Microfinance - “The Wezesha Project”

The Wezesha Project is the name of ERDO’s microfinance program in the central African countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi. We work with the poor, in two of the world’s poorest countries, empowering women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

This program provides small business owners with access to financial services from which they would otherwise be excluded. Traditional banks do not want to lend money to this segment of the economy. It is considered too risky, too administratively-intensive, and without sufficient profit. Microloans allow these borrowers the opportunity to expand their businesses, and increase their income and capacity. The program works exclusively with women business owners because they generally have the least amount of access to financial services in developing countries. 

In Swahili (one of the main languages in the region) “wezesha” means “empower” – and this is the work of the Wezesha Project.

woman in congo

The Wezesha Project Facts

·         DRC:

    • Launched in 2011
    • Currently 510 borrowers through 2 lending posts in the Uvira region

·         Burundi:

    • Launched in 2015
    • Currently 405 borrowers through 1 lending post in Bujumbura

·         In addition to loan capital, the program has provided more than 8,000 hours of training to date


 

woman small business in congo

The Region

You are likely familiar with news stories about some of the challenges in this region.  The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo borders on Burundi and Rwanda.  Longstanding ethnic and civil conflict and a plethora of independent militia groups which roam the rural areas, have caused internal displacement of large numbers of people within these countries as well as migration across borders into neighbouring states.  People just want to be safe, so they move to flee the violence, crime and sexual assault.

Microfinance comes to the aid of these marginalized people.  By lending to women, we empower people who have survived sexual violence and who have been forced to leave everything behind in search of safety, to support their families through the provision of loans. The Wezesha Project thus provides needed financial services, but also a pathway to a safer life.

How it works

With guidance from local program staff, women form lending groups of 5 people each.  These groups provide accountability and support throughout the lending and repayment process.  Once approved, each member receives a home and business visit and goes through a pre-loan training process.  After this, they receive their first loans.  Initial loans range from $50-100 (the US dollar is used as one of the local currencies).  The principal amount is based on per capita income and the economy in the specific local context.  Each borrower repays their loan at a Wezesha Project Lending Post (typically a church) on a weekly basis, which enables project staff to track progress easily.  Once they repay, borrowers are eligible for another, larger loan (up to a maximum ceiling).  And of course, as loans are repaid, that loan capital goes back to work in the form of a new loan to another borrower.

The Wezesha Project encourages borrowers to expand their businesses, but only to the degree to which they feel comfortable.  The goal is not simply to lend money.  The goal is to meet needs and to enable these borrowers to tangibly improve their quality of life.

How You Can Help

When women see other women rise above poverty and provide for their own families, it’s a powerful testimony.  Your donation of $50, $100, or more will help women in poverty gain dignity and the means to help their families.

mother and child in Congo

Microfinance Frequently Asked Questions

Who qualifies for a loan?

Women who are in desperate need and who are currently working in some type of business to generate income in order to better support their children.

How do you know that the loans are being used by the women for business?

Once a woman qualifies for a loan, she becomes part of a lending group made up of other women who have loans with the project. The group ensures that each woman uses the funds as agreed and that the group pays their individual loans back on schedule.  This group also meets with project workers on a regular basis to discuss the progress that each woman is making and how the group is functioning.

What happens if a woman defaults on her loan?

If a woman defaults without extenuating circumstances, she is no longer allowed to borrow from the project and the entire lending group will not be able to borrow again.  It is the responsibility of the group to ensure that each member repays.

It sounds like a lot of responsibility for the borrower and her lending group.  Do they know what they are getting into?

Before a woman is approved for a loan there are interviews and she must explain her plan for the use of the money.  Each woman then attends six training sessions held over two weeks before actually borrowing the money.

Are there levels of loans?

Yes. The initial loan is for an amount of $50-100.  Successive loans are usually for higher amounts (although they could be for the same amounts if the borrower prefers) and for longer terms.  The maximum loan ceiling is also dependent on the specific economic context.

What type of businesses are loans used for?

The businesses are all very small, and can take the following forms (with associated product offerings):

  • Mobile (walking) vendors  - prepared foods, pop, water, shoes
  • Roadside vendors - vegetables, sugar, oil, flour, beans
  • Owners of small kiosks - a variety of food and non-food items
  • Market stalls - food, hardware, clothing
  • Street cooks - deep fried bread, cooked eggs

How can I provide a loan to a woman?

By giving a donation of $50 or more, you can equip a woman with a basic loan.  Click here to donate a loan today.

 

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