Mrs. Helena Lutege is an inspiring women entrepreneur in Tanzania. Coming from a background characterised by poverty, she was determined to work hard to break through and live a decent life.
Helena is the founder of Better Life for Tanzanians Trust Fund (BELITA), a microfinance organisation which she started eight years ago to provide financial services to small entrepreneurs, especially women, in Tanzania.
Helena was born about 55 years ago in Musoma District, Mara region in the Northern part of Tanzania. She was raised by a single mother, a mere peasant who struggled to make sure her children attend school. Helena made it up to Grade Four (Senior IV) and when she first sat for the Grade IV national examinations she failed but insisted and repeated the class another year and finally passed.
Shen then came to Dares Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, where she started doing some petty work including as a shop attendant, keeping poultry for business and so forth. It was during this time that she met with her husband. The husband encouraged and supported her to go for further education (a Diploma in Business Administration). After obtaining this diploma, Helena worked with the Tanzania Revenue Authority and in 2006, she started her own business, the present day BELITA (Better Life for Tanzanians Trust Fund).
Having secured some capital and come up with an idea to begin extending small loans to individuals who needed them, she utilised the sevant’s quarter at her marital home premises as the office to operate her business which has grown since. Begining as an individual small lender—with no formal background in banking and finance—with five clients, the venture has now become a full fledged microfinance institution. BELITA now serves more than 3,000 clients, of whom 75% are women living in the sub-urban, urban, rural and coastal areas of Eastern Tanzania. Majority of these people have small businesses and borrow between Tzs. 50, 000 (about US$32) to 1 ,000,000 (about $645).
Mama Belita, as she is commonly identified by most of her clients, says it has not been a smooth road all the way. She recalls facing a lot of resistance from her family who at first did not support her engaging in a lending venture or using the home premises. But that did not discourage her. Instead, she sought to strengthen her skills: In 201 0, Mama Belita completed a post graduate diploma in microfinance at the University of Dares Salaam. With a philosophy of “Begin, Believe and Become”, her vision now is to see BELITA serve people beyond Tanzania.
(Mary Namusoke is currently based in the central region of Uganda and covers feature stories on women issues in Africa. This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Global South Development Magazine that focused on inspiration.)