Climbing the Ladder of Prosperity in Uganda

November 8, 2011
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The below post was originally published on The MasterCard Foundation blog by Peggy Woo, CFO of The MasterCard Foundation, after her latest trip to visit BRAC’s programs in Uganda.  The MasterCard Foundation partnered with BRAC Uganda in 2008 to scale up our programs to defeat poverty to reach 4.2 million Ugandans.

The below post was originally published on The MasterCard Foundation blog by Peggy Woo, CFO of The MasterCard Foundation, after her latest trip to visit BRAC’s programs in Uganda.  The MasterCard Foundation partnered with BRAC Uganda in 2008 to scale up our programs to defeat poverty to reach 4.2 million Ugandans.

I met Nambuzo Beatrice this week in Uganda during a visit to BRAC Uganda, one of our partners. Beatrice is a bright, energetic woman with a wide smile who radiates warmth and entrepreneurial zeal. When I gently asked if life was better for her since joining BRAC two and a half years ago, she quickly responded with a loud “Yes, of course!” I was pleased to hear this but the skeptic in me wanted to know more and see some evidence of real progress.

We were sitting in the BRAC microfinance group meeting, observing Beatrice and 24 other women give their weekly loan repayments to the BRAC CO – a Credit Officer who is also a Community Organizer. I have read that sometimes microfinance just pushes women deeper into debt. I wanted to understand how it can help someone climb out of poverty and up the ladder of prosperity.

As we were walking to visit her retail shop, Beatrice later explained, “I used to have a monthly income of 100,000 shillings and now it is 700,000 shillings!” That stopped me in my tracks. “How did you do it?” I asked her as we arrived to her shop. Beatrice said that she started with a small vegetable stand, selling tomatoes, cabbages and beans out of her own garden. She pointed to this small wicker shelf where a couple of cabbages and some eggplants and tomatoes were displayed. I wondered how she could possibly earn enough from this to even call it a business, much less sustain herself. But it was a start and she probably grew these vegetables herself. I asked more questions to get a better understanding.

Beatrice decided to rent a small shop in the village square to sell staples that are in demand: rice, flour, bread, matoke, salt, sugar, and charcoal in addition to her vegetables. She has taken progressively larger loans from BRAC to invest in building the inventory in her shop. She has now taken her fifth loan (20 week loan) for 1,000,000 Ugandan shillings. She said that she is selling 100,000 shillings worth of goods daily and able to earn as much as 30,000 shillings a day. She wants to borrow 1.5 million shillings for her next loan and keep growing and diversifying her business to respond to market demand.

Beatrice is in her late 30s, married and has two children, both girls, who are enrolled in government primary school, class 6 and 7, respectively. She inherited 6 acres of land from her aunt so grows pineapple on 4 acres and maize on 2 acres. She was trained to serve as a “BRAC Model Farmer” which meant that she learned modern agricultural techniques to boost her yields. In exchange, she promised to show other farmers her field and share what she learned with them. When her neighbors saw her healthy fields and larger harvest, they became curious and sought her out. Now, many in the area buy the BRAC-branded maize seed and talk enthusiastically about the excellent yields that it produces: “more than double what we got before.”

A few doors from Beatrice’s shop was another retail shop selling similar goods. This one was run by Sheilat, another BRAC group member who was on her third loan of 400,000 shillings. She rents this dry goods shop and also operated a small drug store next door to the retail store and had five chickens and a backyard garden at home. With the BRAC loan, Sheilat was able to get a government license for her drug store, so she no longer hides her products for fear of confiscation. She now earns a healthy daily margin and estimates that her monthly sales are 450,000 shillings and that she retains 150,000 shillings a month. She also has two children and is married to a farmer who grows pineapple, bananas and raises some cattle. Both Sheilat and Beatrice clearly decided to limit their families to just two children. Both were determined that their daughters would be educated and “have good futures.”

Beatrice will likely become a client of BRAC’s small enterprise program where she can borrow even larger amounts of money to grow her business. Sheilat may follow in her footsteps. Beatrice has already inspired other women in the area to follow her lead. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

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“It doesn’t matter where you have come from or where you are going, it just matters who you meet along the way.” It’s OK working your way up that ladder but is it really going to improve things? Lets hope so.

Ladders
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I really hope things get better as time goes on.

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Way to go Beatrice. I appreciate what she has done for herself and everyone else around her.