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  • Annual Field Visits to WMI Loan Hubs Resume

  • Headquarters Construction Well Underway

  • Dedication of New Pavilions 

  • Annual Community Celebration Highlights Loan Program Impact

  • Women's Businesses in Tanzania Expand and Diversify

  • Partnership with Lewa Conservancy in Kenya Flourishes

Having suspended annual field trips to loan hubs during Covid, WMI President, Robyn Nietert, returned to East Africa in January for the first time in three years and reports on the status of WMI loan program operations and impact.  

Country Updates:

Uganda. Last week the New York Times reported on the devastating impact of inflation on the Ugandan economy. Using the 100% increase in the price of the popular street snack called a rolex (chapati wrapped around an egg) to illustrate the economic crisis in a country where one-third of the population lives on less than $2/day and nearly half of the population is under 16, the article reported dramatic increases in the cost of staples such as cooking oil, flour and eggs. Responding to the crisis the government promised to improve production of local staples but “President Yoweri Museveni also provoked outrage when he told citizens to stop complaining and instead eat cassava, a starchy root vegetable that many consider far less delectable than a rolex.” NYT

Kenya. Although the country is rebounding from the crippling effects of Covid on its tourism sector, the drought in the Horn of Africa is entering its sixth year, creating food insecurity, water rationing, conflicts over livestock grazing, and extreme uncertainty in the agricultural sector, which accounts for one-third of the country’s GDP and employs 70% of the rural population. Last Sunday the President, William Ruto, announced the country’s first ever day of prayer and exhorted religious leaders to dedicate the day to praying for relief from the drought. Following last week’s visit to Kenya by First Lady Jill Biden, USAID announced, “it is providing more than $126 million in additional food assistance to the people of Kenya as ongoing drought leaves more than four million people in the grips of a dire hunger crisis, with the number expected to rise to over five million by June.” USAID

Tanzania. The drought in the Horn of Africa also affects Tanzania; accessing clean water is becoming increasingly difficult and that burden falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women and girls who are typically expected to collect water for the family. The country just released its 18the economic update, which found that only 61% of households have access to a basic water supply, 32% to basic sanitation, and 48% to basic hygiene. “The heaviest toll is being borne by women, children, and the poor and vulnerable.” Massive investments in drilling boreholes, improved seeds, food reserves, and water harvesting are advised to mitigate the effect of a shortage of rainfall. Report

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Annual Visits to Loan Hubs Resumes

Returning to rural villages in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania after a three-year hiatus was exhilarating, inspiring and extremely enlightening. Although we used virtual platforms to continue working with our local colleagues straight through the pandemic, nothing compares to being on-site touring businesses, talking to women entrepreneurs, discussing operations with our talented staff, meeting local leaders, sharing meals, celebrating loan program achievements, and making a whole new generation of babies cry as they caught sight of their first Muzungu.  

Relying on the resiliency of the network and infrastructure we have built, the loan hubs weathered the pandemic and are now experiencing explosive growth. There is high demand for loans and our borrowers’ businesses are booming. Pent up demand in one reason but another major factor is that as these countries face the economic challenges brought on by inflation and drought, WMI is steadfastly providing reliable access to loans, training and support, making it possible for our women entrepreneurs to thrive in an environment where access to resources is dwindling. 

The effects of Covid will be felt in East Africa for a long time – especially the disruption in schooling and the increase in unplanned teenage-pregnancies. In the villages where we work, rural women are dealing with these realities with their characteristic combination of pragmatism, compassion and resourcefulness. Young women are back in school after giving birth and grandmothers with successful businesses are providing the safety net. Mothers are paying extra school fees for their children to make up for the gap in education when schools were closed. Their businesses make it possible for them to carry this extra financial burden

Discussions with loan hub managers and borrowers uncovered a proliferation of predatory lending schemes to exploit the vulnerability of poor populations which do not have reliable access to capital. “Briefcase lenders” trawl villages, especially when school fees (which have increased tremendously) are due, offering loans that can carry compound interest as high as 20% per month. Desperate parents facing a school fee or university tuition payment (which can be up to $1,000 per term) sign a sale agreement for their house at the time of the loan - if they default the house is sold. Another disturbing trend is “harvest loans”, given to farmers who need capital for seeds and inputs. Traders offer them loans in return for purchasing their harvest (mainly maize) several months down the road at a hefty flat fee discount of 25 – 50% from the market price. 


The need of rural women and families to access business capital and financial services is becoming more acute. More than ever before, poor families are relying on loans of some type, from some source, whether legitimate or shady, to manage household expenses and smooth cash flow. This makes WMI’s mission and the services we provide more critical than ever before. Village loan groups from across the three countries we serve reiterated how important WMI loans and training were to their families’ welfare and how grateful they were for WMI’s continued support.

