The women with the will of steal
Women prove they’re the champions of financial independnce in rural areas
Josephine Nakalyango and Harriet Nabukalu, had little hope that their lives would change beyond that of an ordinary Ugandan woman who lives by the hoe to feed her family.
Before 2021, the two residents of Kiwamirembe village, Katungulu parish in Ssekanyonyi sub-county in Mityana district earned a living from the farm using the rudimentary hand hoe. Often, Nakalyango would moonlight by selling second-hand clothes to supplement her meager farm income.
Nabukalu didn’t fare any better either. Her primary occupation of growing bananas and maize on small plots of land, almost always kept her in perpetual poverty.
Both, now in their early 50s, the two women have become torch bearers of financial independence in their village by dedicating their lives to providing financial solutions through their newly established financial cooperative known as Kiwamirembe MG cooperative, a branch of the much bigger Bukooba MG cooperative. The MG (an acronym for Maul Geumgo) or financial cooperatives, are legal entities registered by the Ministry of Trade and Cooperatives through their umbrella body, the Uganda Federation of Credit Cooperatives (UFCC).
The MGs or ‘village banks is a new financial cooperative model championed by the Korea Federation of Community Credit Cooperative (KFCC). Its main thrust is to spur household and community financial independence through provision of savings and credit services using locally generated resources.
With over 20 MGs so far established in two districts of Mpigi and Mityana during the last five years, the model is gradually but steadily growing and bringing smiles on the faces of over 10,000 members that have embraced it, according to testimonies obtained by this writer.
Nakalyango and Nabukalu are the fearless crusaders of this model in their village of Kiwamirembe, despite the hangover attitudes held by many in the community and elsewhere about similar but failed savings and credit programmes.
Inspired by the positive developments in Bukooba MG, the residents of Kiwamirembe asked to get a branch in their area, partly to ease access to savings and credit services but also to ease membership mobilization.
Helped by their better level of literacy, demonstrated passion and a high degree of trust from fellow residents, Nakalyango and Nabukalu were chosen to serve as Loans Officer and Finance officer respectively.
For the last one and half years, the two women have dedicated their lives to serving now over 200 of their members by receiving their savings and helping them to access loans for business and personal development. And they have been doing it without pay.
For three days in a week, the duo diligently offer themselves as workers of the MG, locally referred to as Kiwamirembe village bank, between 11 AM and 5 PM.
They register new members, explain to them about the various loan services, receive and record members’ savings as well as follow up on old loans to ensure that the cooperative grows.
Describing her simple routine, Nakalyango says; “When I arrive at work, my first task is to clean the office, arrange my files and wait for members to serve them.”
Although officially they are at work three days a week, the demands of the group, coupled with passion, has forced the duo to turn this into almost a full-time job that requires them to also move across the village to inspect borrowers and recruit new members.
“When we realize that fewer people are coming to the bank to save, we use the extra time in our schedules to make door to door sensitization about the services but also about the benefits of patronizing the group,” said Nakalyango.
Juliet Nakacwa; Humble woman with a strong will for excellence
Juliet Nakacwa lives roughly sixty kilometers away from Kiwamirembe. In fact Nakacwa has never met her peers in Kiwamirembe MG. Unsurprisingly however, she shares similar values and unbending determination to ensure that her Kumbya MG financial cooperative succeeds.
For more than a decade, Nakacwa had known the rudimentary hand hoe as the source of her livelihood.
The 45-year old resident of Kumbya village, in Buwama Town Council, Mpigi district used to dig in people’s gardens to supplement her meagre income she derived from selling agricultural produce.
Over the past three years, Nakacwa’s life has significantly improved thanks to new opportunities and numerous training sessions provided by KOICA and other Korean agencies which have instilled in her a sense of determination that anything is possible.
“I never knew how to use a computer, or even a smartphone. But through regular training sessions provided by KOICA, I am happy to be in a position where I can use all these gadgets. They taught us that anything is possible.” says Nakacwa.
Armed with new set of digital skills, coupled with virtues of trustworthiness, passion and determination for excellence, Nakacwa now occupies the prestigious position of Cashier for Kumbya MG cooperative.
Like her colleagues in Kiwamirembe, Nakacwa gets a small lunch and transport allowance to help her get to office where she helps over 300 members in her cooperative save and borrow money.
In fact, it is hardly the money they get but rather the sharp sense of hope, ownership and patronage that Nakacwa and her friends in Kiwamirembe share about their financial cooperatives that gives them the reason to wake up every day and serve their fellow members.
But what drives someone to be so diligent and selfless while at the same time working as a volunteer, is the question this writer put to Ms. Dorah Nakazibwe, the vice chairman of the parent Bukooba MG and also a resident of Kiwamirembe.
Nakazibwe told us that following a training in the operations of the MG model at Kampiringisa National Farmers Leadership Centre, which is also supported by the government of Korea, participants were impressed by the promise that unlike most financial institutions that benefit foreigners, under the MG model, all the benefits accrue to members and the community.
“The members understood from that training that one has to love what is theirs, before they can think of foreigners,” Nakazibwe stresses that based on their operations, members not only have the opportunity to borrow, but also ensure that their money can be invested in other ventures that make even more money.”
Nakazibwe further believes that both Nakalyango and Nabukalu’s hopes and generally the hopes of all the active members is that when the MG grows bigger, they stand to benefit the most from it through handsome interest payments, besides accessing loans.
“We strongly believe that if our bank expands, we shall all be better off. For example whoever is a member has to have shares in the bank. So the more profits a bank makes at the end of the year, the greater the benefits to the individuals or the community in terms of dividends or re-investments into other areas,” says Nakazibwe.
Nakalyango also confirmed that while she has had to be selfless through volunteering, at the end of the day profit motive and a better standard of life for her family is the ultimate goal.
She explains for example that in 2021, the MG gave members a return of 8 percent per share, but in 2022, this was almost doubled to 15%. She attributes the profitability to the fact that the cooperative has attracted more savers and borrowers.
“Previously, members hesitated to take loans. But now, there are many borrowers,” says Nakalyango.
She attributes the increase in interest among members to the flexible nature of terms for borrowing, including non-collateralized loans for amounts not exceeding UGX600,000, and longer grace periods.
Other residents and members of Kiwamirembe MG are appreciative of Nakalyango and her friend’s work.
Mathias Kawuma Salongo, 47, recalls that before Kiwamirembe MG was established, most people endured long distances in trying to access banks located 24 miles away in Mityana town. Many were obviously discouraged and missed out of the benefits of banking.
For Joseph Kibatto, 30, the friendly approach used by the two women, coupled with their incorruptible behaviour is what endears him to the bank.
While still nascent, the hope espoused by all the members of the MG, is a strong pointer to the fact that some fundamental change is happening in this village, and if nurtured, will grow into a vibrant institution to look up to.
Nakalyango believes that with more innovations such of the recent introduction of digital platforms by UFCC will greatly ease access to the bank’s services.