Manitoba Credit Unions take their expertise overseas to help credit unions in developing countries
Most every year, Manitobans are part of teams of credit union professionals who travel to developing countries to help their fellow credit unions in developing countires. In the past two years,
These coaching positions, which are organized by the Canadian Co-operative Association, have taken Manitoba credit union professionals to Africa, Asia and Central America. Some of their stories — in their own words or others' — appear here.
Malawi, 2011 — Rocío Boné, Community Credit Union
My partner, Lennie Hampton, and I were stationed in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. Through the credit union coaching program organized by the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) we were assigned to visit two different SACCOs (Savings And Credit Co-Operatives, Malawi's version of our credit unions): Mzinda (which means city) SACCO and Fodya (which means tobacco) SACCO.
Mzinda SACCO had converted to a computerized system. They closed their doors for three weeks in order to update their data system. We visited the SACCO the day after they had re-opened their doors for the first time. The banking hall was jam-packed with members (see Page 2). The cashiers (tellers) worked non-stop. If you ever think the front line of your credit union is busy, think again!
I was taken aback by the amount of poverty in Malawi. The good news is that there is hope. That hope is co-operatives. That hope is the love and kindness in the Malawian people.
The CCA planted a seed in Africa more than 10 years ago. This seed is watered by the coaching program every year to make stronger credit unions in order to provide services for people, people who have limited resources and need a helping hand. People who need an opportunity to improve their way of life by being able to have access to financial services. Something we take for granted in Canada.
Yes, there is a long way to go yet, but the program works. I've heard success stories about people being able to improve their lives because they got ONE chance … one chance to borrow a little to make big changes. I have a new appreciation for the credit union system, and I'm proud to be part of it.
I had the pleasure to meet and work with management, staff and board members of two different SACCOs. I learned a lot from them, the coaches, and the people I saw in the streets with nothing, yet they shared a smile. Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa, I must agree.
I want to say thank you to the CCA for allowing me this great opportunity to participate in the program and do my part in trying to build a better world with equal opportunities for all.
Rocío Boné (centre) and the staff from Fodya SACCO in Malawi.
Malawi 2011 — David Domes, General Manager, Sanford Credit Union
After two previous coaching trips to Ghana, I was greatly surprised by how different Malawi and its SACCOs are.
Partnered with Bev Maxim from Regina, I worked in the major urban business centre of Blantyre with two closed-bond employee SACCOS and a suburban community SACCO. There, the expected challenges, such as high delinquency (27 per cent) and manual ledgers, were contrasted by comprehensive strategic plans and risk management programs.
As a system, these SACCOS and their apex organization, Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (MUSSCO), are much more advanced than in Ghana. Their challenges are much the same as ours: making good loans and collecting them, creating good products and services, attracting new members and developing effective boards with good policies. The differences lie in how we go about solving those challenges.
Saddled by fuel shortages, foreign exchange issues and crippling levels of HIV/AIDS, the Malawi staff cheerfully met the challenges head on. At their core, both boards and staff see their roles as making a difference in the lives of the poor — a cooperative goal we have seemed to have forgotten here in Canada.
Even though this was my fourth trip to Africa, I am still astounded by the strength of spirit of those with nothing trying to improve their lives and those of their families.
Dave Domes showing what devalued currency looks like: 2,200 US dollars converted to 440,000 Malawi Kwacha.
Uganda 2011 — Harvey Wedgewood, Minnedosa Credit Union
During the winter of 2011, I applied for a Management/Coaching volunteer position with the Canadian Cooperative Association (CCA).
The position entailed travelling to one of three countries in Africa to be part of a team to assist with international development, from a credit union and co-operative perspective. Fortunately, I was selected, and my mission was set for Uganda, East Africa.
I was one of 24 individuals from across Canada, with eight people each selected to travel to Uganda, Ghana and Malawi. Although I had no previous experience with international development, I had a keen interest, as I thought that in some small way I might be able to make a difference. I knew very little about the underlying issues in Africa, other than what is reported in the media, but I knew that the needs there were massive.
