California: WE STAR Center Trains Women Entrepreneurs


As many as 60,000 women in San Diego County live in poverty. Many of these are refugees, immigrants and otherwise low-income women who may lack the language skills and training for traditional employment. In fact, more than 100,000 refugees have been legally resettled in San Diego, after fleeing violent conflict and repression. Most have lost all or most of their money and possessions and are often cut off from their native countries, cultures and family.  Refugees face severe challenges adapting to life in the United States and achieving financial independence.  Many have entrepreneurial backgrounds and have supported their families through their own business enterprises in their home countries. Many are also mothers with childcare and family responsibilities. Entrepreneurship in the U.S. provides an excellent opportunity to earn an income, and achieve economic independence.


The WE Center for STAR (Support, Training and Assistance to Refugee) Women,  a partnership between the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and WE, was created in 2006 to provide a culturally sensitive setting for refugee and low-income women to receive assistance in starting or expanding a business. Services include one-on-one intensive business counseling and technical assistance, targeted group trainings and access to business loans and grants. The STAR Center is located in the multicultural community of City Heights in San Diego.

This partnership has led to 326 business starts by low-income women entrepreneurs since 2006. Women have started microenterprises in fields such as home-based childcare, catering and food service, handcrafts, jewelry and textile sales, and beauty and wellness. More women are also taking advantage of app-based income generating opportunities. These businesses are generating income and creating jobs while enabling low-income entrepreneurs to thrive.

Haiti: Women’s Community Health Stores Save Lives


As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, increased access to health care services and products is urgently needed in Haiti, especially in rural areas. Our partner in Haiti, Fonkoze, is the country’s largest microfinance organization assisting women. Since 2016, WE is proud to have partnered with Fonkoze to support the Community Health Store (Boutik Sante) project.


The Boutik Sante project recruits and trains women entrepreneurs to provide basic health services and supplies in some of Haiti’s most remote and impoverished rural areas. Since a successful pilot project in 2013-2014, Boutik Sante has expanded to train 715 women entrepreneurs, who as of October 2017 have provided increased access to health services and products for approximately 976,169 people. These women “Community Health Entrepreneurs” (CHEs) receive training in basic health care screening and help in setting up small health stores that provide affordable health services and supplies. WE’s initial contribution in 2016 of $30,000 helped fund the training of these community health entrepreneurs. WE also funded an additional $4,270 for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief-targeting cholera prevention.  In 2017, WE is funding the Onboarding and Orientation training costs of new CHE enrollees, in addition to stocking their health-product baskets and catalogs.


Train 1,800 women entrepreneurs who will serve over 4 million underserved Haitians by 2020.

Uganda: Loans Help Grandmothers Start Businesses


The AIDS epidemic has been particularly cruel in Uganda, leading to massive loss of life and a generation of children without parents. By one estimate, more than 2 million children have been orphaned by the disease. Thousands of Ugandan grandmothers, ranging in age from 55 well into their 90’s, now find themselves caring for their grandchildren -- often as many as six to a dwelling. To enable grandmothers to earn the means to support themselves and their families, the Nyaka Granny Microfinance Project was born, a program of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Foundation (NAF).


Since 2014, Women’s Empowerment has proudly partnered with NAF to fund small business loans to these grandmothers in desperate need. Women receive loans that are the equivalent of $4 to $40. Thanks to charitable contributions, WE has provided $128,800 in loan and program funding, and $20,000 for water-harvesting tanks, to fulfill the urgent need for safe drinking water near homes in the villages. Today, 96 “Granny Groups” including more than 7,000 grandmothers are benefiting from WE funding and have started small, income-generating enterprises including making handicrafts; growing, harvesting and selling crops; and engaging in animal husbandry. Grandmothers are earning income and caring for their grandchildren, many of whom now attend local school.


Additional funds are be needed to ensure that all grandmothers in need of business loans have access to funding.

Honduras: Women’s Businesses Strengthen Families & Villages


Honduras is a country marked by extreme poverty. In the poorest regions where WE support is concentrated, half the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. The childhood malnutrition rate tops 60 percent and the illiteracy rate is 40 percent – both nearly double national averages. In the mountainous southwest, far from the economic centers of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, work opportunities include subsistence farming, logging and livestock, as well as working as laborers in the potato and coffee fields. Most people live in villages and smaller settlements composed of only a few families. Public services are almost nonexistent, with no easy access to clean water, and no sewer or other sanitation facilities.


In partnership with Adelante Foundation since 2007, Women’s Empowerment proudly funded 2,100 women in the early stages of our partnership in the Choluteca and Intibucá regions of Honduras and today supports women throughout the country. Loans as small as $50 to extremely poor women in rural areas are sufficient to provide seed capital for small businesses that often fulfill village needs. Educational programs and workshops are also offered to women borrowers who have a 94.4% repayment rate for their loans.

The group approach has proven particularly effective. Solidarity groups consist of three to eight women who guarantee one another’s loans. Each woman takes out her own loan to invest in her own business, but the entire group is responsible for repaying all loans. Mutual support and group dynamics deter late repayment and default.

Our women have started and expanded businesses including small neighborhood stores (pulperías), tortilla making, greenhouses for flowers, bike repair shops and more. Borrowers use their profits to send their children to elementary and secondary school and even college. Business profits are also used to improve homes with sturdier materials and provide better nutrition and health care for their families.

Mexico: Women Sex-Workers Discover New Possibilities

“Economically, it is better for me. Being in the group, you learn things ... To value yourself as a person. ESTIMA did help me, it helped me to ...start over. "

—ESTIMA participant


ESTIMA is a pilot project aimed at assisting a particularly vulnerable population of women in the Mexico border region of Tijuana. With research showing that economic vulnerability increases risk for HIV and gender-based violence among sex-workers, this project was designed to recruit and assist women sex workers in identifying and pursuing alternate income generating activities to increase their safety and well-being. To participate, women must show strong motivation to improve their lives, be able to form positive relations with other women, maintain control of their own income and be free of drug or alcohol dependence.


The ESTIMA (Economic and Social Empowerment To Increase Upwards Mobility among Women) program, which translates to “valuing myself,” addresses social and economic challenges among women through community mobilization and microfinance programming. The ESTIMA program consists of a microfinance program, in partnership with Via International, which provides loans to women (with individual or group repayment). In tandem, the program promotes gender equity and community mobilization by initiating groups of women and engaging in social action within the community, with a focus on addressing issues of gender inequities and women’s economic mobility and power. Faculty from San Diego State University (SDSU) and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) are evaluating ESTIMA with funding from the National Institute of Health. Women are trained on business topics include savings, cash-flow, inventory, financial/legal documentation and insurance. Businesses started by loan clients include retail sales of clothing, shoes, make-up and other household goods; food, food carts, restaurants; services such as child care and cleaning.


Reduce or eliminate reliance on sex trade, improve health and well-being for themselves and their families.

Take Action

WE regularly visits our local and international partners, providing our supporters the opportunity to meet with clients and observe microfinance in action firsthand. You are invited to join us.