June 2013 - Our Women Entrepreneurs: An Update on Their Businesses

Power of Love’s (POL) micro loans program empowers women impacted by HIV/AIDS by providing them with business training, a small loan, and business advice and monitoring over the course of the loan period. Since every woman in our program is either infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, fewer than 5% have a bank account and as a result, microfinance organizations typically do not provide loans to them. Our program is specifically designed for women caring for the HIV-infected and is one of the few loan programs that works with women infected or impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Businesses started with these loans are diverse and range from selling bananas along the roadside to brick-and-mortar stores selling cell phone chargers and accessories. Many women distribute fish to local restaurants, fry donut-like snacks for stores, or make their own floor wax. Additional businesses include: Groceries (mille meal, rice, sugar, cooking oil, soap, vegetables, dried fish, dressed chicken, popcorn), used goods (clothes, shoes, handbags), hair salon/barber shop, electrical fittings, and knitted sweaters. On average, a loan enables a family of 7-8 people to eat better and for the children to attend school. In addition, about two-thirds of the women have the sole responsibility for caring for everyone in their household as they are either widowed or single.

Impact of the Loans Program: With businesses started with the help of the loans and earnings from their businesses, most women are able to feed, clothe and educate their families. Repayment rates are around 90-92%; extraordinary by any measure, but especially so given the harsh circumstances the women face. To date, this program has provided 475 loans to women impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zambia and has improved the lives of over 4000 people in the community of Matero in Lusaka, Zambia.

At this time we have 170 women running successful to moderately successful businesses. As a result of earnings from these businesses more than 100 children have been able to go back to school as their moms/grandmothers are able to pay for school expenses. Further, as the women move on to their second and third loan cycles, they graduate from selling lower value goods like fruit and vegetables or grocery items to higher value items like used clothing, blankets, school jerseys/uniforms, toiletries, shoes. Out of the 170 women, 153 women are on track with their repayments as their businesses are doing well and many of them have increased their capital and started saving bank accounts. At this time, the remaining 17 businesses are not doing well and we are advising the women on how to turn around their business and tracking each closely.     

Need For Funds: At this time we are raising funds to provide an additional 100 new loans to women entrepreneurs in September 2013. This will bring the total number of women in our program to 270. Please donate generously to help these women take better care of their families, keep their children in school and take the first steps towards self-reliance. 

Conclusion: Micro loans successfully enable women to engage in self-employment projects and set them on the road to self-reliance. These loans help a poor household meet basic needs and protect against unexpected financial expenses. For most women there is a dramatic improvement in their standard of living and they may graduate out of poverty. For all involved there is perceived improvement in gender equality, improved economic welfare, and a sense of well-being and self-empowerment. We are proud to report that all of the outcomes of this project continue to be significant, sustainable and permanent.