The coaching program was comprised of credit union and co-operative staff from Canada, each spending two to three days working with management, staff and boards in two or three African credit unions, to try and bring a Canadian perspective to their local operations, financial management and governance issues. While each location had unique challenges, all had similar issues to be dealt with.
We worked in teams of two (my partner was from Newfoundland), learning about their operations and challenges and then to trying to come up with joint recommendations. While some of the changes we suggested will happen over time, many were small and could be implemented right away.
The staff and boards of these rural African credit unions were very grateful for our assistance and felt our commitment to assisting in their development was admirable. These credit unions and co-operatives are creating jobs and opportunities, granting loans for business, creating a savings culture, assisting with schools for children, better healthcare and gender equality. These partners are turning poverty into prosperity through cooperative action!
Harvey Wedgewood (5th from the left) and a CCA volunteer from Newfoundland
(3rd from right) with staff and directors of the Savings and Credit Co-operative
(SACCO) in Nazigo, Uganda.
Ghana 2011 — Barb Dalzell and Dennis Matthies
Barb Dalzell, Winnipeg Police Credit Union
I had the very fortunate experience of being able to visit three different credit unions in Ghana. This was my first trip to Africa, and it started with taking a very informative cultural training program. Knowing what to expect is only half the battle though, as to actually see it and experience it is a whole other side.
Each day was spent visiting credit unions and meeting staff who were some of the most proud and genuine people I have ever met. Their pride and real sense of appreciation is unparalleled with anything I have experienced before. Being dressed up and sitting in offices that reached 34 degrees Celsius was not uncommon, and we were able to get to know the staff, some of the board members, and also meet some members of each credit union. By evening, we were able to construct a report of some items that would turn out to be fairly helpful to each one.
Day two of each visit consisted of meeting the management, and sometimes staff or board members, in order to present our report to them. We highlighted areas to be iimproved, such as ways to curb loan delinquency issues (or at least to keep better track), security suggestions, such as having proper back-up procedures in place, and also staff suggestions when it comes to over-staffing, etc.
Adding some simple new products was also suggested. For example, some of the credit unions pay upwards of nine per cent per annum as their savings account interest rate. The loans interest rates varied from 3-4 per cent PER MONTH. With this huge spread, it was suggested that they incorporate a term deposit as an option, which will ensure that members keep their money there if it is locked in for a 12-month term.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ghana, and look forward to going back to follow up and see how they are faring in a year's time.
Dennis Matthies, Lowe Farm Branch Manager, Access Credit Union
I had the opportunity to be involved in the CCA's coaching program in Malawi in 2009 and 2010 and this year I was involved in the program in Ghana. I visited three credit unions, two of them in villages in the rural south-east. Each of the credit unions had issues that they wanted us to help them deal with. Delinquency (one credit union's was as high as 90 per cent) and write-offs were a top priority, due mostly to the fact that they have no way of securing loans with any type of collateral other than savings and shares.
Governance was also a concern, so a recommendation was made to CUA (Credit Union Central of Ghana) that efforts be made to educate board members on their roles and responsibilities.
All three credit unions had a banking system, but a lot of records were still kept on ledger cards: loan documents and cash were often not kept in a secure location since none of the credit unions had an actual vault. All three credit unions were growing at a rapid pace, though, and were considering opening branches in other villages. All three offered mobile banking, as well. Sege Credit Union had 10 mobile bankers; they would leave the credit union by bicycle or motorcycle at 8:30 in the morning to travel to remote areas and pick up deposits from members who had no way to travel to the credit union.
Ghana, much like Malawi, struggles with poverty and disease and yet the country is filled with friendly, happy people who love to talk and laugh.
Anyone who has been involved in the coaching program would agree that it is a life-changing experience that leaves you with everlasting memories. Credit union employees and members can take pride in knowing that by dealing with their credit union they are supporting programs such as this and that they are helping reduce poverty and improve the lives of those less fortunate.
Barb Dalzell and Dennis Matthies with staff and members of a SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-operative) in Ghana.
John Hamilton, Mgr. Communications & PR
Call: (204) 223-1976
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