Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Farewell Uganda!

I am writing from Buffalo NY upon the completion of my three month commitment as a Kiva Fellow in Uganda. I want to use my final post to thank the people who made this one of the most significant and rewarding experiences of my life.

KIVA.ORG: First, thank you Matt and Jessica Flannery for inventing Kiva. I have great admiration for what you started, especially since you invented an entirely new model of microfinance funding. Without your effort and creativity, Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times would not have written about a baker in Afghanistan whose business was funded by a Kiva loan funded in part by Kristof himself. When I read that article I just knew I had to get involved.

Also, thank you Anushka Ratnayake, the head of the Kiva Fellows program. Anushka permitted me to volunteer and to make my own unique contribution to poverty reduction. Most people don’t know it, but Anushka, a Modern Literature major, is the guiding force behind the Kiva Fellows Blog. As you can tell from my frequent posts, I enthusiastically took advantage of her brainchild to blog away about my experiences and observations in Uganda. Thanks Anushka for having the foresight to create a space for all Kiva Fellows to share ideas and experiences from our remote corners of the world.

Finally, thank you Ben Elberger, my microfinance boss at Kiva. Ben is one of the hardest working young people I have ever met. The rumor is Ben never sleeps, and I believe it. He always seemed to be on-line when I emailed him from half way around the world, no matter what time of day or night it was in San Francisco.

Ben is responsible for managing Kiva’s business with the two microfinance institutions I worked for; Share an Opportunity Microfinance, Ltd, and BRAC, Uganda. He was always interested in my input and suggestions.

I know for sure Ben is hard working because he did his utmost to keep Kiva from running out of loans during the holidays. Due to internet connection problems in Uganda, we were unable to post loans on the Kiva website. Ben worked throughout his Christmas vacation to transcribe word documents and photos I e-mailed him to post about 150 group loans. In my opinion, that was above and beyond the call of duty. Way to go Ben!

MFI’S: Thank you Samuel Mayanja Ssekajja (Sam) and Knondoker Ariful Islam (Mr. Arif), my two bosses at SAO and BRAC respectively. They gave me guidance, insight, and a plate full of work to do while I was in Uganda. My primary motivation for volunteering as a Kiva Fellow was to learn about the business of poverty reduction. Thanks to Sam and Mr. Arif I got everything I hoped for. There was never a dull moment under the direction of these two natural born leaders.

I also want to thank all the employees of SAO and BRAC. It was a joy to work beside these dedicated young people. I took great pleasure in making my small contribution, because I knew how much they appreciated my effort.

BORROWERS: All the borrowers I met in the course of my activities as a Kiva Fellow made me feel like a “million dollars”. These are some of the most genuine and sincere people I have ever known. I found nobility and remarkable family values among the poor residents of Kampala that I have not observed elsewhere. To Florence and Regina and all the other borrowers I met; thank you for sharing your culture and your values with me. You made a lasting impression.

MY FAMILY: Three months is a long time to be away from home. I want to thank my wife of 31 years, Mary Therese, for not objecting to my somewhat unconventional idea of volunteering in Africa. I also want to thank my daughter Molly who rearranged her semester break to visit me. She raised my spirits at the critical two month point in my stay, just when I was beginning to get really home sick. I also appreciated every email and blog comment I received in Uganda. Thank you to the authors of all those messages.

KIVA FRIENDS: Finally, I want to say thank you to all the generous supporters who frequent the Kiva Friends website and who contributed to two women I wrote about in my Kiva Fellows blog; Florence Kaluuba of the Mirembe Youth Development Projects and Regina. You will never know how much pleasure it gave me to distribute your money. No matter what explanation I offered to the contrary, your gifts were always treated as if they were a gift from me. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your proxy and to bask in the glow of so much heartfelt appreciation.

I am a different, and hopefully better, person than I was before Uganda. I sincerely thank Kiva and everyone who had a hand in my transformation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Post-Conflict Education in Uganda

Kampala, Uganda “Poverty reduction is a three legged stool balanced on income generation, savings, and education” according to Mr. Knondoker Ariful Islam, BRAC Uganda Country Manager. “Take one leg away and the stool tips over.”

While Kiva social lenders are focused on the income generating leg of poverty reduction, this discussion pertains to the education leg; specifically post-conflict education in Uganda.

Education is one of the first victims of civil conflict in Africa. This is especially true where children are targeted as potential child soldiers and forcibly removed from their families and schools by rebel armies.

One such post-conflict environment is Northern Uganda where the Lord’s Resistance Army formerly battled the Uganda Army for control. The local population, consisting mostly of members of the Acholi tribe, fled to the safety of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The education system ground to a halt.

When armed conflict ends, one issue is what to do with children whose education was interrupted or not begun during the conflict. One option is to enroll the older children in the last grade they completed. This is not practical because the existing grades are completely filled with younger students. For example, in Uganda the average primary school class size is about 50 students. In Northern Uganda, where qualified teachers are in short supply, the average class size is larger. Adding a whole new layer of 10-15 year old students to Primary 1 level classes is not a workable solution.

In 2007 BRAC Uganda partnered with UNICEF to tackle this problem. BRAC is uniquely qualified to deal with post-conflict education because it traces its roots to the aftermath of the war of independence between Bangladesh and Pakistan in the 1980’s.

BRAC’s pioneering study “Non-Formal Primary Education, Learning from BRAC’s Experience” is a model for post-conflict education throughout the world. Ultimately 2.8 million students in Bangladesh who dropped out of or never started school have been educated since 1985. Subsequently, approximately 24,000 students in Afghanistan benefited from BRAC’s non-formal education program after their schooling was interrupted by war or denied by the Taliban because they are female.

Mr. Knondoker Ariful Islam (Mr. Arif, for short) has a strong background in education. He originally joined BRAC right out of college in the 1980’s as an education specialist. He came to Uganda from Afghanistan, where he headed BRAC’s education program there.

BRAC’s non-formal education program in Northern Uganda, referred to as the Out of School Program, focuses on young girls. Many of the children attending BRAC schools are formerly abducted, traumatized child mothers who became pregnant by their captors. They perceive this to be their last chance for education. BRAC school children spend 30 minutes each day story-telling, presenting local short drama, singing, dancing, drawing and other fun activities. This is considered part of the curriculum for traumatized children.

BRAC and UNICEF share a vision of education as having multiple impacts on the student’s life. Education enhances people's thinking ability, improves planning capacity, develops skill in managing and shaping an independent life, widens social participation, and empowers people to realize their rights. Education is a cornerstone of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for alleviating poverty in Africa. Without these acquired skills, escaping poverty is highly unlikely.

