issues. The event was a terrific opportunity for WMI to spread the word about its successful village loan program.

Attendees were very interested in the connection to WMI fostered by Hannah's experiences in Buyobo.  Since 2008, WMI has hosted over 100 high school and college interns, fellows and adult volunteers in its loan hubs.  Their experiences and desire to tell others about the loan program's success have been a wonderful source of support for WMI's mission.



WMI  Clean Water Initiatives Serve the Local Community



This past summer, WMI's high school and college interns in Buyobo, under the supervision of their ever-ingenious chaperone, Jim Cannon, completed several innovative clean water initiatives. The rain water collection tank fed from the gutters they installed on the new school classrooms at Buyobo Primary is now providing drinking water to the children during the school day. The bio sand water purifying tank, built in a repurposed plastic oil container and installed at the intern guest house, is filtering local water into clean drinking water!  Both have brought much appreciated improvements for the local community, where access to clean drinking water is always an issue.



Thank you!



Every single day WMI continues to make progress in fighting poverty by providing loans and business training to village women across East Africa. Enduring improvements in household living standards are being achieved with every business launched by an impoverished woman. None of this is possible without your generous and loyal support.  A heartfelt thank you on behalf of all the rural women in East Africa that WMI serves! 



The WMI Board of Directors


Robyn Nietert          rgnietert@aol.com  

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

June Kyakobye        junekyaks@yahoo.com

Trix Vandervossen   bvandervossen@imf.org 

Jane Erickson          ericksonjn@verizon.net
Terry Ciccotelli        terryciccotelli@gmail.com