Our loan administration is effective and the infrastructure we have built is capably supporting operations. We have talented, experienced and dedicated staff managing all loan hubs with great success. The Women’s Leadership Group in Mbale, composed of professional women from banking and other sectors, visited our headquarters in Buyobo to see what our ladies were doing to be so successful. WMI is now poised to expand loan hub operations in all three countries where we work to the fullest extent funds allow.

The best way to convey the integral role the loan program plays in our borrowers’ lives is simply to share the stories and photos from my 5-week trip. You can see for yourself the economic gains, household improvements, optimism for the future, personal empowerment, and just unbridled joy of our borrowers in achieving a measure of financial stability for themselves and their families. 

Headquarters Building Progressing Rapidly

Construction on WMI’s new office building in Buyobo, Uganda is moving along quickly. I met with Sam Wesomoyo, our contractor, during my field visit, and he is scheduled to complete the building in early April. The timing could not be better as the Ugandan government has issued an RFP for the widening of the main road that will result in demolition of our existing office.

Olive Wolimbwa, WMI’s Local Director, organized a ground breaking ceremony to coincide with WMI’s annual community celebration. The Resident District Commissioner for Sironko District, Nuula Juma Nabukali, who is appointed by the President, was the guest of honor and presided over the ceremony. It was quite an emotional moment as our new offices will be the largest non-governmental building in the district. She thanked Olive and her team for managing such an effective program which is providing opportunities for thousands of rural women.

Annual Community Celebration

Each year WMI and our local partners host a community celebration at our headquarters to thank all of the villagers, elders, local leaders, and government officials who support the loan program and contribute to making it a success. The brass band led a rowdy contingent of businesswomen on a 2 mile march down the main road to applause and cheers from supporters, who lined the banks of the road. Speeches, poems, songs and dance filled the day. Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa, led the festivities, ably assisted by Assistant Local Director, Jackie Namonye, who introduced speakers and simultaneously translated from Ligisu into English and vise versa.

Especially poignant was the speech by Moses Mangali, representing the spouses committee: “We are here because behind every man is a wise wife. I am here today because I have a wise wife. Our spouses are out collecting loans, administering the loan program, and running businesses - we are at home watching the house, doing chores, minding the children, and grandchildren. It is a partnership.”

Our three loan hub leaders from El Doret, Kenya took an 8-hour bus ride to travel to Buyobo for the event and spend time with our leadership team, who are mentoring the El Doret ladies as they expand their loan hub, which was just launched last summer. They thanked Olive and her team for being older sisters, ready to teach them best practices. Government officials (many of whom are women) from the Chief Administrative Officer, to the Local Counselor V, to the MP for Women, expressed gratitude, support, and praise for WMI’s impact and leadership in providing financial services to rural women.

Dedication of New Pavilions

During my visit, we celebrated not just the ground-breaking of our new office building but we also officially dedicated three new sub-hub pavilions which were completed during the pandemic years. What joyous occasions with much singing, dancing, speechifying, and jubilating. The 200-seat pavilions are constructed when sub-hubs reach 150 borrowers and a permanent structure becomes critical to loan program operations. The buildings give the women a place of their own to meet, house records, discuss problems and issues, share their dreams and aspirations - they are a community resource that the borrowers manage themselves and maintain with considerable pride.

Local leaders attended all of the dedications and were extremely grateful to WMI for bringing this resource to their community. Chairs for the loan groups organized the days’ events and it was humbling to hear the tremendous loan program has had in improving the lives of local families.

Gombe – Met by an enthusiastic crowd of WMI borrowers, spouses and children, we marched down the main road to visit some of the borrower businesses. A local police escort directed motorcycles and other local traffic to the edges of dirt road, where they could just squeeze by our contingent of revelers. Modeling a blue princess dress the ladies had made for me, it was a day for dancing on the rooftop of a newly constructed shop, with the proud business owner who wanted to show her gratitude for her WMI loan. 

The Gombe sub-hub ceremony was kicked off by a testimony from a spouse about how much the loans and training have done to improve the community. Susan Chelangat, the town clerk, described how domestic violence has seriously reduced in the area because of the loan program. “Wives generally ask husbands for money for food and husbands do not even know how much food costs. They do not know how much it costs to run a household. They are out of touch. Starting a business empowers women. Children are now getting an education and a better life because of the loan program.”

Busamaga – Chairperson Ketty Habafu told us how WMI loans have made them girls again. Domestic violence has reduced because family financial crises are being averted. The woman counselor for the area gave a hilarious speech accusing men of sleeping while women never sleep. “Men sleep while women work. Today we are jubilating. Tomorrow we will be working. And, tomorrow men will be sleeping.”

The laughter from the men in the front row seats was definitely accompanied by considerable squirming. 