The elements of BRAC’s “Out of School Education Program” in Northern Uganda (Kitgum and Pader Districts) are;
· Community Instructors recruited from the local population
· 10-15 year old students with no literacy or numeric skills
· Completion of Primary 1-3 grade levels in two years
· Education following the government curriculum
· Smaller class size limited to 30-35 students
· Same instructor for the entire 2 years in the same learning center
· Year round school with no vacation and class breaks no longer than 1 week
· Four hour school day with flexible starting time so students can do family chores
· Characteristic BRAC “U” shaped seating for student-to-instructor eye contact
· Monthly parents meetings at the learning centers

Instructor training is provided by BRAC education specialists. Community Instructors must have “O” level of formal education (high school) but no previous teaching experience is required. BRAC provides induction training for new instructors prior to deployment and then conducts monthly one day refresher training in which the curriculum for the next 30 days is laid out and practiced. Instructors return to their classrooms with rehearsed lesson plans and all the materials needed to execute the program for the next month.

One of the primary differences between BRAC’s non-formal education approach compared to the formal government run system is the absence of a pass/fail year end test for advancement. Community Instructors in the BRAC program are trained to conduct frequent assessments of students and are responsible for re-teaching students who fail to grasp the subjects. Mr. Arif reports that this results in relatively uniform student performance across the entire class.

Students in the non-formal program attend class in learning centers located in rented buildings separate from the government schools. Instructors live in the same village or IDP camp as the students. BRAC Education Program supervisors are distributed uniformly throughout the area, so they can frequently observe instructors at work in the classroom. Monthly training is conducted at the supervisors’ location which is no more than several hours travel from the most distant learning center. Supervisors are provided motorbikes to travel on the unpaved, unimproved roads.

The results of BRAC’s non-formal education program in Northern Uganda since its inception in June 2007 are;
· 122 Learning Centers
· 3,973 students
· 764 boys (19%)
· 3,209 girls (81%)

The preponderance of female students and female community instructors in the Out of School Program reflects BRAC’s goal of “empowering the powerless”.

Upon completion in June of 2009 these students will either be mainstreamed into grade P-4 in the public school system or, in the case of the older children, be given an opportunity for job skills training through BRAC’s Adolescent Program.

In summary, civil conflict is a significant generator of poverty in Uganda as well as other African countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. BRACs non-formal Out of School Program is an organized effort to reduce post-conflict illiteracy and rescue young victims from a life of poverty on the bottom rung of society.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Double Bottom Line" Loans

Kampala, Uganda A loan funded by Kiva social lenders benefits the Microfinance Institution (MFI), the lender, as well as the poor borrower. The MFI potentially earns gross profit from the loan to sustain its business and, in the case of a MFI structured as a for-profit company, to generate a financial return for the owners.

Where the MFI is a not-for-profit venture, surplus interest income may be invested in non-financial programs which generate expenses but little or no revenue.

One such non-financial poverty program is the BRAC Adolescent Program. Although this start-up program is initially being funded by a grant from the Nike Foundation, it is expected that the rapidly growing BRAC Uganda Microfinance Program will generate enough profit to sustain an expanding Adolescent Program when Nike’s funding ends in three years.

The purpose of this post is to describe the BRAC Adolescent Program and demonstrate how integrated approaches to poverty reduction give Kiva social lenders a double bang for their loan dollar.

Background: Uganda has one of the highest birth rates in the world.

Afghanistan 46.21 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Mali 49.61 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sierra Leone 45.41 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Somalia 44.6 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Uganda 48.12 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
United States 14.16 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)

When you walk the streets of Kampala it sometimes seems as if everyone in this country is a teenager. In the villages, schools are overflowing with uniformed young students packed 50 or more to a classroom.

In Ugandan society women still have fewer advantages than men and, as mothers, they bear a disproportionate burden of poverty. These two factors; high birth rate and female inequality point to adolescent girls as a growing risk group in society.

Any parent knows that adolescence difficulties are not limited to girls in poor countries. We all face them, first as a young person ourselves, and then again if we are parents. The critical nature of adolescents in the developing world is that they are a disproportionate share of the population and these young people represent the future, and best hope, of their countries.

Girls are the starting point for BRAC for several reasons. First, money is limited and you have to begin somewhere. BRAC opted for a female only approach but ultimately expects to design programs for male adolescents in the future.

Secondly, young boys have significantly more socializing opportunities through sports. For example, Uganda is a soccer (football) crazy country. Wherever there is a flat piece of ground you will find a group of boys kicking some sort of a round object toward an improvised goal. In three months in this country, I have not seen a single girl playing soccer or any other sport. Unlike the US, where the government mandates equal access to school sports, girls in Uganda are largely denied the socializing benefits of sports.

Thirdly, BRAC found through household surveys that girls often have limited access to reading material. The daily newspaper is a good example. Typically the father brings it home from work and reads it first. Two hours later when he is finished, the mother reads it. Then the sons, if they are interested, get a crack at it. Finally, the daughters, if it is not already past their bed time, have a chance to read the paper. A cornerstone of BRAC’s Adolescent Program is to make quality reading material available to girls.

Finally, age 13 is a common school drop-out point for young girls. Few have basic literacy skills at that grade level. BRAC’s household surveys show that many return home after dropping out and do nothing. With limited literacy, little earning potential, no job skills, no money to invest, and a lack of parental confidence in them, these girls are positioned to be non-starters in society. Without intervention they represent part of the problem of poverty rather than part of the solution. A myriad of bad outcomes await them.

The Idea: BRAC’s Adolescent Program is designed to empower girls between ages 13-19 from poor households for;
· Knowledge
· Skill
· Income earning ability

How It Works: At the heart of the Adolescent Program is the Adolescent Club. This is a group of up to forty young women from age 13-19 who meet every Saturday and Sunday at the same location with a peer mentor. School drop-outs have preference. During the program roll-out, each of ten participating BRAC microfinance branches will be assigned one full time paid project staff member to establish and supervise ten Adolescent Clubs. The staff member will also conduct periodic parent meetings and develop programs to foster community support and involvement.

At club meetings the girls will have access to sports of their choice such as basketball or net ball. The objective is socialization and peer group formation. They will also have access to quality reading material, in English, pertaining to life skills. If a girl cannot read, other club members will assist her. The point will be to gain knowledge, improve reading and writing skills, develop a reading habit, and move in the direction of a knowledge based society.

The weekly meeting content will evolve over time to include life skills training like hygiene and a host of female topics such as reproductive health, pregnancy, child care, disease prevention, and when and how to say “no”.

The girls who are not in school will also have access to work skills training such as tailoring, livestock rearing, hairdressing, and other trades.

Finally, as they approach age 19, the girls will be introduced to microfinance and offered an opportunity to form borrowing groups with fellow graduating club members to establish small businesses.

Benefits: While microfinance focuses on poverty reduction today, the BRAC Adolescent Program is a coordinated attempt to prevent poverty in the future. Everyone benefits from the effort.

