BLANTYRE, Malawi — More than 400 credit union delegates from 21 countries opened the 8th annual World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU’s) Africa Congress today with a colorful representation of flags, national attire and cultural dances at Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre, Malawi. Participants from across Africa, parts of Europe and North America are meeting through November 2 for the first time in the African nation to discuss issues around the theme “SACCOs: Mobilizing Savings for Sustainable Community Development.” SACCO, which stands for Savings and Credit Co-operative, is the acronym often used to describe Africa’s credit unions.
For four days, participants will hear from international speakers about challenges and best practices on a host of topics, including not only savings mobilization and community development, but also global credit union development, technology, branding and HIV/AIDS programs.
“The coming of the congress to Malawi has made Malawians realize that the SACCO movement is not just a small thing being promoted in this country, but that it actually belongs to a much larger movement on the continent and throughout the world,” said Sylvester Kadzola, Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Co-operatives (MUSCCO) chief executive officer and WOCCU board member. “That alone has made people here realize for the first time the significance of the movement.”
The Africa Congress is the first SACCO function in which MUSCCO has had significant Malawian government representation, according to Kadzola. Two ministers of parliament and two deputy ministers attended the opening ceremony, as well as three government officials from Kenya. Both Malawi and Kenya currently have SACCO-specific laws being passed by their parliaments, making the ministers’ attendance especially relevant.
“The mobilization of savings in rural communities creates a safe mechanism for the money to be reinvested in the community for sustainable development,” said Nedson Chikuta, MUSCCO board chair. “SACCOs are about sustainable development, self-help and self reliance.”
According to WOCCU’s 2006 Statistical Report, 24 African countries reported that more than 8,000 credit unions across the continent serve 7% of the entire population. Africa has the fastest growing membership of all regions, the report indicated.
Ken Lipenga, Malawi’s Minister of Industry and Trade, had nothing but praise for the SACCOs, indicating that their work complements government efforts to reduce poverty levels and that savings mobilization is crucial to decreasing the amount of foreign aid flowing into the country.
“The only hope for our people as far as access to financial services is concerned is the SACCO movement,” said Lipenga, who was the Africa Congress guest of honor on behalf of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
New to this year’s Africa Congress is WOCCU’s supplemental Manager Certification Program, a two-year course of study modeled after the Western CUNA Management School for current and aspiring credit union managers. The program offers training on a range of topics, including financial analysis, marketing, savings mobilization and credit administration. The program requires participants to complete a project at their credit union and to successfully pass an exam at the end of each year’s sessions. Thirty Africa Congress participants from five countries enrolled in the Manager Certification course this week.
The Africa Congress is co-sponsored by MUSCCO, WOCCU, the Canadian Co-operative Association, the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation and the African American Credit Union Coalition.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.