Linking to the Information Highway: Boosting Business Outputs for Rural Women

Linking to the Information Highway: Boosting Business Outputs for Rural Women

Buyobo, UgandaBethesda, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

WMI’s village-level microfinance program offers loans, training and support for rural African women. Access to computers and internet are the tools she needs to compete in the modern business world.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Lack of access to information technology is a major impediment to sustained economic improvement for households in developing countries. A 2008 study by Makerere University (Uganda) demonstrated that access to any form of information and communication technology (ICT) is associated with a lower incidence of poverty. While IT usage has progressed rapidly in the cities, women living in rural East Africa continue to face limited access to such technology due to lack of electrical power, computers, and training. When Women’s Microfinance Initiative set up a loan program in the rural village of Buyobo, Uganda in 2008 one of its long term goals was to increase access to information technology and provide its borrowers with the skills, tools and training to become successful businesswomen.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

WMI removes this barrier by helping rural village women in its microfinance program learn to use computers and the internet. WMI founded and maintains an IT Business Center at its headquarters in Buyobo, Uganda. The first group of women was trained in computer usage in the summer of 2010 when a group of 14 WMI summer interns traveled to Buyobo to set up the center with 10 computers donated by Discovery Communications. They provided rudimentary training to the women in emailing and researching on the Internet. Since then demand has increase exponentially. Borrowers use the equipment to maintain business records, track agriculture news and pricing information, email suppliers and customers and conduct internet research. Their ability to communicate, research information and prepare documents helps improve business outputs and levels the playing field. Over 200 women have received training to-date; and a steady stream of 200 new loan borrowers annually ensures increased demand.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Women’s Microfinance Initiative set up its first loan program in the village of Buyobo Uganda in January 2008. At the time the village lacked electrical power and the only access to computers was at in internet café an hour’s ride away in the frontier town of Mbale. The program operated out in the open air until June 2009 when it moved into a newly constructed community building, funded in part by WMI. The building was soon tied to the electrical grid, though power in this part of Uganda is still sporadic. It later acquired solar power through a US Embassy grant. WMI provided the local program director, Olive Wolimbwa, with a laptop computer and trained her in its use. Ms. Wolimbwa quickly saw the value that computers provided – the ability to compose reports, transmit them via email, communicate via Skype with program staff, and email and research on the Internet. Her next goal was to make this technology available to all program borrowers. The WMI Board got to work to help her make this dream a reality. Borrowers were trained on the 10 donated computers by energetic (and incredibly knowledgeable!) high school students through a summer internship WMI organized. Adult volunteers upgraded internet connections, set up virus scanning programs and improved the computer software. The women have quickly learned how to use the equipment and the Internet, but need more formal training in business applications. WMI seeks to add more equipment, especially laptops and notepads, and maintain existing software and equipment

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Virtually none. This is a very rural area with an extremely poor power grid. Most village residents have cell phones, but home computers simply do not exist. The nearest internet café is an hour’s bus ride to the frontier town of Mbale. The only other NGOs working in the area are under-resourced village health teams. Though WMI provides a small microfinance program, it has had a profound impact on the users, increasing income generation exponentially. The demand for computer access from these rural businesswomen is larger than the program’s existing 10 computers can support. In addition to expanding its services in Buyobo, WMI would like to replicate the IT Business Center in at least one other of WMI’s ten microfinance program hubs – all located in rural Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania.