Young girl drop-outs benefit the most by being given a second chance. All the girls benefit from socializing opportunities not otherwise available to them in Ugandan society. A host of positive outcomes is expected from the peer relationships forged at the Adolescent Clubs;
· Reduced teenage pregnancy
· Reduced sexually transmitted disease
· Improved literacy, life skills and job skills
· Fewer unwed mothers
· Fewer forced marriages for financial reasons
· A more confident and better prepared group of young females for their families, their communities and their country

BRAC benefits by reinvesting proceeds from microfinance to achieve its vision of “just, enlightened, healthy and democratic societies free from hunger, poverty, environmental degradation and all forms of exploitation based on age, sex, religion and ethnicity”.

Kiva social lenders benefit from loans with a “double bottom line” that help pay for integrated poverty programs beyond the initial peer-to-peer business loan.

And it all begins with a simple $25 loan on Kiva.org.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kiva Friends Donate $4,430 to Mirembe Youth Development Projects

Kampala, Uganda. On Saturday, January 26 2008 I had the honor and pleasure of presenting a check in the amount of $7,389,750 Uganda Shillings (US $4,430) from Kiva Friends to Florence Kaluuba and the Mirembe Youth Development Projects.

The purpose of this blog is to report back to the generous donors at http://www.kivafriends.org/ who contributed to Florence and her girls following the posting of my Kiva Fellows blog “Mirembe Youth Development Project” in December. I am especially thankful to Jill who organized and helped execute the Kiva Friends fund raising effort in the US.

Jill originally told me the fund raising goal was $400 with a small possibility it might reach $800. I informed Florence of this after Christmas and she seemed quite pleased. Four hundred US dollars is more than a month’s salary for many well employed Ugandans. Florence happily made plans to spend the money wisely on essential items for the school.

Several weeks ago Jill informed me that Kiva Friends had collected over $4,000. I withheld the information from Florence in belief that it was just too good to be true; and since I didn’t have the cash in hand, I didn’t want to risk disappointing her.

It was quite a scene at the Mirembe School as we arrived at 10 am on Saturday. Florence arranged for a number of students and alumni to be there, so the little 4 room school building was packed with young women and their small children. There were also samples of the crafts and teaching materials Florence’s staff teaches the girls to make and use in their jobs as nursery school teachers.

I came to Florence’s school with Stuart Tamale, Florence’s credit Officer from Share an Opportunity Microfinance Ltd, whose original loan to Florence of $1,200 was used to purchase a desk top computer and printer. SAO is a MFI partner of Kiva.org, so Florence’s loan was funded by Kiva social lenders.

I was also accompanied by my daughter Molly Kinder who is a graduate student at the Kennedy School at Harvard, completing her final semester of a Masters degree in International Development (MPA/ID). Molly stopped to visit me in Uganda on her return to Boston from a two week assignment in Liberia working for the Ministry of Finance on their Poverty Reduction Plan.

It was a proud moment for me as my daughter witnessed the check presentation ceremony and met Florence in person. Of course Florence, the consummate teacher, recognized the value of a 28 year old role model for her girls so Molly’s visit was heavily promoted in advance. The young women flocked to the tall red headed American like a visiting rock star.

When we went into Florence’s small office to present the Bank Check, I told her the amount was a little larger than we expected. She didn’t react visibly as she read the check. It seems Florence uses reading glasses, which were not being worn in front of our cameras. Once she put her glasses on, she acted quite surprised and pleased by the large donation. She said she would have to send Jill a new expanded list of items to purchase with the donation.

The actual donation, as reported to me by email, was $4,430. The amount that arrived in my checking account was 7,389,750 Uganda shillings. Dividing the two amounts yields an exchange rate of 1,668 shillings to the dollar, which is pretty much half way between the posted foreign exchange rate at Metropolitan Forex Bureau of 1,650 shillings to the dollar for a funds transfer and 1,690 shillings/dollar for US $100 dollar bills. I am satisfied Barclay’s Bank treated us fairly.

On this visit I was reminded of something about the Mirembe School I failed to emphasize in my original blog. Florence’s “Founders Class” of young women had 16 graduates. Many of those young women went on to teach and then eventually establish their own nursery schools with an average enrollment of about 60 children. Subsequent graduating classes totaling about 500 graduates have followed the same pattern.

My blog talked about Florence’s amazing determination to salvage the lives of her students and enable them to be productive members of society and excellent mothers. I missed the multiplier effect her graduates are having on the next generation of young Ugandans. That information made me feel even better about the support the Kiva Friends have given her.

Afterwards, as Molly and I reviewed the day’s events, I told her no vacation has ever given me greater pleasure than the simple act of presenting the Kiva Friends check to Florence and her girls. I am very thankful to Kiva Friends for that opportunity.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


How does a 48 year old widow in Uganda with no job, no savings, very little education, and no business training provide for eleven orphans, ranging in age from 9 to 17?

One answer is to take out a US $180 micro-loan from BRAC Uganda and work very hard to establish and operate two successful small businesses.

The story of how Bayiyana Regina came to be the sole supporter of eleven orphans is both a tragic commentary on life and death in Uganda and an inspirational tale of sacrifice and perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Regina and her husband had eleven children. They lived a modest but relatively secure life based on his salary as a primary school teacher. Then in 1987 her husband developed a “headache that lasted three days, and he died”, according to Regina. She was left with no savings, no pension and only a small, one room mud brick home located in a swampy flood plain in Bwaise, Uganda, a northern suburb of Kampala, the capital city.

Since then, seven of her eleven children have died; two from AIDS and the remaining five “fell sick” from unspecified illnesses. Of the surviving children, one is “missing”, two are “just around”, and one is a student at Makerere University, Uganda’s leading university.

The eleven orphans in Regina’s care are all family members. Some are her grandchildren, where both parents died of AIDS, and some are the orphaned grandchildren of her deceased brother. She looks after seven boys and four girls.

When I asked Regina about the worst day in her life, she paused and replied it was the day her brother went off to work and never returned. He died on the job.

Regina counted on her brother. He lived nearby in a small, half-finished two room home. He and Regina relied on each other for mutual support. The day he died, Regina knew she would provide for his orphans as well as her own.

Regina’s greatest hope in life is that her son will graduate from university and get a good paying job to help support the children. Until then, she works extra long hours to contribute to his tuition. When school is not in session he returns home to work hard like his mother, performing casual labor such as delivering water and doing other peoples’ laundry.

Regina is a very serious person. As I interviewed her following her weekly BRAC group meeting she seldom smiled and never laughed. When I asked her what she does for enjoyment, she replied she “sleeps”.

All this changed as we walked down the soggy lane approaching her modest house. Her orphans ran to be at her side. The first to arrive was Marvin, a young boy who was injured in a fire. He has burns on his arms and legs and about half of his left foot is missing. None of that seems to bother Marvin. He wore a constant smile on his face and he was the first to reach his grandmother. She handed him her bag, which he proudly carried for her. I sensed Marvin occupies a special place in Regina’s heart.
As the children grouped around us, Regina’s stoic composure softened. She smiled and hugged her orphans. They obviously worship her and she relishes their company and devotion.

