Mutundwe Village, Uganda, Micro-Business Program

On April 26/ 27, 2014, 54 women from Mutundwe Village, Uganda, completed the Training Phase of their micro-business program. They finished eight weeks of training in seven sessions which, because of the large size of the group, met in a morning and an afternoon class every Sunday.  Financial training was paramount in these sessions.  All were required to complete a rudimentary business plan.

In May, these graduates are starting to meet in their “lending circles” to improve their plans, receive micro loans, when qualified and to continue learning.  The circles are Start Up A, Start Up B, Poultry, Farming, Retail & Clothing, House Renting, and Salons & Restaurants.  19 of the 54 women are planning new micro businesses; the others are already operating.

Lending circles are the mainstay of micro lending.  These groups of individuals work, learn and study together over a year or more.  They receive staff guidance in leadership skills.  They decide together when a loan request from one of their number is ready to be recommended to their lender.  When loans are provided, they cooperate to make sure the loans are paid back.  A member in trouble is usually immediately known and restructuring or other interventions can be undertaken.  These flexibilities are not available from banks and other money-lenders.

A first requirement for the circle participants will be opening individual bank accounts.  The Uganda team has recruited a convenient, Rotary member bank willing to help train and open accounts on site in Mutundwe Village.

Watch the Convocation website for updates on the women pictured in our photo!

Mutundwe Village Micro-Business Program emerged from a profound interest in business micro-lending expressed during the 2009 (Houston) International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women.  The Convocation heard the Grameen Foundation speakers on the proven high rate of effectiveness that such programs have had in lifting women from poverty.  Convocation participants were introduced to IWCs potential partner for implementing just such a program—the African Rural Schools Foundation (“ARSF”).

ARSF is a joint venture project of four Unitarian Universalist Congregations that Reverend Renee Waun pastors in the Pittsburgh area.  Since 2006, ARSF has built, maintained and managed schools in a Ugandan Village called Mutundwe near Kampala.  Originally for children AIDS orphans, the schools have grown and prospered as a substantial project for these Western Pennsylvania UU Congregations.

In 2012-2013, IWCs Laura Nagel and Karen LaFrance initiated, with Rev. Waun, a plan to implement a micro-lending program, using retained funds contributed at the 2009 Convocation for the actual loans.  Since the Convocation, this relationship has blossomed and evolved with the invaluable assistance of grants from UU Funding Panels and contributions from members of the Convocation.  Ms. LaFrance manages the project for IWC, SKYPing weekly with Rev. Waun, Mr. Ssebunya Kizza, the Project Manager and Mr. Abbey Ssejjuuko, Project Coordinator.  The team found Abbey, a recent college graduate, through Uganda Rotary; IWC provided specific micro-business training for him.

Karen LaFrance
Karen LaFrance
IWC Business Manager

Karen is a Mount Holyoke College graduate and a professional urban planner.  In the 1980s and 90s she led a Community Development Corporation that revitalized a large business district in Pittsburgh, PA.  Subsequently, she founded and ran a nonprofit business lender called a Community Development Financial Institution in Mesa, AZ, which continues to thrive under new leadership.  She uses her expertise as a Consultant, managing the complex restoration of a large historic church in Newport, RI and providing strategic planning and management for environmental groups and business groups.  As IWCs Business Manager, Karen oversaw the Exhibit Hall at the 2009 Houston Convocation and provides other management services to IWC.