They say you can’t go home again (or Thomas Wolfe said so, in his posthumous novel), but I did. I went back to Kimanto village in Uganda, where I made FINCA’s first loans in Africa, twenty years ago in 1992. I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew I had to go back to see if anything had changed as a result of those loans, made initially to a group of about 30 impoverished women.
You can go with me, via this video
Of the thirty founding women in the village bank we organized, some had passed away, and some had dropped out, but 13 of them have remained clients after 20 years and 60 loans cycles. Further, the village bank underwent mitosis and two other village banks were formed by women who resided in nearby villages. The women’s fortunes varied — some were able to create thriving businesses; others were still scraping by, but often had become the chief bread winner in the family — but Kimanto is still clearly an island of relative prosperity in an otherwise landscape of extreme rural poverty.
One of the clients, Kibumba Hadijja, summed up her journey of the past 20 years thusly: “That $50 loan you gave me twenty years ago transformed my life.” With it, she bought an acre of land, built a house, and started a clothing business. Today, she owns 5 more acres, cultivated with sugar cane, which produces reliable income of several thousand dollars a year. She has kept her clothing business, but now sells in five different local markets. She transports herself and her goods with a Japanese motorcycle. All her kids have finished secondary school.
I take pride in what we have accomplished at FINCA: nearly a million clients in 21 countries, a half a billion in loans, and a repayment rate of over 98% — but nothing gives me more satisfaction than to see that the first village bank I organized in Kimanto village — and Africa — still exists, and that the women took that small amount of capital we injected into their community and leveraged it, many times, into a better life for themselves and their children.
Oh, it was nice to be recognized after all this time, and to be rememebered.