Regina’s microfinance group was formed less than a year ago. It consists of five sub-groups containing five members each. At their first meeting, the 25 group members elected Regina as their group leader for a two year term.

Regina’s primary business is selling roasted chicken. She buys live chickens during the day, kills and cleans them, and then roasts the birds in a charcoal fueled oven and sells them on the covered sidewalk in the commercial center of Bwaise. She starts selling roasted chicken at about 6 pm. Her first customers are commuters returning home from work. Her next customers are revelers leaving bars in the area.

Regina stays on the job until the last roasted chicken is sold, sometime well after midnight.

She shops hard during the day to locate plump birds, paying between 4,000-4,500 shillings each. After roasting and cutting the chickens into pieces, she is able to sell one chicken for 5,900 shillings. She sells six chickens a day Monday-Thursday and seven chickens each day on Friday-Sunday.

Her average weekly gross profit from selling roasted chickens is 75,000 shillings, before subtracting fixed costs such as charcoal fuel. This is approximately US $45.50 per week.

One of the threats to Regina’s business is not being able to obtain a reliable daily supply of live chickens. At certain times of the year, especially around holidays, chickens are in short supply.

To even out her cash flow and to guarantee a minimum income, Regina opened a second business of selling fresh water from a water company tap located on her property. She borrowed 300,000 shillings (about US $ 180) from BRAC. With the proceeds of her loan she was able to have the water tap installed as well as replenish working capital in her chicken roasting business. Regina estimates she generates 6,000-10,000 shillings ($3.60-$6.00) profit per week selling clean water to neighbors who do not have a water tap.

The profit from her water business is small but very important. With responsibility for feeding and caring for eleven orphans, earning cash money every day is essential. If the chicken roasting business fails to meet her family needs, she can count on cash income from the water tap.

The daily diet in Regina’s home consists primarily of starches such as posho (made from corn flour), matoke (banana based), potatoes, and cassava. The children wear second hand clothing purchased at Kampala’s sprawling St. Balikuddembe market for 2,000 to 5,000 shillings ($1.20-$3.00).
Some of the orphans sleep with Regina in her one room house. The balance sleep in one room of her brother’s former home, under the supervision of Stephen, an extremely polite teenage grandson who is Regina’s “right hand man” in the family.

Regina’s greatest challenge is paying school fees for the children. Uganda has universal primary education which theoretically provides free schooling for children from Primary 1 through Primary 7 grades. It doesn’t really work out that way. First, additional fees such as uniform fees, book fees, and teacher’s transportation fees are often imposed at public schools. Second, public primary schools are not always available. In Regina’s parish there is only one public primary school and 10 private schools. Finally, the quality of public school education is widely perceived to be sub-standard. The majority of students in the Kampala area attend private schools.

One private school a short distance from Regina’s home charges about 25,000 shillings ($15) per term for a primary level student. Tuition is higher for secondary grades. There are three terms per year.

With a monthly family income of only about $65, it is easy to see how school fees take a large percentage of her household budget.

Regina is a determined woman. She has never been late on a weekly loan payment. She spoke to her credit officer and branch manager about taking out a larger loan when the first loan is paid off. With the additional capital she could raise up a small portion of her swampy land to build a poultry house. Rearing her own chickens will improve profitability by lowering her cost of goods as well as insuring a supply of birds year round.

She has also considered borrowing money to finish the second room of her brother’s house and renting it out. She figures the rental income will repay the loan and eventually contribute to family income.

When I asked Regina what would happen to the children if she was not there, she looked at me through sad eyes and said they would be on the street.

As I bid good bye, I was filled with profound respect and admiration for this saintly grandmother. Impulsively, I bent down to kiss her on the cheek. The children howled in delight and shock at the sight of a tall blond stranger kissing their grandmother in public.

The meaning of my kiss was to let her know that she is not alone. She has the respect of her grandchildren, her neighbors, her peers in the BRAC group, her BRAC credit officer, her BRAC branch manager, the social lenders at Kiva.org who supply funds to BRAC, and at least one American businessman who stands in awe of her unselfish determination.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Microfinance Branch Manager

Nabwire Carolyn, Manager of BRAC Uganda’s Kalerwe Branch, awakens at 5:30 each work day. A devoutly religious person, she spends the first half hour of her day in prayer. Next she prepares her two children for the day. Joshua, age 4, attends pre-school and Ester, age 2, goes to day care. Carolyn prepares breakfast for the children and her husband, Joseph, who is a computer programmer and web designer. At 6:30 Joseph departs in the family car to drop the children off at school on his way to work.

Carolyn walks to the Kalerwe Branch. BRAC requires branch managers and credit officers to live within the boundaries of their branch. Given the overburdened and unreliable public transportation system in Kampala, and the fact that the BRAC work day begins precisely at 7:00 am, this is a wise policy.

On this day, Carolyn was met at the branch office by five credit officers and Mr. Emma, the branch support staff. Olive, Demali, Annette and Jackie are micro-finance C.O.’s. Ms. Raymond is a newly hired credit officer assigned to launch an individual loan program at the branch.

The Kalerwe branch recently celebrated its one year anniversary. Carolyn, Annette, and Jackie have been there since the first day.

Carolyn related to me the difficulty of opening a new microfinance branch in Kalerwe. There are about ten different microfinance companies operating within her branch boundaries, which extends out about a three mile radius from the branch office.

BRAC follows the same procedure whenever a new branch is opened. The first step is to conduct a survey of every household in the area. Carolyn and her credit officers expanded concentrically from the office in ¼ mile increments, not missing a single residence.

The BRAC survey asks basic questions of residents to determine their relative wealth compared to their neighbors.

At the end of the day, Carolyn took her survey results to the LC1, the local elected official who oversees most activity in the area. The two of them went through the surveys and the LC1 used a red pen to check off the lowest 50% of residents in terms of wealth and income. Anyone with an existing loan from another Microfinance Institution was eliminated from consideration.

The households with the red checkmarks were BRAC’s initial target customers. Carolyn and her staff went back to those homes to invite the female head of household to an informational meeting. Their initial greetings were not always positive. Many MFI’s have operated in this area, promising much and delivering little. The BRAC staff was able to overcome much of that distrust and skepticism at the informational meetings.

Groups were formed consisting of four to six subgroups of five members each. The sub-group members were friends and neighbors who were required to guarantee each other’s loan repayment.

When I asked Carolyn about her best day as a BRAC Manager, she said it was the day she disbursed her first loan, just six weeks after opening the branch.

After one year, the Kalerwe branch is nearing full capacity. The theoretical maximum number of members served by a BRAC branch with 4 microfinance credit officers, assuming a maximum of 30 members per group and three group meetings a day for 5 days, is 1,800 members. The current membership roll at Kalerwe stands at approximately 1,400.

When I asked Carolyn about her worst day at work, she told me about the time it flooded and she had to slog through mud and flood water to reach her group meeting, only to stand on a table once she arrived.

