The micro loans program has had a significant long term impact on the community of Matero, in Lusaka, Zambia. The success of the program is attributed to the close contact maintained with the loan beneficiaries. In addition to the loan amount, POL provides extensive business training, business support (via advice regarding store design, inventory management, book keeping), monitoring of businesses via field visits, encouraging weekly saving habits, and assessment of the program via end-of-loan interviews. All of these have had a significant impact on the success of the businesses.
Overall, this program has provided 450 loans to women caregivers of HIV+ children and has improved the lives of over 5000 people in the community through better nutrition, health, school attendance and increased life expectancy. The women entrepreneurs who have participated in this program deserve tremendous commendation for their commitment, sacrifice and hard work. Most have become financially independent and are now on the road to self-reliance. For an update on this program, click here.
As a result of this program:
1. The women have learned critical business skills. They are now able to keep an account of their sales and costs, and budget how much to spend on raw material/inventories for the next day.
2. Most of the women have learned basic marketing skills. For example, many have learnt from experience that an attractive display of goods is beneficial for their business and spend time and effort in designing their store to attract customers. About 50% of the women have improved their store layout and design since they first received the loan.
3. Almost all the families in our micro loans program are able to afford three meals a day (a jump from the one or two meals a day they ate before receiving a loan).
4. Earnings from their businesses have helped the women pay for school expenses. To date, all children eligible for school are in school and learning, as their caregivers are able to pay for school expenses (books, uniforms, shoes).
5. As the women's businesses do well and they become more confident about their future, they take steps to prevent the spread of infection, and start taking better care of their health. For example, several women have started sharing their HIV status, and 106 families have gone for voluntary counseling and testing (VCT). This encourages other women to go in for VCT which is the first step in prevention of HIV.
6. Weekly meetings have resulted in the women developing relationships of mutual support with other women, and many women have become role models not only for other women in the community but for men as well.
7. Repayment rates have been around 92-94% for the last two years; extraordinary by any measure, but especially so given the harsh circumstances the women face.
8. Women have started savings on a regular basis. For example, less than 5% of the women had bank accounts before they joined the program and now roughly 50% have savings in a bank account and many more have savings at home. The average amount saved is small, but it helps the women (i) take care of emergencies such as sicknesses, funerals, and school fees/expenses, (ii) purchase raw material/inventories for their business, and (iii) help the women to continue running their business after they have completed the maximum of three loan cycles and have graduated from the program.
9. Most of the women have been able to increase their capital. About a third of the families have expanded their businesses from selling fruits and vegetables on the street to groceries, clothing, and other higher value goods. In addition, three women have finished building their shops and four women purchased plots on which they have started building rooms/shops to rent.