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                                                                                                                  Volume 5 Number 4, April 28th 2011

From Toronto to Kamuli

Credit union ideas find universal appeal


Since 2002, women from developing countries have embarked on the journey of a lifetime to capture lessons from Canadian credit unions in hopes of improving the credit unions they manage. For them, the Canadian Co-operative Association's annual Women's Mentorship Program (WMP) is a life-altering experience. But what effect does a month-long exposure to Canada's credit unions have on financial institutions so far away, and on the poverty in their communities? In this Dispatch, WMP Manager Laurie Tennian checks in with a graduate of the program in Southern Uganda who is transforming the way her credit union does business. 


"Knowledge is a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested"

- African proverb

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Edith Awula Nangobi left for Canada last June with a mission. The former teacher and Kamuli town councillor had managed to grow the membership of the Kamuli Twisania Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) from just five to 1,650 members since it opened in 2002. But the SACCO was suffering a kind of reputational drift. Edith hoped to find ways to turn her credit union around.


"The biggest challenges are late [loan] repayments, which in turn create high defaults," she wrote in her application to join the Women's Mentorship Program. "We need to convince people to believe in the organization."


Edith was accepted into the program and soon joined 13 other credit union managers from Africa and Asia at Co-operative House in Ottawa for a week of classroom sessions on Canadian credit union history, structure and legislation. She then left for Toronto and ten days of job shadowing with her mentor, CSR Manager Susan Henry.


"My time with Edith made me realize how much, as Canadians, we have to offer to developing countries," recalls Susan Henry. "And it isn't just about money. It's about sharing our experience and core competency - our financial expertise. We shared many stories and, towards the end of her stay, we both realized that we were not that different. As women we were the glue that kept our families together."


Edith quickly zeroed in on a number of policies and practices that might apply to her SACCO. Everything from filing systems, loans policies, delinquency control, and marketing, to member relations practices, human resource management and outreach to entrepreneurs caught her interest. She paid particular attention to Alterna's computer system, something her own SACCO had begun putting into place. "The manual system was tiresome and accuracy and fraud was an issue," she recalls.

When Edith returned to Uganda in July, board members were impressed with her report and resolved to adopt a number of ideas she had brought back from Canada.

The SACCO changed its hours of operation to be more convenient for members, most of whom are farmers. Edith began to track member testimonials and display them in the banking hall, along with their photographs.

"They are attracting the attention of new members," Edith says, "and the members whose photos are displayed are proud to be part of their community financial institution."

Edith reached out to new members with brochures about the services and benefits of membership. She designed two new accounts - fixed deposit and student/youth accounts.

To repair lost confidence in the SACCO she improved service quality and reliability by reorganizing filing systems and cleaned data to ensure member information was correct. The SACCO acquired office equipment, accounting software and furniture. Time management skills improved, and appraisal forms and regular staff monitoring and evaluation systems were put in place. Edith now supervises four staff, along with a Peace Corps volunteer who visits secondary schools to teach savings habits and attract new members.

The SACCO launched financial literacy training for members and the community at large using study circles, an innovation Edith hopes will reduce delinquency and improve members' saving culture.

In the seven months since Edith's trip to Canada, the Kamuli Twisania SACCO has increased its membership by almost 10% and become the lead credit union in the district.

Not surprisingly, Edith has further plans. She wants to establish a youth savings program, expand the SACCO's financial literacy programs and use government programs to reach out to women, youth and families living with HIV/AIDS. Longer range plans include employing solar energy to generate back up electrical power, and opening a branch office 40 km away to better serve farmer members.

Richard Bazira is one of many members who supplement their income through small businesses. In just one year he has grown his small demonstration piggery from three to forty-seven pigs using several SACCO loans to buy feed and water. Richard is confident that with the help of the SACCO he will own 250 pigs before the end of 2012.

His success points to a growing sense of community confidence in Kamuli Twisania Savings and Credit Co-operative. "I have faith in my SACCO," he says. "I can always depend on getting advice or help from Edith."

Edith Awula Nangobi pictured with Kimberley Ney, Alterna Savings VP CSR and former coach to Uganda (r), and Susan Henry, Alterna Savings CSR Manager (l).
In Toronto, Susan Henry says the value of her mentoring flowed both ways. "I am proud of the fact that the knowledge Edith gained at Alterna will benefit her credit union and her community.

"Meeting Edith was an enriching experience for me and for others from our credit union. We share a common sense of pride in our work, thanks to the way that we are able to enrich the lives of our members and community."

This publication is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Cette publication réalisée avec làppui financier du governement du Canada accordé par l'entremise de l'Agence canadienne de développement international (ACDI).