The part of the job Carolyn enjoys the most is attending group meetings. Like snowflakes, no two meetings are the exactly the same. She finds them interesting and usually amusing. If she is having a bad day, she says she forgets her troubles at a group meeting.

Carolyn believes in BRAC. When I asked her what makes BRAC different from the other Microfinance Institutions operating in her territory, she replied;
1. BRAC’s interest rate is lower.
2. They do not ask for collateral.
3. They keep overhead down to about 10%, loaning the remaining 90% to poor borrowers.
4. They do not make members feel inferior. Members interact freely with a respectful staff.
5. The objective is poverty reduction and empowering women, not profit.
6. They loan money to poor women who have been denied credit by other MFI’s.
7. At meetings all members sit on the ground on mats in a horseshoe or circular pattern, which she believes is unique and indicative of BRAC’s spirit of equality and group dynamics.

One of Carolyn’s primary duties is to prevent loan fraud. Every afternoon and between morning meetings, she personally interviews loan applicants at home and at their place of business. On the home visit, Carolyn listens for comments from neighbors and assesses the applicant’s living conditions. She confirms the size of the family and the marital status of the applicant. Not only is she there to approve or deny the loan, she also has to determine an appropriate loan amount. Loaning too much money places an unnecessary strain on the borrower and creates a temptation to use excess money for personal purposes.

At the applicant’s place of business, Carolyn fills out a loan appraisal form as she critically examines the business. She asks questions, examines inventory, and tests equipment to confirm it operates.

Another valuable source of information is feedback from the members of the borrowing group, especially her sub-group of four loan guarantors. Although these women might be reluctant to speak publically against a loan application, they often approach Carolyn or her Credit Officers in private with their concerns.

Finally, the applicant’s credit officer conducts a separate but identical loan assessment.

After conferring with her C.O., Carolyn signs a loan approval which is sent to her Area Manager and Country Office for review. In one year and approximately 1,400 loans, the Kalerwe branch has not had a single uncollected loan.

Another of Carolyn’s major responsibilities is to train and develop her credit officers. Most BRAC employees are green; joining the company with no previous microfinance experience. Carolyn is proud that several of her C.O.’s have been promoted since the branch opened.

Carolyn attends three group meetings each morning. Her role is to observe and double check the C.O.’s work. She randomly samples five pass books against the computerized collection sheet to confirm the C.O’s entries. She also evaluates the C.O.’s conduct of the meeting, including promptness, attendance, and meeting content.

Recently, BRAC Uganda partnered with Kiva.org to raise 0% interest funds for BRAC. The Kiva model is based on “peer to peer” lending from individuals in developed countries to poor borrowers in developing countries. The model requires a digital picture of the borrower as well as a written profile of the borrower and the business purpose of the loan.

Branch Managers have responsibility for collecting this information. Carolyn has quickly become an expert using a digital camera at group meetings.
The manager and C.O.’s arrive back at the branch on foot at about noon. They spend the next hour counting and reconciling loan repayments from the morning meetings against the computerized collection sheets.

At 1:00 pm disbursements begin. All members whose loans have been approved are scheduled for a loan disbursement appointment. The women are called into the office one at a time from a waiting room. After the member signs loan documents, Carolyn confirms her identity, signs the documents releasing the money, and records the loan in the member’s pass book. The credit officers then disburse the loan amount from funds collected that day.

After lunch, Carolyn typically conducts loan due diligence, visiting homes and businesses of prospective borrowers.

The BRAC business day ends at 4 pm. Before leaving the branch Carolyn must enter all collections and disbursements into BRAC’s proprietary RADAR program on the office computer. Next, she prints computerized collection sheets for the group meetings scheduled the following day. Once that task is complete, she returns home to her family, fully prepared for a fast start at 7:00 am the next day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas in Uganda

Here are some of the unique gifts I will be enjoying this Christmas in Uganda;

The Gift of Calm in the Midst of Chaos. When I read that it is culturally unacceptable to express anger in public in Uganda, I did not really believe it. Coming for the US, where people routinely drop “F” bombs in public, where TV and movie plots always seem to involve violence and rage, and where the 24 hour news cycle is dominated by shouting, I found the notion of a society devoid of public anger unimaginable.
The guide books are correct. The people of Uganda are amazingly calm and unruffled. They do not shout. They may have swear words in the local language, but I can tell you they are not uttered in anger.
It is amazing how remaining calm helps you endure the inconveniences of Ugandan life. Imagine being cramped in the back seat of a crowed, sweaty, 14 passenger “taxi” van stalled in horrendous traffic where not a single person in the vehicle complains. Uganda has reminded me that getting upset does not improve the situation. In fact, when you complain, things only get worse, or hotter, or more uncomfortable. This comes from a hard charging American who finds it impossible to play 18 holes of golf without swearing at himself and his golf ball multiple times. After a month in Uganda, I don’t even think swear words, let alone say them.

The Gift of Real Family Values: In Uganda, family comes first. I am told funerals are a two day affair. The first day is to bury the dead, and the second day is for a family meeting to decide how to “look after” the survivors. If a woman loses her husband, the family decides who will care for her. When children are orphaned, the family decides which member or members will adopt them. Children are raised with the concept of multiple parents. Their mother’s younger sister is “little mother” and her older sister is ‘big mother”, etc (This nomenclature can get quite complicated in large families).
Despite crushing poverty and the constant threat of fatal disease, children grow up in Uganda secure in the knowledge the family will provide for them. You can see evidence of this on the Kiva website. Poor women borrowers applying for tiny loans for their humble little businesses often have an orphan or two to “look after” in addition to their own children.
Family values extend to aging parents also. When I asked a local Baptist minister about retirement homes in Uganda, he laughed. His eyes widened as he said that even if there were such institutions in Uganda, you would be CURSED for sending your parents to one. In Uganda, the family stays together from birth till death.

The Gift of Cooperation Not Competition: If you read my blog entitled Microfinance Plus Plus, you saw how farmers in Uganda work together for their common good.
Back home, I do business with dairy farmers in up-state New York. These are some of the finest, most productive farmers in the world. They have turned milk production into a science. The problem is when they make more milk, the price per gallon goes down. These rugged individualists ultimately turn to the government for support programs to stay in business.
In Uganda, there are no government support programs. Ugandans utilize cooperation as a business survival skill.

The Gift of Forgiveness Not Retribution: In a country where violence and turmoil were common for decades prior to the 1990’s, Ugandans understand the value of forgiveness. Fighters for the Lord’s Resistance Army, a shrinking but violent band of rebels currently holed up in neighboring Republic of Congo, are welcomed back into Ugandan society when they lay down their arms and apologize for their actions. Although this forgiveness will most likely not be extended to the LRA’s tyrannical leader, he may someday be a General without an army.
Wouldn’t it be a different world if we looked for reasons to understand and forgive our adversaries rather than creating an ever expanding category labeled “terrorists”; to be feared, avoided, insulted, or imprisoned without a trial?

