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     Volume 5 Number 7, July 29th 2011


Of snowballs, credit cards and managing risk 


 They're back home now, and eager to apply policies and practices picked up during their month-long stay in Canada. Before catching their flights, credit union managers Alice Kosgei and Aurea de Ramayo stopped in to share with International Dispatch those things that interested and surprised them about credit unions and Canada during their recent Women's Mentorship Program experience.  



For more information on the Women's Mentorship Program, please visit CCA's Women's Mentorship Program Hub featuring updates from past participants and ways for you and your crdedit union to get involved.


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Aurea de Ramayo was interviewed by CHCH news during her time with Hamilton credit union FirstOntario.


Aurea de Ramayo is the general manager of Cordova Multi-Purpose Co-operative on the Philippines island of Lapu-Lapu. It encompasses a credit union and school, a small retail grocery store, a construction supplies store, a Health Plus franchise selling generic medicines, and a funeral co-op. Aurea visited FirstOntario Credit Union in Hamilton, Ontario for her placement.


Dispatch: Let's begin with your first impressions of Canada. 

Aurea: When I arrived at Toronto airport I was a bit afraid to be alone. I've travelled before but never alone. Sandy Shaw, the Chair of FirstOntario Credit Union, and Carol Mayer (VP for Membership) called out my name when I got to the arrival gate. They were so friendly and welcoming. 


We belong to different countries and have different practices but we are all working to improve the management of our co-operatives or credit unions. We share the same quest, and that bridges the gap between us.


Dispatch: What were the top experiences during your visit?

Aurea: The governance of FirstOntario really impressed me. I attended a board meeting where I learned about in-camera sessions and meeting discipline (like following the agenda). It was over in less than two hours. Our meetings can last up to six hours and nothing will come out of them because of arguments.


 I also realized I must learn to use the computer more fully. When I said goodbye to ma'am Carol, she said we must stay in touch. I decided then that this was my number one learning. I can open and look at pages of loans and the details of their loans but I cannot send an email, use Excel, or surf the net. Nearly all of my forty-five staff in four branches can use the computer. I will be proficient soon.



Dispatch: What would you count among the top ideas you will take home?


Aurea: I have so many lessons learned to take home. Such as the way First Ontario conducts their loan processing and collection, their careful processing of loans using policies and procedures.


Little by little we will encourage more savings among our members. We will lower the loan-to-savings ratio per person and overall. We'll open more savings products, like children's educational accounts and retirement savings,

Our challenge is to enforce our policies, to change our emphasis, to create a culture of repayment in our credit union. It's back to the basics - like in school - with "carrots and sticks."


I was fortunate to be invited to a meeting with a facilitator to prepare a strategic plan in time for FirstOntario's August general assembly. I was even asked to give comments. I shared my experiences concerning staff and volunteer relations with the Chair and CEO. Maybe that helped in some way.


In our own strategic plan for 2015 we have a vision to be a world-class billionaire co-operative (in Philippine pesos). With that, my studies at CCA, and my placement best practices I will be able to give meat to this vision at a yearly presentation by our senior managers and front line staff. I will meet with my Chair and talk it out. Then meet with senior management.


Dispatch: Where there any surprises during your time in Canada?

Aurea: My world got a lot smaller with this experience. If we just close our eyes and share our thoughts, we are just one. 


WMP Participant Alice experiences snow for the first time
WMP Participant Alice experiences snow for the first time



Alice Kosgei worked her way up from clerk - her very first job - to the top post at Kenya Highlands Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO), Kenya's most successful savings and credit co-operatives (credit unions). Like Aurea, her credit union has known hard times. Alice visited Servus Credit Union in Edmonton, Alberta for her placement.


Dispatch: What were your first impressions of Canada Alice?

Alice: My first impression was how Canadians are blessed, because of the wealth they have, and especially in Edmonton, where I came to realize they have very big land, cows - good beef cows - and such a small population, not like in Kenya. In Edmonton everybody has a car, even young people and students.


Also, 75 per cent of the employees at Servus are women. They are in middle management and two are in senior positions. We have seven women against 33 men in our credit union in Kenya. At the management level this is very significant. In Africa they see women as weak people. I am the only woman in management. Also, they value their staff so much at Servus, and it shows. Staff are so motivated. They are being trained by the organization, they are being motivated by being sent other places to learn and network, such as the World Council of Credit Unions meeting in Scotland this month.



Dispatch: What are your thoughts about your time spent at Servus Credit Union in Edmonton?

Alice: My going there was a two-way exchange. They learned from me and I learned from them. They learned about the management of my organization, and came to realize that we operate on the same seven co-op principles. We also realized that even though our credit union is small it has been planned the same as Servus.


Co-ops in the world are controlled by members, and they benefit the community. This Women's Mentorship Program has been a bridge for women who are apart to come together, to come together and share.



Dispatch: What ideas will you take away with you?

Alice: I learned that small SACCOs cannot compete in the marketplace, unless they merge to become larger entities. For us to grow to one or two branches we will need to merge with other SACCOs. So I am looking out for this opportunity. I learned all about the merger that produced Servus Credit Union and the steps involved in making a successful merger.


I also learned about loan delinquency, how Servus applies their five Cs: collateral, capacity, credit worthiness, character and capital. I had focussed only on the capability to repay. We are giving out small loans. Since we will open our bond to other economic sectors, we will have to go for other collaterals - mortgage loan, car loan, business loans. Our current loans are retail loans for school fees, emergencies, farm improvement and short term loans like for advances).


I learned that risk management policies should be in place and applied. At the same time, I've learned that we should have many loan policies to cover many types of loans. This is part of our risk management.


We don't have a credit bureau in Kenya, but our Central Bank of Kenya has invited our credit union to meet with them about establishing a credit bureau. With learning about how Servus uses credit bureaus, I will be in a better position now to share my information and advice.


In Kenya my SACCO is among those who exceeded our standards. So did Servus. They showed me how to maintain that standard. Like the ratio covering expenditures. I have to monitor this closely so they do not exceed that which is budgeted.



Dispatch: Were there any surprises?

Alice: I was surprised to see that people are not using money to buy things, they are using credit cards.


I was also surprised that there were no policeman carrying guns guarding the credit union. We have two armed guards from the government whom we pay to guard our SACCO during business hours. In Kenya we carry a lot of money as we do not use credit cards so much. So we need more security.


I was surprised to go to the top of a mountain where it was one degree Celsius. I made a snow angel and was able to view how God created Canada. It's such a wonderful country. I wore three coats, gloves on my hands and boots on my legs. It was bright and I could see how God made the mountains. That was in Jasper.


I made a snowball and I hiked up the mountain using two sticks for that purpose. Yvonne, the senior accountant, took me there and was one of my hosts.


When I return home I'm going to call a meeting of my members and tell them about how developed credit unions are in Canada. And on the side of women, I'm going to help them to achieve their dreams with the little resources they have. My responsibility is to share this learning with others, especially women.


Servus Credit Union branch manager Debbie Neddow had this to say about the impact of the hosting experience: "Alice's visit not only opened my eyes but those of my staff, family and friends when we look at what we take for granted in Canada. We have all learned how to appreciate what we have a little more, and the women she spoke to understand better how far women have come compared to other parts of the world. Alice also left us with a lasting pride about our part in the worldwide co-operative movement. One staff summed it up by saying `hers is the true meaning of a credit union.'" 





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).