Founding Story

WMI was founded by professional women in the Washington, D.C. area in the fall of 2007. The founders designed a loan program from the perspective of how they would want to be treated if they were the borrowers. In January 2008 WMI President, Robyn Nietert and Board Member June Kyakobye traveled to Buyobo Uganda to inaugurate the program in the village where Ms. Kyakobye was raised. 20 women received loans. In four years, WMI has grown from issuing 100 loans to new borrowers per year to over 1,000; the loan fund has grown from $5,000 to $300,000, and most important, 680 women have graduated to independent banking. WMI is now working in ten hub locations in three countries. Although WMI primarily provides microfinance services for impoverished women, ancillary programs such as the IT Business Center provide additional support to the women. Computer skills have proved instrumental in empowering the women in business and product pricing (most are involved in agricultural products.)
About You
Women's Microfinance Initiative
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Women's Microfinance Initiative

Organization Country

, MD, Bethesda, Montgomery County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, SIR, Buyobo

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

In 2010, Bethesda Magazine named WMI’s president Robyn Nietert one of its “Women We Admire.” With a legal background and a desire to help others, the magazine said, “She is a classic example of the axiom that dedicated individuals can effect major change.”

In 2011, Greenlight Apparel committed to donating 25% of its profits to organizations dedicated to ending the vicious cycle of poverty and selected “Women’s Microfinance Initiative working to empower individuals around the world by providing them with access to financial services and education” as its partner.

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost, Equity.

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to better the lives of girls and women by leveraging technology? (select all applicable)

Access to technology, Access to education/training, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

With the success of WMI’s village-level microfinance program for rural women, additional resources such as the IT Business Center are being developed to meet growing business demands. Even the limited access to computers WMI provides its borrowers has opened a new world of business contacts, information and solutions to the women. It provides a commercial lifeline to the women and levels the playing field with their counterparts in more urban areas. In a region where roads are dilapidated, distances are great and transport is expensive, the ability to access current market prices, assess competitor’s products and research agricultural information via the Internet is a huge benefit. It enables them to achieve parity with larger, better resourced competitors. Giving a woman the tools she needs to compete in the modern business world is also socially empowering. Borrowers report feeling more confident, organized, determined, and more creative/resourceful as a result of the loan program.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Survey evidence demonstrates that WMI’s loan program is having a sustainable and long-lasting impact on poverty reduction. (See our website for extensive program impact reports.) WMI is also beginning to track how the ancillary programs such as the IT Business Center are changing the lives of borrowers and the ways in which they transform the local communities where it operates. Expanding computer access and reliability will provide hundreds of women business entrepreneurs with the tools they need to compete successfully in the formal economy. It is projected that within the next 3 years, 1,000 WMI borrowers will be able to access critical business information electronically, reduce transport overhead and recoup work hours previously spent on inefficient information gathering.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Poor transportation, lack of electricity, unreliable communications are challenges that the rural East Africa faces every. Specifically, with the IT Business Center, having the embedded infrastructure to repair and maintain the equipment is always a challenge in development projects. WMI is conscious of this common failure and works diligently to keep anti-virus software current and repair and replace hardware as necessary. Modem failures due to power surges continue to be problematic. On-going training is also a requirement. A $10,000 grant would support funding for additional computers, parts replacement (especially modems) and purchase of business training software modules. WMI is also seeking funding to expand the concept to at least one other of WMI’s ten microfinance program hubs.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Expand the IT Business Center for WMI microfinance program borrowers.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Purchase ten additional computers, modems and software for the IT Business Center

Task 2

Purchase stand-alone modules for self-training of basic computer skills.

Task 3

Provide a subsidy for the women to purchase on-line training sessions of their choosing.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Replicate the IT Business Center and expand computer training opportunities to other WMI microfinance program hubs

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Replicate the IT Business Center in a second program hub with a minimum of ten computers/modems/software.

Task 2

Ensure reliable electrical or solar power to the location (may require separate funding for new equipment)

Task 3

Train up to 100 women in basic computer skills, email, and internet usage

Tell us about your partnerships

WMI’s operating model is a regional distribution network of loan hubs, each of which has three critical components: a CBO partner, an NGO operating in the local community, and a Bank partner. In launching new hubs, WMI gives significant consideration to partnering with existing NGOs looking to establish a microfinance component to diversify its existing outreach project. These NGOs also provide local administrative support and grants WMI funds to support the local loan pool. WMI has a waiting list of potential future hubs and expands at the rate of 2-4 new locations annually.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list