The Gift of Life Without Nicotine. Uganda is truly a smoke free society. My unofficial estimate is that somewhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 Ugandans smoke. One day I stood on a crowded Kampala street corner waiting for the first smoker to pass. I gave up after 15 minutes, during which time thousands of pedestrians walked by without a cigarette in sight.
When I ask westerners about this, they invariably cite economics as the reason. “Cigarettes are too expensive for Ugandans”, they say. That doesn’t make sense because there is significant variation in income here, but no smoking. Also, in the US, destitute people find the money for cigarettes. Finally, Ugandans purchase beer, which is a discretionary expense not unlike cigarettes.
I got a different explanation from two Ugandans who cited the same reason for not smoking. Ugandans don’t smoke because it’s just not the thing to do. Smoking was popular in the 70’s and for some unexplained reason it went out of fashion.
This highly unscientific explanation gives me reason for optimism for the remainder of the world. Wouldn’t we all be better off if smoking was just not the thing to do?

The Gift of Abundant Heat, Light, Water and Air. What more can you ask for than 12 hours of sunlight year round, warm (but not hot) days, cool nights, enough rain to keep the countryside lush and green at all times, and no snow, no earthquakes, no hurricanes and no tornadoes?
Seasonal Affected Disorder will never be a problem here. You never need to change your clock or your wardrobe. Some Ugandans set their clocks to 00:00 at sunrise (7 am) so 12:00 arrives at sunset (7 pm). The sun shines brightly, but Uganda’s 3,000 foot elevation tempers the equatorial heat.

Now don’t get me wrong. Uganda is an extremely poor, under-developed country. I’m not ready to move here permanently and I have no doubt many Ugandans would rush to the United States in hopes of capturing a share of the “American Dream” if given the opportunity.

On Christmas I will be thankful for many gifts in life; my loving family, my economic prosperity, my health. This year I am especially thankful to Kiva.org for allowing me to experience the unique gifts of Uganda which will remain with me for a lifetime.

Merry Christmas to all!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mirembe Youth Development Project

Kampala, Uganda Florence Kaluuba is a soft spoken 50 year old school principal who won’t accept no for an answer.

As a teenager she was a brilliant student, excelling in mathematics. At a time when she ranked 8th out of 160 students, her uncle refused to allow her to enroll in the next higher grade level, where she hoped to become a medical doctor. Florence still remembers his words, “She is a girl, and girls just get pregnant anyway”. The uncle decided she would train to be a primary school teacher, which required much less education.

Florence enrolled in primary school teacher training, where, not surprisingly, she finished at the top of her class. She subsequently taught at two of the leading primary schools in Kampala. After a number of years, Florence wished to move up to high school but she lacked the requisite degree. Undeterred, Florence studied the four year curriculum in her free time and passed the qualifying exams without ever entering a classroom. Later, she earned a degree in Management with honors through correspondence from Cambridge University.

Florence founded Mirembe School in response to a 1996 study entitled "Why girls drop out of school and defilement of adolescent girls”. In the course of our interview, the term defilement was used to variously describe the rape of young girls by a brother, a father, and a teacher.

The goal of Mirembe School is to equip youth with developmental education for employment and life skills for survival. The students are almost exclusively girls from age 15-19 who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy and have been ostracized by their parents and family.

Florence and her small staff train the girls to be nursery school teachers, tailors, craft makers, or elementary school teachers (if they have enough formal education). In Uganda, nursery school teachers are given lodging and allowed to bring their children to school, which is an important benefit for these destitute young mothers.

Her belief is that no youth is a failure. She provides counseling as well as training. She promotes sexual abstinence to reduce pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Students are given information to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease. Florence works hard to restore their spiritual and traditional values.

Florence will not reject a young girl, no matter what her ability to pay. Even though Mirembe charges far less tuition than other programs such as the YMCA/YWCA, most of her girls cannot afford to pay. If she is lucky, monthly tuition from current and former students covers the rent.

The remainder of school overhead is paid by Florence out of her paycheck. She works as a contract social worker for the office of the wife of the President of Uganda. Florence conducts seminars and trains teenage counselors to conduct “peer to peer” counseling of other teenagers.

This week, Florence paid the final installment on a $1200 loan from Kiva through Share an Opportunity Microfinance Ltd. She borrowed the money to purchase a desktop computer, scanner and copier. The loan payment came out of her paycheck earned the previous week.

Florence reported the computer has been very important to the school. She not only trains students on it, but she also uses it to scan photos and print teaching materials; services which were previously outsourced at a high cost.

Florence has written a book, The Joy of Parenting, the first copy of which was typed, scanned and printed on the new computer. She hopes to publish 3,000-4,000 copies of the book with the help of the Children’s Writers Association. She will keep 1,000 copies for the school and sell the balance to generate income.

Florence will not abandon her students. Once, when money was tight, and she was considering closing the school, students came to her home tearfully begging her to continue. She looked me in the eye and said “I can’t stop now”.

Since its inception, the Mirembe School has graduated 500 girls, many of whom call Florence “mother”.

When I asked her what he dream in life is, she replied a bigger school, with no rent, in a quiet area where more girls can be nurtured and trained.

Her challenges are a steadily growing flock of defiled girls, the monthly rent check, a need for more counselors to share her emotional burden, and finding financial partners and supporters.

In her personal life, Florence has corrected the inequities of her own childhood. She is one of 13 children in a polygamous marriage involving 2 wives. Her mother, who was the second wife, was dropped. Florence was sent away to live with her father’s father, a tribal chieftain in northern Uganda.

Florence is happily married to her husband of 25 years, a university professor in electrical engineering. Of their five children, the oldest boy is an engineer and the oldest girl, who inherited her mother’s love of mathematics, studies statistics at Makerere University, Uganda’s leading university. The younger children are in high school.

As I said goodbye to Florence, my impression of this soft spoken woman with a soft spot in her heart for defenseless young girls is that she is as tough as nails. Somehow, some way, Florence will find a way to make the Mirembe Youth Development Project and the Mirembe School continue. This is not a woman who takes no for an answer.

Florence Kaluuba can be reached at mirembeyod@yahoo.co.uk.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Friends and family have asked about the mundane details of my life as a Kiva Fellow in Uganda. “Where do you live?”and “What is your job?” are two frequently asked questions (FAQ's).

Where I live: I am a resident of the Kolping Guest House on Bombo Road in the Bwaise neighborhood of Kampala. The Kolping is part of a worldwide chain of guesthouses operated by the International Kolping Society which was founded by Adolph Kolping as a Catholic, educational and action-oriented organization. Fr. Kolping was born on December 8, 1813, in Kerpen, a small village not far from Cologne. There are Kolping houses all across the globe, including one in the Manhattan and many in Europe and Africa.

