Expanding Microfinance: East Africa

January 1, 2009 Posted by Update

New Partnerships and Regional Office Underway

When the founders of Unitus met with Muhammad Yunus nearly eight years ago to learn about the Grameen Bank and microcredit, they were inspired to grow this tool for large-scale poverty alleviation as quickly as possible. Much has changed since that time, including the reach of Unitus partners. In the last two years alone, from 2006 to 2008, our partners have increased their client base from 1.5 million to nearly 7 million families worldwide.

Much of that growth has sprung from India, specifically in the south, where many microfinance institutions (MFIs)—including the majority of our partners—have undergone incredible expansion over the last several years. While putting our Acceleration Model to work in support of this growth, we’ve gained valuable experience and learned how to be even more effective in scaling high-impact microfinance.

Tanzanian Partnership the First of Many to Come
Now Unitus is taking this knowledge and hard-earned expertise to one of the poorest regions on the planet. As announced in November, Unitus recently partnered with Tujijenge, an innovative, ambitious, and promising MFI working to provide microcredit loans and other financial services in Tanzania.

Founded in 2006 by a team of highly experienced microfinance professionals, Tujijenge (which means “let’s build ourselves” in Swahili) currently serves more than 6,000 poor clients in the urban and semi-urban areas of Dar es Salaam. Aggressive growth plans over the next three years will see Tujijenge expand into four new semi-urban regions and reach 52,000 poor clients—nearly nine times as many as today.

This partnership is a vital step in accelerating the growth of promising MFIs in East Africa, a region where microfinance has struggled to take root despite desperate need. In Tanzania alone, nearly 90 percent of the population—more than 30 million people—live on less than USD $2 a day. While microfinance has been present in the region for a number of years, availability remains limited; just 8 percent of the families that could benefit from microfinance have access to the life-changing services it provides.

Catalyzing Regional Growth
To close this regional “poverty gap,” Unitus aims to spur on additional microfinance sector growth, strengthen existing institutions, and fuel technological and social innovations that will create much-needed economic opportunities for the poor. Building upon its extensive experience in fueling the once-nascent microfinance sector in India, Unitus will bring a wide range of industry expertise, capital access, strategic consulting, and a network of practitioners, entrepreneurs, and investors to help spark the necessary growth for East African microfinance.

In the coming months, Unitus will select and partner with a broad range of high-potential MFIs in Kenya and Tanzania in order to help them increase efficiency, reach more customers, and facilitate the development of a wide range of financial products and services designed to meet the needs of the working poor. In addition, Unitus will soon be launching a regional microfinance office and collaborate on a variety of initiatives designed to fuel local microfinance growth.