She went on to attribute the loan program’s success to the fact that, “Women are not grasping. If they were grasping, we would not have some this far.” She attributed the impact of the loan program to the fact that, “If you have money in your pocket problems like hunger and sickness do not stick to you.”

Sheik Abud Mutwalib, a respected local religious leader, addressed the crowd because his wife is a WMI borrower and he wanted to give testimony of the powerful impact of the loan program in changing the lives of the poor in the community he serves.

Kyibokko – Take a two-hour trip up a dirt track into the mountains, where roads are impassible in the rainy season, and you will find yourself in to middle of a bustling agricultural town where market stalls are filled with goods and WMI financed businesses are everywhere. Women caught rides on motorcycles and pick ups to attend the event and children followed alongside our van from the moment it came into sight. The celebration at the new pavilion listed the achievements of the women in the loan program:

·        Women have constructed permanent houses.

·        Women have bought farmland.

·        Women look smart without asking their husbands for money.

·        Women are paying children’s school fees without asking their husbands for money.

·        Women are moving forward not backwards.

Expressing their gratitude through poetry and dance, the loan hub presented their

Poem of Gratitude: "The WMI loan program has made women powerful; encouraged them; supported them; enabled them to buy and rear cows, which is a big achievement; and, created household stability. None of this was possible without WMI."

The Kyibokko Girls Dancers performed their original song: Never Give Up.  

Tanzania Businesses Expand Steadily

The staff of our Tanzania loan hub, serving villages around Karatu, has managed their finances extremely well and significantly expanded operations.  Led by Renalda Laurenti Bayo – Chair; Imani Albert – Vice Chair; Martha Huchet – Sect; Levina Emmanuel – treasurer; and with the expert assistance of finance manager Jane Masila, these ladies have helped launch new loan groups in unserved villages and supported 1,000 rural businesswomen with training and guidance. In a busy day of visits, I had a chance to meet loan program members who were delighted to talk about their enterprises and the impact the business income has had on their lives.

Hamida Shabani joined WMI in 2015, starting out with a small restaurant. As the business grew, she hired a manager and opened a shop, which she runs. With her loans she buys inventory for the restaurant and most importantly, new products for her shop. She has a good eye for new trends and customers come in often to see what novelties she has on hand. Hamida would like a jumbo loan of $1,200 in her next loan cycle to expand her shop and start construction of her own house, which she will pay for out of her business income.

A widow with two children, she pays school fees of approximately $900/year for each of them. Her daughter, Muanahari, just finished high school and is waiting for exam results to see which schools she will qualify to enter to continue her education. Muanahari wants to be a doctor and has done very well in her math and science studies. Haminda's two children showed up at the shop to check out the strangers and the affectionate bond between the children and their mom was palpable. Muanahari told us she is lucky and proud to have a mom who is such a smart and successful businesswoman.

Ceclia Charles is a tailor who joined WMI two years ago. She added a tiny shop to her tailor business where she sells soft drinks and snacks to local families who often send their children to pick up a small treat. She is a 29-year-old single mom with an 8-year-old daughter.  With income from the business she can manage on her own but it is not easy.

Ceclia said the loans have gotten women out of the house and changed their role of just cooking for the family and raising children.  Husbands now understand that families need to help each other and can’t depend on only one person. I talked to a customer who ordered a soda and a beer - he agreed that women in business are transforming the gender roles in the area. He was very glad to be working in villages where women were active. 

Farida Addallah is a 66-year-old farmer with a hectare under cultivation, two milk cows and a brick house she owns. Every year she rents a tractor to plow her land but she puts in her maize seeds by hand. A widow with seven children, she paid school fees for all her children and college tuition for three of them (two boys and one girl). Three other children married and live nearby. Her last daughter and grandchildren live on the farm and Farida helps pay for the youngsters’ education, always encouraging them to work hard in school.  

Farida married in 1976 when she was 20. She and her husband received the land free from the government in a program aimed at growing more food locally for Tanzania’s citizens and Farida has farmed it ever since, making improvements over the decades. She has had diabetes for years and controls it with medication she buys with her income from the farm.

In her lifetime, Farida said there have been many changes for girls, especially in access to education and career opportunities. Previously she said girls were not motivated to study or have careers. They ended school after the seventh grade and got married. Now they can decide what kind of future they want to have.

Farida uses her loans to buy inputs for her agriculture business. She has saved a considerable amount of money. When she is too old to farm, Farida plans to buy a maize mill and she will charge local farmers to use it to grind their maize into flour.  Her children and hired help will continue with the farm work - she plans to continue with her WMI loans forever to keep the farm running smoothly.

Matilda James spends her days elbow deep in dough. She is in her mid-thirties, married with one daughter. She joined WMI in 2020 and first started a stationery store. Looking for other business opportunities, she noticed there were no bakeries in the villages surrounding Karatu and thought it would be a good venture. 