I like this place for a number of reasons;
· It is incredibly clean, which has more than a little appeal after returning from a dusty day in Kampala and the surrounding countryside. The Kolping has a full time cleaning staff, but when the other employees have a free moment, they also find something to clean. I recently saw one of the dining room staff gently bathing the leaves of a potted plant on the terrace, removing dust that had gone unnoticed by me, but not by the Kolping staff.
· It is quiet and spacious. Kampala is a bustling city of over a million people. My mode of transportation is the ubiquitous 14 passenger taxi vans that ply most of the main roads. I’ve gotten accustomed to having my 6’2” frame jammed into a crowded, un-air conditioned van, often stalled in heavy traffic, in hot, steamy weather.
My room at the Kolping is quiet and my balcony overlooks a grassy courtyard set back several hundred yards from the noise and fumes of Bombo Road. At the end of the day I enjoy relaxing on the balcony, sipping a cold Bell beer, and quietly reflecting on the events of the day. At dawn I am awakened by the Muslim call to prayer broadcast from a nearby mosque, and I enjoy watching birds fly by as the sun rises over the hills of Kampala.
· The Kolping has a restaurant, which is a major consideration for a clueless husband like me who has not cooked for himself in over 30 years. I start the day with a complimentary breakfast of 2 eggs, toast, fruit, juice and hot brewed coffee. I often eat dinner there also, ordering from a non-controversial menu that agrees with my American digestive system.
· The TV in my room is inoperative and the TV in the restaurant is permanently tuned to an English soccer game, which I generally ignore, unless I am really bored. This is good. One my the goals on this trip is to wean myself from the 24 hour TV news/sports cycle back home. That shouldn't be a problem at the Kolping House.

What I do at work: Back in October, when I was given access to the Kiva training material, I quickly paged through the documents looking for a Fellows job description. There wasn’t one. The duties of a Kiva Fellow are largely undefined to allow for maximum flexibility once we arrive at our overseas destination. Essentially, we are assigned to a Microfinance Institution (MFI) to make the relationship between the MFI and Kiva run as smoothly as possible. The role of the Kiva Fellow varies according to the needs of the MFI.

In my case, I sat down with the manager Share an Opportunity (SAO) for four hours on my first day at work. We talked about the history of the business and the most pressing needs of the organization. Based on that conversation, I was able to create five objectives to accomplish prior to my departure on February 20, 2008.

Objective #1. To visit all 45 entrepreneurs in the Kiva/ SAO portfolio, and visit at least six SAO branded SACCO’s (Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies), out of a total of fourteen , for the purpose of collecting information, and writing and publishing journals for the Kiva website.
This is one of the few formal Kiva requirements. It serves three purposes;
1. It acts as field audit to confirm that the money loaned by Kiva lenders actually went to the person shown on the website and that the loan is being repaid.
2. It provides feed back in the form of Journals which are published on the Kiva website and are emailed to every lender who funded the Kiva loan.
3. It helps me learn about microfinance at the grass roots level.

Objective #2: Help create and execute a new SAO product; “Business Skills Training Course” targeted to existing and potential direct borrowing clients.
a. Review development of the program to date
b. Finish the written program and prepare presentation materials by mid-December.
c. Promote “Business Skills Seminars” to SAO customers and prospects in December
d. Schedule seminars and participate in presentations in Jan/Feb
e. Train SAO personnel to conduct subsequent seminars after I leave

Objective #3: Help create a stand-alone website for SAO MF distinct and separate from SAO Uganda
a. Familiarize myself with the customer requirements of SAO clients.
b. Review the current SAO Uganda website for useful content.
c. Design new content and user –friendly website architecture for the new site.
d. Launch a new website by 15 Feb, 2008

Objective #4: To assist SAO MF in obtaining sources of funding to compliment KIVA’s funding, so that KIVA represents no more than 30% of SAO’s funding as of 15 Feb, 2008.

Objective #5: Review and revise the SAO Business Plan/Strategic Plan by 30 Jan 2008.
a. Review existing Strategic Plan
b. Make suggestions based on practical experience with SAO customers and SAO staff
c. Integrate suggestions, if accepted, into Business Plan

Just about everything I do during the workday relates to accomplishing one of those objectives.

In addition, Kiva recently asked me to train another Microfinance Institution that recently became a Kiva partner in Uganda. I will be delivering that briefing on Saturday, December 15. If this account requests additional support, I will follow up as directed by Kiva.

That pretty much answers my FAQ’s.


Arrival in Uganda

My name is Drew Kinder. I am a Kiva Fellow from Buffalo, NY assigned to Share an Opportunity (SAO), a Micro-Finance Institution (MFI) headquartered in Kampala, Uganda.
Although my future postings will be about the borrowers I meet in Uganda, this first blog answers the question of how I ended up in Uganda volunteering for three months as a Kiva Fellow.
I discovered Kiva in March 2007 after reading a column in the New York Times written by Nicholas Kristof. I was captivated by the Kiva website and the ease of loaning $25 to entrepreneurs around the world. This struck me as an elegant way to participate in the lives of the “poorest of the poor”, as a business transaction rather than a gift. The fact that I received no interest on my $25 loan was immaterial. The important thing was being repaid. To date, my Kiva loan portfolio contains over 25 loans, including 3 loans that have been repaid and then re-loaned.
One fateful day I discovered the Kiva Fellows program while navigating around the website.
The program made business sense to me. Kiva relies on its MFI customers around the world to find borrowers, tell their stories, disburse the funds, and collect repayment of the loans when due. Based on my experience in wholesale sales and distribution, I knew that customer relationships like this work best when you travel to the customer’s place of business.
My business in Buffalo is an internet-based, seasonal, small business, with 98% of sales occurring from March through October. Although I would prefer year-round sales, the benefit of seasonality on the web is the freedom to close your doors when customers are not buying and do something else.
The timing of the Kiva Fellowship was ideal for me. Kiva requires a minimum commitment of ten weeks, which fits neatly into my business schedule.
When I applied for the volunteer fellowship, I couldn’t help but wonder how the application of a seasoned entrepreneur would be received by an organization founded and staffed by bright young people. I was pleased to be accepted. One thing led to another, and I celebrated Thanksgiving on a plane bound for Uganda.
One of my daughters, who has volunteered in an orphanage in Chile and a tribal village in India, administered earthquake relief in Pakistan, and interned with the Minister of Finance of Liberia, gave me the following advice; “Dad, if you’re not wracked with self-doubt on the plane ride over there, you haven’t challenged yourself enough.” By her standard, I am fully challenged!
I have never been a banker, I’ve never been to Uganda, I speak only English, and I have not been away from my family this long since my wife and I married thirty years ago. Despite these limitations, and more, I fully intend to have a positive impact on Kiva’s mission in Uganda. If I lose sight of why I am here, all I have to do is read the words on my ball cap; “Kiva.org… loans that change lives”
Drew Kinder

Rose Kasoma

I first met Rose Kasoma at the office of Share an Opportunity (SAO) Microfinance, Ltd in Kampala, Uganda where she came to pay the monthly installment on her $1,200 loan funded by Kiva lenders. We talked briefly and I asked permission to visit her.

