Maggie Sheahan is the Program Coordinator for Educate!, an organization that teaches a two year leadership program to high school students and empowers students to start social initiatives at twenty-four partner schools across Uganda.
George William Bakka is an Educate! Scholar from St. Mary’s College Kisubi (SMaCK), one of Educate!’s more privileged partner schools. After eighteen months participating in Educate!, George decided to incorporate his dreams of becoming a politician with country development through social enterprise. During the last term, George realized that in order to succeed in the future, he must start learning about small business development today. He began researching microfinance institutions (MFI); organizations that lend relatively small loans to individuals or community groups to start a small business. As he learned more about microfinance, he discovered that the most impoverished were ineligible for the diminutive loans through formal MFI’s: the loan minimums were too high and destitute families had no one with enough assets to co-sign. Instead, microfinance has been most utilized by the lower end of middle income populations. George’s Educate! Mentor James encouraged him to learn about the micro-credit industry first hand, using the leadership skills he gained through Educate!. George organized a group of students on campus to start Angel Financial Investments, a student-led microfinance group that serves to provide students with a micro-loan to help them finance student groups, school fees, and small businesses.
Kenneth Whakhabembe is a student from Mbale High School, one of Educate!’s less privileged partner schools. Kenneth dreams of becoming an engineer, seemingly overambitious for an orphan who lives with his grandparents, both of whom are too old to work. Kenneth’s self-sufficiency speaks volumes: he has earned and paid his school fees since he was strong enough to work manual labor. The previous December, Kenneth used the entrepreneurial skills he acquired through Educate! to start his own brick business. He planned on selling the bricks to earn the requisite fees for his final year of school. As with all graduating students, Kenneth needed extra money this year, as he must pay a registration fee for the Ugandan National Exam, the final qualification for a high school diploma and access to higher education. He produced an abundant supply of bricks only to see them destroyed by torrential rains and landslides in his home region of Mbale. With just days until the National Exam Registration, Kenneth was distraught and worried about his future. He saw two options: sell his bicycle or apply for a loan. But who would give a loan of just 50,000 shillings ($25) to a poor high school student? He confided in his Educate! Mentor Esther for guidance.
When Esther learned of Kenneth’s situation, she immediately thought of Angel Financial Investments, the microfinance project launched at SMACK. Through the Educate! network, Kenneth secured the loan in a single afternoon, allowing him to sit for exams in December. He was given a 5% interest rate and has two months to repay the loan. With his exam fees secured and engineering dreams still intact, he plans to restart his brick business and raise the capital to pay back the loan.
While the SMACK Scholars are learning first-hand the particulars of microfinance, Kenneth is able to benefit from much needed capital. Educate! Scholars are finding solutions that other scholars can benefit from, truly displaying the collegial and professional framework of such an institution.
Maggie Sheahan, Educate! Program Coordinator