Watching YouTube videos, Matilda taught herself to bake, surveyed suppliers in Arusha to find heavy-duty equipment, started making mandazi, a popular donut like snack, and now offers an array of delectable baked goods.

Matilda employs 10 people and sells her products at markets in Karatu town. She would like a jumbo loan of $1,500 in the next cycle to further expand her bakery plant.

Partnership with Lewa in Kenya Flourishes

Since 2014, WMI has partnered with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) in north central Kenya to bring loans and training to rural women in the villages surrounding the Conservancy, where families and local leaders support Lewa’s mission of community conservation.  With consistent financial support from WMI, new loan groups have been added and existing ones expanded to allow more rural women to start businesses.

The Ismagal Loan Group has 45 women and one man (“for protection”) and is the first loan group composed entirely of Muslim women (and one man). It started in 2009 as a self-help group but they lacked capital to start any major projects so many of them were just idle.  When WMI began partnering with Lewa the group received their first business loans and the impact was immediate: women became active and moving about to organize their enterprises, families became organized and focused to help support the new businesses. The ladies are extremely industrious and the best performing loan group in this loan hub.

Each member has a business and they save every single week – some as much as $100/week. They jointly operate a table bank to boost a member’s cash supply on a short-term basis when her business requires it. Even during Covid the ladies had no problem repaying their loans. They are highly aware of changes brought about by climate change and have discussed ways to address its impact.

Madame Treasurer Abdija reported that they are grateful for the loans, which have helped so many. All of the women have different businesses and women do not stay home now – they all have places to go and work to do. Many women were living in rental, mud huts and all have since bought a plot and constructed a permanent home. They help each other and do not leave any members behind.    


The group is excited about expanding their geographical range and number of businesses. They want to go far in business and become trainers of new groups. There are more than 20 women’s groups in the village area but most have no outside financing so the members cannot launch individual businesses – Ismaqal members are so grateful to Lewa and WMI for giving them the chance to get started in business and that is one reason they excel.  

As a group they bought tents and chairs to hire out for events held in the village. They plan to buy a plot of land to build rental houses because they predict that as climate change intensifies, the pastoralists of northern Kenya will not be able to continue their semi-nomadic way of life, continually searching for grazing land, and will have to settle down somewhere. They see pastoralists’ lives changing due to drought and government policies to educate children, which is difficult with an itinerant life-style. 

They also have their eye on purchasing 10 motorcycle-taxis as the price of petrol increases and cheap transportation is in high demand to transport eveything. The group is very cohesive and operates like a well-run company. Women were eager to talk about their specific businesses.

Abiba Mohammed is in the live-stock business: she flips goats. Traveling deep into the villages she will purchase 3 or 4 goats, keep them for 2 or 3 days, then sell them at a 10% mark-up to the traders at the Isiolo town market, near where she lives. She is receiving a premium for her proximity to the market, access to a network of traders, and knowledge about when big hotels need extra supply to meet demand for upcoming events.

Treasurer Abdija sells camel’s milk which fetches $5.50 for 5 liters - about ten times the price of cow’s milk. It is said to be richer in nutrients, tolerable to those with lactose sensitivity, and contains insulin-like proteins making it an agent in reducing blood sugar. She employs local boys to watch the camels and has also added a small restaurant to her burgeoning enterprise.

Other businesses included small shops, canteens, a butchery, goat-raising, poultry, agriculture and tailoring. There was a surprising diversity and keen sense of what businesses could fill a need in the local economy.  One member was the first to raise chickens in the area – it was very uncommon when she started but now poultry sells well.

Ladies were very straight-forward that the loan program and resultant business income has reduced domestic violence. As Kathryn Osman told us, “Before I had a business it was a boxing match every morning with my husband because I was always stretching out my hand for money. Now love is in the sky!” He is very supportive, has a livestock business of his own, and together they are significantly raising their household income and educating their children.

The women are staunch supports of women rights and speak out against FGM and child-marriage. Previously women were beaten and did not know their rights. Now all women know their rights and if a woman is abused she knows how to report it and can rely on other group members for support.

WMI is extremely grateful to our donors - you make WMI's work possible. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in supporting WMI's program to empower rural women and families in East Africa. The pandemic had already created new challenges for rural businesswomen. The persistent drought and inflation are now driving the cost of food and fuel sky high, which disproportionately impacts lower-income families. Despite these challenges, WMI continues to provide loans, training and resources during this growing global crisis. WMI remains constant and consistent. Your support is truly a lifeline - you are making a difference in reducing global poverty and improving outcomes for thousands of rural households in East Africa.


The WMI Board of Directors 

 Robyn Nietert   Betsy Gordon  Deborah Smith  Jane Erickson 

    Terry Ciccotelli   Trix Vandervossen  June Kyakobye 

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