Submitted by Angela Stephens

Last month, USAID sponsored the First Southern Sudan Microfinance Conference, giving experts and practitioners an opportunity to exchange views about how to build the sector, which is still in its infancy in Southern Sudan. In 2003, when USAID helped establish the in Southern Sudan, a region the size of France.

Since then, SUMI has disbursed more than $2.7 million in loans to 10,000 clients—half of them women—empowering entrepreneurs to launch and expand businesses such as tea houses, bakeries, restaurants, and retail shops. It has also expanded its operations to six branches in four states—Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Lakes, and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Two international microfinance institutions—Finance Sudan and BRAC—are also now operating in southern Sudan.

There are now an estimated 45,000 active micro-loan borrowers in southern Sudan, borrowing between approximately 200 Sudanese pounds (about $80) to more than 400 Sudanese pounds (about $160). Microlending is increasing trade and improving household incomes.