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Danielle Rice: “The Effects of Microfinance on the Social and Economic Lives of Women in Kenya.”

John Arthur and Danielle Ric  
Professor John Arthur and Danielle Rice. Arthur was Rice's UROP advisor.
 

In her junior year, Danielle Rice enjoyed a semester in Kenya as part of a study abroad experience. There she worked with Dzarino, a community-based training organization, which assists rural women in obtaining microloans and starting small businesses. Rice spent a lot of time with the women in the program. They shared meals and some of the women even taught her a traditional dance. Yet Rice’s limited knowledge of the Swahili language prevented her from asking the more in-depth questions that she had.

The women ranged in age from their early 20s into their 60s. “The majority of women that I worked with didn’t have more than a sixth grade education,” Rice noted. The loans they received were anywhere from $50 to $500. In addition to helping the women secure loans, Dzarino also provides training to the women in areas of business practices, record keeping, etc. The businesses that the women started included selling soda pop and cookies from kiosks; buying fresh fish, frying it, and selling the fried fish in markets; to selling thatching materials for roofs.

Danielle Rice with Kenyan women  
Danielle Rice with Kenyan women
 

When Rice returned to the U.S., she thought a lot about the women in the Dzarino program. “I wanted to know how they felt the microloans had impacted their lives,” Rice said. “Were their lives better off? Had their lives improved?” Those questions became the basis for her Undergraduate Research Opportunities Project (UROP) “The Effects of Microfinance on the Social and Economic Lives of Women in Kenya.”

Rice, now a senior working towards a double major in anthropology and international studies with a minor in business administration, asked John Arthur, professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and also coordinator of UMD's new African and African American Studies minor, to be her UROP advisor. “He understands the African culture,” she said. Arthur was happy to work with Rice. "The microloan is an agency for the economic empowerment of women in developing countries. Danielle brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project. She was interested in the subject, and she was driven by that interest," he said.

Arthur’s perspectives helped Rice grasp some of the challenges and societal pressures the Kenyan women might face as small business owners. In rural areas, women in Kenya are expected to be wives and mothers and to help on the farm. “Being involved in microbusiness is definitely breaking away from the tradition,” Rice said. Widows are especially vulnerable in Kenyan culture. “There is no social security. Widows are often very dependent on the generosity of their families,” she said.

Rice did a literature search on poverty in Africa and on microfinance. This included reading some of the works of Dr. Muhammad Yunus who is credited with the creation of modern microfinance. Rice developed a questionnaire geared towards giving her better insight into the women’s perceptions and feelings. “I worked with Dr. Arthur on what questions to ask and how to ask the questions in order to get the best feedback,” she said.

She contacted Felix Munga Tunje with whom she had worked at Dzarino. He agreed to administer the questionnaire. He asked the questions in Swahili and recorded the women’s answers. From the answers, Rice learned that the women did believe their lives had improved because of the loans they had received and the small businesses they had started with them. “They were breaking the cycle of poverty,” she said.

A main source of pride came from women who were able to send their children to school or their siblings to vocational training with the money they were earning. “They also liked not having to completely rely on the men in their lives. The women seemed to have a greater sense of self-sufficiency,” she added. Many of the women described saving a little of the money they earned in case of emergencies, such as unexpected medical expenses.

Rice compiled her data and wrote a 25-page paper on her findings. Arthur was impressed with Rice's work. "Danielle was very conscientious. She was willing to locate the necessary information to strengthen her project. She contacted and arranged for a third party to conduct the interviews because she didn't speak the language. She didn't let the language barrier stand in her way. I highly commend her for that," he said.

Rice would encourage other students to engage in a UROP. “I enjoyed doing a project that I was personally interested in, that was not just an assignment,” she said. “It was rewarding to learn that the work I had been involved in was truly transforming lives.”

 

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, December 2011.

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