Rural African Women Gain Income and Dignity Launching Small Businesses

Pamela making traditional Masaai jewelry

The Women’s Microfinance Initiative is a comprehensive microlending and training organization serving rural villages in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Since its inception in 2008, WMI has provided tens of thousands of impoverished women across rural East Africa with access to capital, training, and support to pursue business ventures. As borrowers gain business experience, they become empowered and self-confident, developing into advocates for themselves and their families.
WMI focuses exclusively on rural women because they have not had access to the benefits of small business ownership, plus the data that shows the economic empowerment of women translates into improved living conditions for the entire family.
All of our lending programs are managed by and for village women. The women in the loan program are vested in its success and the repayment rate is 97 percent. Each of our loan hubs becomes self-sustaining and can continue to operate without additional financial support from WMI, as long as borrowers continue to repay their loans consistently. This is the story of Pamela, a Masaai woman in Kenya whose life was changed by the WMI loan program
Pamela Naitetoi Kilua, 31 years old, is the Head Administrator for the WMI loan hub in Ngerendare, Kenya. She "grew up as a Maasai girl looking after goats before going to school and on weekends after joining school." She gave this inspirational speech to the loan hub's first group of borrowers:
"Sometimes they call us women the same word that they use for donkey. We are seen as work animals. A woman's life can be so miserable. You are expected only to have children and keep the animals. Your husband hardly allows you to leave the compound. You know life to only be hard work and no reward. I saw my mother live like a slave and my older sisters and I knew I would never allow myself to be put in that position.

I did marry a Maasai man and I have children, but my husband is educated and we work together to support our home and family. I started going house to house telling women that if our lives were going to improve it would not happen one by one, that instead we had to be united. I taught them beading. Even if their husbands wouldn't let them out of the house they could take their beading with them to tend the animals or while watching the children. We created a small collective and sold our work to a tourist lodge. This was good but it could only help a small number of women. I wanted to help more of the women in the area. I wanted to see them able at least to buy one clean nice skirt for themselves. I wanted to see them exposed to new ideas and other ways of living. I wanted them to gain some self-confidence and respect.

When I see women coming to the WMI trainings, getting knowledge, participating and laughing, I feel happy. WMI is the first program to give loans but also to provide training. This is the first time these women have ever heard that we have to save our money in order to work our way out of poverty. Our parents before us did not save anything, but now we are saving with our children in mind. We are saving because we want to see our children have better lives than we do.

At first many husbands did not want their wives to join the group to get loans. They are afraid to let their women have any independence because they know if they are given the opportunity the women might perform better than the men. But now many husbands are regretting because they see the families of the WMI borrowers doing well. They are paying school fees and dressing smart. They are able to eat better and even improve the home. WMI women are proud of their businesses and the extra money they are bringing to their families. There is more cooperation in the home. I am determined to run this loan hub very well so that more and more women can be empowered and more and more families can work their way out of poverty."

Charity Name
Women's Microfinance Initiative
Photo Caption
WMI loan program leader at work beading
Photo Credit
Robyn Nietert