March 2021 Monthly Event Recap—Economic Empowerment in Action: The Case of WISE and Meklit

The evening started with AWiB’s main aim of monthly events:  networking.  The president for 2021, Kemer Temam, called the house in order at 6:30 p.m., March 4, 2021.  She expressed gratitude for the event sponsors:  Arki Water; Dashen Brewery; Dereja (EthioJobs); and WARYT.  Kemer invited the audience to participate in the Art Raffle, which is a fund-raising activity for AWiB, weekend activities (for members only), and noted the unique feature of the March program: giving the platform to women’s organizations in commemoration of women’s month.

The president gave the speakers the opportunity to tell the stories of how Meklit and WISE became successful institutions.  Netsanet Mengistu, the founder of Progynist, Women empowerment CSO, and Meklit Microfinance Institution S.C. was the first to share her organization’s story.

Netsanet said Meklit was established to give a sense of hope to women as a micro credit and micro finance institution.   The organization was established with an initial capital of 200,000 ETB with the sale of shares, now owns a 90-million ETB capital.  It works in three regional states with 29 branches.  The organization built a four-story building and properties in four other locations.  Meklit gives technical assistance to the women it serves so they understand the advantage of loans to increase their productivity.  Meklit sources finance from the government and FAO.  The organization is not into core banking, hence the women’s outstanding loan stands at 38%.  As an example of the changes the organizations brings to women, it was present that a woman who used to work at ቆሼ “Qoshe” collecting plastic bottles, used a loan and the skill trainings it provides to expand into plastic recycling.  In a short time the woman bought a condominium and was able to send her children to private school.

In the case of the Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE), which was established in 1998 GC, the Founder and Director, Tsigie Haile, works mainly with women and a few men who are included through justification.  Structurally, WISE is a mix of three entities:  an NGO; a saving and credit cooperative union; and a social enterprise that gives training services.  At the primary level, WISE uses peer pressure for collateral, during maternity gives them two months relief period, and a grace period during a crisis.  For instance, because of pandemic, WISE provided its members a 3-month grace period and interest waiver.  One of the successes of WISE is allowing its members to be able to make advance payments for condominiums which enabled more than 300 members to be home-owners.  WISE provides business skills trainings for the women.  During the COVID pandemic the financial wing mobilized a 20 million ETB saving, disbursed 68 million ETB in loans, and collected 63 Million ETB.

The success of the organization is in the continuous demand-based, friendly service it provides each woman to go on her own pace to increase her borrowing ability.  As a showcase of the success of the organization Tsigie shared the story of two women whose lives improved due to the financial support from WISE.  The first woman is Tesfanesh who was a staff member at Akaki textile factory with 350 ETB monthly salary.  She took basic business training from WISE and took her first 700 ETB loan.  With the loan she rented a sewing machine to work from home.  Over the years her business grew as well as her borrowing ability.  Currently, she runs her own business with around 50 employees.  The second woman is Dasash, who was a street vendor though her interest was in teaching.  She joined WISE and got support to get a teaching license, which led her to open a kindergarten.  Her kindergarten has expanded into a primary school.

During the Q & A session, the following questions were raised from the audience:

  • One of women’s challenges is not having a market network. What are your plans to address this challenge?
  • How did your organizations support women and their businesses suffering from the impact of COVID?
  • How do you ensure that the women return loans? And what kind of financial literacy support do you give?
  • What linkage do you create with banks so women working with you can take loans of large amounts?
  • How are you supporting women to use technology, particularly digital financing?
  • How do you manage risk?

Tsigie said WISE has primary and secondary level groups that allow the women to network.  WISE uses its annual bazaar and bazaars organized by other entities to increase the market network of the women.  During COVID WISE supported the women it serves to be innovative and consider adaptable business models, mobilized resources for those who were highly affected, gave a grace period for loan repayment, and provided business counseling services.  WISE tried to work with conventional financial institutions, but the women preferred to stay with WISE because the loaning ability of the organization has increased over the years and the requirement for collateral is not as stringent as with banks.

In the case of Meklit, Netsanet responded that the organization has a group loan model to create the opportunity for the women to share ideas among themselves.  The organization has staff in every location to provide business guidance and counselling.  In response to the COVID-caused crisis, Meklit granted a grace period for loan repayment.

On the use of technology, both Tsigie and Netsanet said the women they work with are women at the grassroots level and have low literacy levels, hence applying limited technology in the microfinance service they provide.   Although, digital literacy has been tried, for many it was not attractive because of limited access they have to the Internet and content.

In her conclusion, Netsanet said in her work and life experience she has found women to be her go-to employees because of their integrity, commitment, and hard work.  She wants to hand over the organization to a woman and invited AWiBers to join Meklit as shareholders and supporters.

Tsigie called the audience to live a life that serves beyond oneself and family but those who are vulnerable.

The president concluded the evening by thanking the speakers and handing gifts of appreciation—AWiBer Fitsum KidaneMariam’s first book, የህይወቴ ቅኝት, loosely translated “Life’s Lessons.”

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