Ugandan social entrepreneur, Best Ayiorworth, knows how it feels to be orphaned and out of school for lack of fees. After losing her father at the age of eight, and her mother at 13, she dropped out of school just when she was to start high school and left her home in the Nebbi District of northern Uganda for the nation’s capital, Kampala, for vocational training.
Leaving school was a painful move because she loved education.
“I always wished to go to high standards in my education if it was possible,” she told the Anzisha Prize. “But unfortunately I did not have the chance to go to the level of education I wanted and I stopped at Secondary Four in Uganda.”
She promised herself though, that when she had the means, she would ensure that girls in her community do not suffer the same fate as her; that every girl received the best education possible.
Meanwhile, in Kampala, Ayiorworth joined a skills empowerment centre S7 Project and received training in catering and entrepreneurship. After her training, she got a job at a Mexican restaurant. In 2011, at the age of 19, she returned to her community and launched the Girls Power Micro-Lending Organisation (GIPOMO), using a US$40 savings from her job at the restaurant. The organisation offers start‐up capital and credit to women entrepreneurs.
GIPOPMO disbursed its first loans at an interest rate of 10% and reinvested the profit into the organisation. Soon, the S7 Project loaned her $322 dollars to support her initiative. And then in 2013 Ayiorworth won $400 at the FINA Africa Enterprise Business Challenge. Later in the same year, she won first place of the Anzisha Prize, worth US$25,000.
On the surface, her enterprise is like mere financial intervention for needy women, but the impact goes way deeper. While a regular microfinance institution would give out loans and wait for repayment, GIPOMO requires an update on the education of the beneficiaries’ daughters. Ultimately, the aim of the organisation is to boost girl children’s education. Its motto aptly reads, “To help a mother, is to help a girl child”.
“I have seen that when families can’t maintain all their children at school and have to make a choice, they would often choose a boy over a girl,” Ayiorworth said.
Thus, she added, “My organisation has a unique twist in microfinance by providing tied loans to women who make a commitment to grow businesses while keeping their girl children in school.”
With loans that help their businesses to thrive, these mothers are able to support their daughters with school fees, books and other school supplies. So far, it has helped hundreds of women start or expand their businesses and consequently ensured that their daughters remain in school. If the organisation finds that a beneficiary is not investing in their daughters’ education, they will be disqualified from getting further assistance.
After some women refused to pay back their loans, Ayiorworth made it a policy that in order to access a loan from GIPOMO, women need to belong to a group of at least three and serve as guarantors for one another. This system makes it possible for women without formal collateral to get microfinancing for their businesses.
As of now, the organisation is seeking to consolidate its activities so as to make tangible impact in the lives of families. In the next decade, Ayiorworth has said, she hopes to launch similar programmes in other parts of Uganda. She also hopes that the GIPOMO model will be replicated in other parts of Africa.
“For me, this is a new movement that redefines microfinance; to provide for specific needs in specific communities,” she noted. “Microfinance can never be relevant if it has one model. In one community, it should provide affordable finance for girl education and in another, it should provide affordable finance for land ownership – whatever the challenge a community faces.”
One of the needs of her community is girl child education, and that has remained the focus of GIPOMO.