Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Things are beginning to happen

The Ghana coaches plot their course through Accra, Ghana.
After arriving on Saturday, the Ghana coaches spent Sunday walking through parts of the city of Accra.  Many shops and road side stands were closed, so road and pedestrian traffic was relatively light.  It was a good way for the Canadians to get used to things here. 

The crush of people on Monday was a completely different matter.  Traffic and activity that would be completely at home at Young and Bloor at 8:30 am or 4:30 pm.  

After our rest day, we began the week with a briefing by CUA, the Ghana Co-operative and Credit Union Association (similar in many ways to a provincial or national credit union central).  CUA’s role is to support and guide the local credit unions (CU’s), provide training, technical support, assist with bylaws and policies, and work with regulators to enact and guide co-op legislation.  This is often grassroots stuff (they even provide stationery and passbooks) – and very effective!! 

CCA has been a partner with CUA in Ghana since 1988, providing development and training funds, and channeling CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) funding into the region.  The coaching project, along with others such as the Women’s Mentorship Program, are the result of CCA’s partnerships with CUA.

There are 411 credit unions in Ghana, plus another 114 study groups that are not affiliated with CUA, and are usually in-development credit unions that have not yet met CUA standards.  Many credit unions are quite small, often a manager and a handful of staff members.  In many cases, the board of directors is quite involved in all aspects of the CU.

Credit unions in Ghana are the same as, but very different from, Canadian credit unions.  They are both financial co-operatives and follow the seven co-operative principles.  But while our CUs are heavily regulated and generally provide a wide range of products and services to its membership, most local CU’s are savings and loans, and financial coaches.  The CU legislation is decades old and out-dated; new changes have yet to be proclaimed which can be limiting to both CUA and the CUs. 

The Ghana coaches at CUA.
Ghana credit unions are intimately linked to their communities through a deeply ingrained community economic development mentality that is cultural and generations old.  If these CU’s didn’t exist, many, many people (generally low income, but not always) would not have access to financial services. Until recently, there hasn’t been a culture of savings in Ghana, so the local CUs and CUA are working to change that.  There are banks, but most CU members wouldn’t qualify to become bank customers.

And the credit union’s loans – these are micro-loans,… usually 2-3 times the amount of shares or savings a member has held in the credit union.  We are talking hundreds of cedis, not thousands or millions.  (1 USD = 1.67 Ghana cedis.)  This is grassroots CED; microfinancing at its most pure.

By the afternoon, the coaches were itching to get out of CUA and into their first postings.  Each team of coaches has been scheduled for two-day visits at three credit unions each.  The furthest teams would have to stay overnight mid-way, through their journey but a few coaches were able to reach their destinations on Monday.  The rest would be there early on Tuesday so they could get in their full two-days of mentoring and coaching.  Many of the teams have blogs, and they are linked at the right side of this screen.  From time to time, I will be linking or quoting from one of their entries.

AS AN ASIDE:  African time is different than North American time.  9am is usually understood to be 9am ISH.  With the ISH almost always being later rather than earlier.  The coaches all were prepared for this, but seeing it in action and experiencing it takes a bit of getting used to.  We all know that we should ‘think African’ and by the end of this mission, I’m sure we’ll all be fully indoctrinated in their way of thinking about time.  (I wonder how long it will take us in our jobs to return to “normal”?)

Til next time,

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