On November 30, 2007, accompanied by Stuart Tamale, a young college educated Ugandan loan officer working for SAO, we went to Rose’s store.

The store is well located in the Ugandan version of a strip mall near a “round-about” on a busy thoroughfare on the outskirts of Kampala. All shops in the brick strip mall open to the outside air toward the road. There were approximately ten shops in the mall, all the same size; about 5 paces wide and 5 paces deep. Rose’s store was well stocked, clean, and the merchandise was nicely displayed. I saw no shops in the immediate area offering the same product selection as Rose. Her shelves were better stocked than some nearby shops.

When we arrived at 9 am, Rose’s youngest son Brian was alone in the store. Brian was well dressed and polite. Like his mother, he is soft spoken. Brian is 14 years old and on vacation from Senior 2 grade, which is the equivalent of ninth grade in the US.

Next, Stuart took me to Rose’s home. It was not easy to find. He navigated down a winding dirt path to a dead end. Rose’s compound, perched on the edge of a swampy jungle inhabited by monkeys, consists of a small brick house, a brick chicken coop, a broken down confinement structure for her 3 cows, and an outhouse.

Rose greeted us warmly. We talked as she hacked stalks of sugar cane into foot long segments for sale at the store. At one point, she went to the chicken coop, removed a chicken, gently calmed the frightened animal, and then proceeded to offer it to me as a gift. I was overwhelmed by her generosity, considering this bird represented a significant portion of her farm assets. I declined the gift, explaining that I didn’t know how to cook (or butcher) a chicken, and I was staying in a hotel with no kitchen. I thanked her profusely for the offer.

Rose is one of seven children. Her husband, who was away the day we visited, is also one of seven children. Rose’s father refused to pay tuition for her schooling but her mother somehow found money to pay for Rose’s limited education. Her understanding of English is excellent, but she preferred to answer my questions in the local language, which Stuart translated.

Rose has two sons and one daughter. The oldest son, Nicholas, is in medical school training to be a doctor. The daughter, Victoria, is in nursing school. We met the younger son Brian at the store. Rose does not intend to have more children.

Rose first became acquainted with SAO Uganda when its social service component gave her tuition assistance for Nicholas and Victoria in elementary school.

When I asked Rose how business was going, she said it was only “so-so”. Sales are stable, and with the Kiva loan she is able to maintain a good inventory of general merchandise for her customers. Occasionally she is asked to extend credit, but she resists because she has to make her monthly loan repayments. She pays cash for her stock and does not accept trade credit when offered. Rose is a serious, but cautious businesswoman.

The big event in Rose’s life right now is a small plot of land her husband recently inherited in a nearby township. The ground is well drained and more suitable for raising livestock than their current swampy location. She and her husband would like to move there and add pigs to their collection of cows and chickens. To do this they will need money to build a new home and farm buildings. When I asked if she would sell her current home, she quickly replied no, it was being saved for the children.

When I asked Rose what her dream in life is, she paused, and then explained that she is old and wants to retire to the new farm to raise livestock. Rose is much younger than I am, but the average life expectancy in Uganda is less than 50, so she considers herself old. She often works till midnight at the store. Although her children are well educated, Rose understands the vagaries of Uganda’s economy well enough to also train them to be self-sufficient entrepreneurs, in case all else fails. She intends to pass the store on to one or more of the children.

Our interview ended as we delivered Rose to her store. It was time for work, not talk, so I bid her goodbye with confidence that Kiva’s funds are well invested and secure.

Microfinance Plus Plus

Kampala, Uganda I’m learning there is more to microfinance than simply loaning money to poor people. My boss at Share an Opportunity (SAO) took me on a field trip to Ngogwe, a village about 40 miles outside of Kampala, to show me what he calls “Microfinance Plus Plus”.

The elements of SAO’s “Microfinance Plus Plus” are;

1. Rural Development. SAO focuses on rural development, where 90% of Ugandans live and work. Improving economic opportunities in the countryside reduces the incentive for urban migration, which is a serious problem throughout Africa. As you can see from this picture, the streets of downtown Ngogwe are not exactly clogged with traffic. I found this to be a beautiful area. Lush and green, with red topsoil and abundant rainfall, Ngogwe appears to have the potential to support a robust agricultural economy.

2. Enterprise Solutions. SAO encourages “enterprise solutions” to agricultural planning, value addition and collective marketing of crops as opposed to subsistence farming by individuals.
Share an Opportunity helped form a Community Based Organization (CBO), called the “Ngogwe Integrated Community Development Association”. Made up primarily of local farmers working on very small plots of land, the association encourages its members to focus on maize (corn) production. Maize is well adapted, and with two harvests a year, it is an excellent “cash crop”. Demand from drought-stricken Kenya and war-torn Sudan is good, and worldwide corn prices have strengthened in competition with ethanol.
I found this hand lettered statement of principles on the wall in the CBO office.

3. Savings Mentality. Share an Opportunity trains borrowers to save rather than spend when times are good. Poverty reduction requires savings, but villagers often spend all they take in. I saw this poster in the SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative Society) office, illustrating the benefit of saving for educational expenses.

4. Value Addition. The SACCO loaned money to the Community Based Organization (CBO) to build and operate processing and storage facilities that add value to the crop, thus maximizing financial return to the community. With SAO’s help, the SACCO financed the purchase of two hammer mills used to transform dry corn into corn flour, increasing the value of the crop 200-300%. They also loaned money for the storage facility shown in this picture. This storehouse enables the accumulation of a large enough quantity of corn flour to attract wholesale buyers and allows the CBO to withhold product from the market when prices are low.

5. Best Practices. SAO informs farmers of the latest and best agronomic practices. Through the SACCO, they finance crop inputs such as improved seed and fertilizer. Increased production per acre and improved soil fertility reduces the “slash and burn” practice of clearing virgin land, using it for two crops (one year), and then abandoning the land as treeless scrub. This picture shows “Tall 6” hybrid corn, a variety developed by Ugandan plant breeders. Properly fertilized, this variety will produce high yields on the same plot of ground year after year.

6. Retained Earnings. The money earned in Ngogwe is saved and loaned within the community, again and again; providing the foundation for future growth and more poverty reduction. This picture shows a new classroom and dormitory building at the Ngogwe private school financed with a loan from the Ngogwe SACCO.

The benefits of microfinance are plain to see in Ngogwe:

This is just one village in a country the size of Oregon. Share and Opportunity is just one of many Microfinance Institutions in Uganda.

As “Microfinance Plus Plus” is repeated hundreds and thousands of times across Uganda, you can envision a more stable country with less poverty, less urban migration, less environmental damage, and greater food security for its people.

It all begins with a $25 loan on the Kiva website (www.kiva.org).