#02 Business
Holly O'Connell

Best Practice: Empowering women, enhancing communities

Today, women perform 66 % of the world's work in return for 5 % of the world's income, and 2 out of 3 children denied primary education are girls. Millions still lack the basic tools that would enable them to move out of poverty and build a better future. That's why for the past 35 years, Oikocredit has financed organizations which support small entrepreneurs, especially women, in developing countries.

One such organization is the Ugandan Community Enterprises Development Organization (CEDO) cooperative. CEDO is made up of around 500 farmers divided into 18 groups. The organization works with the groups and provides most loans in the form of beans, which are then repaid in kind from the resulting harvest.

CEDO also provides microloans to farmers to expand production. These microloans are always scheduled for repayment following the next harvest. About 50% of CEDO members are women. Access to a cooperative like CEDO can be the turning point for these women, their families and their communities.

Margaret Nakibuule and Giida Namirembe are farmers; each belongs to a banking group that borrows from CEDO. These two women know what a difference the support of such an organization can make in the life of a rural Ugandan woman.

Diversifying for success

When three of Margaret Nakibuule's close relatives succumbed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda, she welcomed their children into her family home. But with little money and only part of a primary school education behind her, this mother of six needed a means to support a household of 15 people.

Today, with beans on loan from CEDO, Margaret can rely on the income from her own agricultural projects to support the household.

Margaret Nakibuule, female farmer in Uganda (H. O'Conell)

"Because of the support from the cooperative, I can take care of all of my children," Margaret reports.

"I have new energies and more perseverance, unlike in the past, and I feel more empowered than I ever have before."

Margaret is a member of the Dduka Obwavu Grower's Cooperative Society (or the 'run away from poverty society'). With the income from the CEDO bean loan, she has diversified her projects to include poultry farming as well as agriculture and plans to further venture into goat and pig rearing.

Not only can Margaret's projects improve the household's income; there are other clear benefits as well. She has taken part in technical training from CEDO officers on agricultural and animal husbandry, hygiene, nutrition and general family health. Improved food production means Margaret can use some of the vegetables she grows to feed the family a balanced diet.

"Because of the trainings, the sicknesses that affect the family are reduced and we now live in a cleaner, safer environment," she says. "And the quality of the produce has also improved with the technical training from CEDO."

Securing a future for people living with HIV/AIDS

Day in, day out, Giida strives to do as her husband requested before he succumbed to the complications of AIDS: support her family. HIV-positive herself, Giida was left to care for a household of 14.

The family had always struggled to live on the income of her husband and after his death, she joined Muvule, a women's self-help group, for support. It was through the group that Giida first became involved with CEDO. With the help of the group and CEDO, Giida obtained an in-kind loan of high-yielding beans, which she repaid at harvest time. After a disappointing harvest in the first season because of poor rainfall, Giida tried again and yielded an impressive 616 kg of beans after planting only 30 kg.

CEDO purchased the harvest and Giida walked away with almost UGX 900,000 (approximately € 320) for the season. She used part of the money to buy a cow, from which she gets milk to sell and feed the family. She also uses the manure to improve soil fertility for the maize and banana plants.

"I'm striving to get a proper education for my children and they work hard - I know they won't let me down," Giida says. "The support I get from the group is very important, and it encourages me knowing I have a sure source of income and knowing what I produce will be bought by CEDO."

But Giida and her family still face challenges despite the positive results achieved so far. Her family sleeps in one small room; all the other rooms are packed with maize. No tarpaulin means she cannot keep the produce safe outside, and high labour costs and fluctuating market prices are also a burden.

About CEDO and Oikocredit

CEDO is partnered with the Oikocredit international development cooperative and uses loans to buy machinery and provide training and loan monitoring assistance. CEDO pushes the traditional boundaries of good business to encompass more than just buying and selling.

The cooperative operates in four districts in Uganda's south, much of which is stricken with a HIV infection rate high above the national average. It provides its customers with seeds, pre-financing, capacity building, training, health education and agricultural technology. In addition to training farmers in agriculture and animal husbandry, the organization also aims to improve food security, health and income for vulnerable groups, many of which are living with HIV.

Oikocredit is dedicated to giving women an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty through their own initiative and works with over 800 partners around the world to achieve that goal. Giida and Margaret are among the 17 million people reached by Oikocredit project partners in the past year. Access to loans and training can give women confidence, new skills and respect. It can be a major turning point in their lives, helping support families and enhancing communities.

Oikocredit provides credit and equity to small businesses through microfinance institutions in 80 countries across the developing world and directly to trade cooperatives, fair trade organizations and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Uganda Country information
Bordered by: Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania
Population: 33.4 million
Pop. below poverty line: 35%
Agricultural products: coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava (tapioca), potatoes, corn, millet, pulses, cut flowers; beef, goat meat, milk, poultry
Industries: sugar, brewing, tobacco, cotton textiles; cement, steel production
Key figures from Oikocredit’s development finance portfolio (as of September 30, 2010)  
Total capital outstanding € 430 million
Total number of project partners: 842
Microfinance partners (from total number of project partners): 579
Number of investments since inception: 2031
Average loan size total portfolio: € 366,363
Average loan size to microfinance institutions:Average loan size total portfolio: € 419,959
Social performance figures (as of December 31, 2010)  
Oikocredit monitors certain social performance indicators to ensure its microfinance partners reach the right target groups and provide services that work towards positive change in people's lives.  
Number of borrowers reached by Oikocredit's microfinance partners (based on reports from 68% of the microfinance partners) 17 million
- percentage of female clients 85%
- percentage of rural clients 53%
Number of people employed by Oikocedit’s SME partners 27,500