The Vision Behind our Micro Loans Program in Zambia
What is our vision for the women's program?
While designing our micro loans program in 2005, one of the questions we repeatedly asked ourselves was: what is our vision for this program? We wanted this program to do more than provide business training and loans to women in the community of Matero, in Lusaka, Zambia. After several discussions with community members and leaders, we decided that our vision is to strengthen communities impacted by HIV/AIDS and malaria in an environment where unemployment rates are 67% or higher.
Has the program been able to achieve what it set out to do?
Our goal is strengthen the community of Matero by empowering women who play the critical role of being primary caregivers to children and the sick in the community. As the program has matured and enters its eighth year, we are proud that the program has been successful in strengthening the community, in several ways.
(i) The women have transformed themselves from a state of "helplessness" to "independence" by running successful businesses. All the women in our program are taking better care of their families via better nutrition, and most have been able to pay school expenses for their children. Many women have extended their homes for additional income via rent, many have expanded their existing businesses that were too small to be sustainable before they joined the program, and all have taken the first steps towards self-reliance.
(ii) The women have created and now belong to a strong social network so that they can mutually support one another in coping with their tough environment (protecting and taking care of themselves and their HIV positive families), preventing HIV, and increasing their sense of overall empowerment.
(iii) Women whose children are enrolled in our pediatric HIV/AIDS care program have become confident about their ability to take care of their children, their future, and have become role models for both men and women in the community.
How do we Empower Women?
In order to empower poor women, we provide business training before they receive a loan and ongoing support after the loan is provided. This increases the chances of success of their business. As a part of the business training, the women learn to (i) work together as a team, (ii) run a profitable business, (iii) become a responsible borrower, and (iv) develop relationships of mutual support with other women. After completion of the business training, the women are provided ongoing support via weekly meetings, regular field visits to their businesses, and business advice on how to increase profits and sales via a better store design and display, tracking inventories and expenses. In addition, the women undergo refresher courses and peer training/mentoring sessions every few months.
Update on our Women Entrepreneurs
We now have 170 women running businesses in Lusaka, Zambia. A majority of the women are on track with repayments.
• Out of 170 women, 145 women received their first loan in March of 2010 and are expected to complete their third and final loan cycle by March 2013. Out of this group of 145 women, almost all have increased their capital, and 92 have increased their capital to more than the loan size.
• Almost half the women have been able to save an average amount of $130 for school expenses, medical needs, family projects like extension of homes etc.
• Nine children have been able to pay for college as a result of earnings by their moms from their businesses.
• Eight women have been able to start a building project (addition/extension of a room), as a result of earnings from their businesses.
In addition, the 25 new women entrepreneurs who received loans in September 2012 are expected to complete their first loan cycle by April/May 2013 and will be eligible for a second loan. At this time, all 25 businesses are doing well.
Long term Impact of the Program
Our micro loans program has enabled the women entrepreneurs to start planning, saving, and building a better future for themselves and their families. Each and every one of our woman entrepreneurs is battling difficult circumstances to provide for their families and keep their children healthy, and in school. As a result of this program, they have built successful businesses, and have become role models and mentors for other men and women in the community. They encourage others in the community to go in for voluntary testing and counseling (VCT) to reduce the spread of HIV infection, start businesses, and take charge of their own lives. This leads to substantive ripple effects in the community beyond the program participants themselves.
Thanks again for supporting poor women entrepreneurs start and grow a business and take the first steps towards self-reliance.