Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out and about

CCA has been a partner with CUA in Ghana since 1988.
While the coaches are visiting credit unions and providing the managers and boards with the benefits of their experience, I am moving about the area learning more about the credit union system here, and experiencing the interactions between CUA, CCA, the credit unions and their memberships.

Yesterday I visited a credit union based in the Ghana Broadcasting System, the national TV network.  The Broadcasting Employee’s Co-operative Credit Union membership is restricted to GBS employees, and very recently, to their families.  (They are talking about expanding their membership further so that they have a larger base of savings and loan activity.)  Theresah, the manager, is a graduate of CCA’s Women’s Mentorship program.  In 2009 she visited a British Columbia credit union and took part in sessions CCA hosted at its Ottawa offices. 

Theresah, with the support of her board, implemented many changes to her CU based on what she saw and learned in Canada.  While her board was initially resistant to many of the changes that their manager brought back, the lending policies and day to day operational items she proposed have made significant differences.  Her credit union’s liquidity and loan losses have both improved, resulting in increased profitability and ongoing sustainability for the organization.  Something that the board secretary confided might have been in jeopardy otherwise.

An award given to Sege CU.
Today, I had a warm welcome at Sege Community Co-operative and Credit Union.  The manager, Mr S.E. Doku Tanihu, proudly showed me around his offices, pointing out the many awards they had won, and telling me about the recent renovations they had conducted.  Barb Dalzell and Dennis Matthies are the two CCA coaches who have been working with the board and manager.  Today is the day that the coaches present their report to the credit union.  And while they wouldn’t tell me what it contained, wanting the board to see it first, other coaches’ reports generally contain one or two relatively simple things that credit unions can do to decrease loan losses or increase efficiency.  Reports also often contain suggestions for other items that can be addressed in a more long-term or strategic fashion.

I asked Mr Tanihu what suggestions he would have for Canadian credit unions.  He gave me three:
  • Know your member.  Be able to lend on the character of the person, not just what is on paper.
  • Look at the members’ ability to pay back the loan.
  • Don’t lend more than 2-3 times a member’s security.
All very sound practices indeed!

After I left the credit union, I went to the local high school.  Sege CU has a Youth Savings Club  program (YSC) with the high school, where about 180 students learn the habit of savings, and begin to understand the value of having a small financial cushion for the future, for emergencies or to buy merchandise.  I spent some time with 80 or so of the students in one of their classrooms. 

I had wanted to pick their brains, focus group style, on what the YSC has meant to them.  The education system is very ‘rigid’ where the teacher teaches and the students learn, unlike our more free-form learning style where teachers and students interact much more informally.  My questions about YSC and savings turned into more of a Q&A session on Canada.  (Oh, how I wished I’d remembered more of my Canadian history courses!!!).

High school students.
The questions that they asked me were quite insightful.  They asked about currency, elections, the weather, our education system, the weather, our languages and culture and, of course, immigration.  Some of their questions surprised me – can we move freely about the country, what is important to us, our national symbols.  And then they asked me what our hardships were.  I had to pause.  The annoyances and “hardships” in our lives are in most cases trivial compared to what many of them and their families have experienced.  I was honest and told them that Canada was a wealthy country and we don’t often have weather or military challenges. They were surprised at our welfare mentality, and I am not quite sure they understood that the government takes almost half our income to provide our various safety nets and infrastructure.   VERY HUMBLING.

Lots of photos and laughing after the session.  Quite refreshing.  It was the best part of my trip so far!!!

Lots more to tell, but many more days to expand on things.

Be well.

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