Inspired by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Esinet founded the Zimbabwe Women Finance Trust, the first micro-credit institution in Zimbabwe to use group lending. As a result of her work, Esinet has played a leading role in a host of international endeavors addressing women's issues.
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Esinet Mapondera had a dream that women could be more than housewives, domestic workers, teachers or nurses. She believed that if women could start their own businesses and make their own money through their own efforts, they would be empowered and independent. Influenced by her communal background, her lifetime of experience as a social worker, 28 years as a successful businesswoman in Zambia and her frustration at being refused venture capital in Zimbabwe to start a market garden business, Esinet created the Zimbabwean Women's Finance Trust (ZWFT) in 1989.This institution was the first to offer group lending to women in Zimbabwe and began as an affiliate of Women's World Banking. Created out of the discovery that women were poorly skilled to manage themselves financially, ZWFT offers technical training for members, strengthens linkages with other groups, encourages self sustainability and offers vocational skills training to women who want to start their own small scale industries. The organization also aims to protect the environment and impact on HIV/AIDS through microlending.Since its inception in 1989, ZWFT has had more than 6000 members and has provided project assistance valued over Z$25 million (US$477,000). ZWFT is well spread over Zimbabwe's rural, peri-urban and urban areas and has impacted over 30,000 beneficiaries.
ZWFT targets poor, marginalized women in Zimbabwe's rural, peri-urban and urban areas who are involved in income generating activities. These women face enormous difficulties in accessing credit through the formal financial institutions. Not only do they face gender discrimination from the business sector but also deep rooted prejudices against micro-enterprise development and a lack of depth in the Zimbabwean capital markets. When funds are made available for venture capital, the interest rates are too high for the sustainability of new enterprises. In most cases, these micro-enterprises are the only source of income to support families, and high interest rates mean that there is virtually nothing left after servicing the loan.
The rapid growth of the organization is attributed to the introduction of a group based lending methodology. Initially the organization used an individual based approach to lending. This meant that women were assessed as individuals and even the repayments were made by the individual borrower without any commitment from the beneficiaries of the revolving loan funds. This led to high incidences of non-payment of loans.
The group lending method assesses the group and requires that the women form themselves into groups of 7 - 10 members where each member is a co-guarantor for the other. All members must be involved in micro-enterprise and must have been in operation for 12 months. This is an assessment of commitments to their venture. ZWFT encourages the women to save as well as obtain credit and gives them business advice and training assistance once they qualify for loans.
ZWFT has an excellent repayment record and the credit delivery method allows for constant contact with the women through regular visits by field officers.
Esinet Mapondera is a born leader and people person. She was influenced by her strong, hardworking family, especially her grandmother who taught her to think for herself and not to blindly follow others. She has lived through many political changes in Southern Africa and managed to secure a place at college after her five children were born. Throughout her life, she has challenged unfair systems and initiated reforms. She trained as a social worker and a nurse in Zambia, South Africa and Botswana and decided that she was most interested in social development.
After graduating from college, Esinet worked as an industrial social worker at the Chilanga Cement works in Zambia. While employed there from 1964-76, she established a community school for employees' children and the first cottage industry training center for employees' wives. In addition to her employment as a social worker, Esinet developed her own independent enterprises, including a clothing shop and a vegetable shop. She left Chilanga in 1976 to become a full-time market gardener. She was the first Zambian woman to export vegetables to Europe. Upon moving to Zimbabwe in 1979, she wanted to continue her gardening work but, as a black woman, could not get a loan. She managed, however, to create a successful trading business, and her experiences eventually led her to create the Zimbabwe Women's Finance Trust in 1989 to assist other women in establishing independent enterprises.
Throughout her career, Esinet has been recognized for her successful work and invited to advise and lead others. In 1974, she was appointed to serve on a Social Welfare Ad Hoc Committee to evaluate the Zambian government's social welfare services in its first ten years since independence. She was asked in 1977 to serve on a UN and Zambian Government Commission to examine youth needs in Zambia and prepare a national youth development policy. Upon moving to Zimbabwe in 1979, she was asked to organize a women's NGO conference, after which the Zimbabwean government created a Ministry of Women's Affairs in response to her lobbying. The government also appointed her to serve on the Riddel Commission, which was tasked with investigating prices, incomes, and conditions of service in the public and private sectors in order to advise the government on social and economic policies. She was one of two women appointed to this commission. In 1985, Esinet led a Zimbabwe NGO delegation to the Women's Decade Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. From 1988-91, she served as chairperson of a Women in Development Steering Committee organized by the Ministry of Community Development and Co-operative and was asked by the Ministry in 1990 to prepare a report for the UN on economically-viable projects for grassroots women in Zimbabwe. In addition to serving as Chairperson for ZWFT, Esinet is also currently the Chairperson of Zimbabwe Women Business Promotion and National Secretary for the Zimbabwe Women's Bureau, of which she served as Vice-President from 1982-84 and President from 1984-88. She travels often to present papers at international conferences.