MINSK, Belarus—Elena Koleda would like see more credit unions develop in her native Belarus, and she has turned to World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and the National Association of Cooperatives Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU), WOCCU's member organization in Poland, for assistance.
"Our top priorities are staff training, credit union accounting software and credit union legislation," said Koleda, manager of the Republican Association of Consumer Cooperative Societies for Mutual Financial Assistance, the trade association representing credit unions in Belarus. Such efforts would help the Eastern European country's existing eight credit unions grow as a movement to a size necessary to become a more formidable influence in serving Belarus' population.
"By forming an association, Belarus' credit unions were able to brand their institutions and pool their resources to reach the greater levels of efficiency necessary to grow a credit union movement," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and COO, who was in Belarus last week to work with the country's credit unions and speak to lawmakers about drafting legislation supporting financial cooperatives.
At the urging of the United Nations, WOCCU first looked into developing credit unions in Belarus in 1997. During subsequent years, NACSCU's foundation provided the support necessary to develop the country's very first financial cooperatives, and in 2007 Belarus' credit union trade association was formed.
Currently, the country's credit unions serve a mix of professionals and small business owners in the capital city of Minsk, as well as rural communities across the country. Many of the movement's leaders are self-employed small business owners who felt neglected by the country's banking system. By turning to a cooperative model, these business people can be assured they will have a voice in the financial activities that affect their enterprises, according to Paweł Grzesik, plenipotentiary head of NACSCU's Warsaw office who joined Branch during his visit.
"This is one of the best examples of genuine bottom-up efforts to build a civil society in Europe today," Grzesik said.
During their visit, both Branch and Grzesik participated in an international financial conference designed to raise the profile of credit unions among the public, lawmakers and the press, stressing credit unions' role in helping consumers and small business owners gain access to financial services at more affordable rates. In addition, Grzesik is helping Belarus National Bank officials develop credit union-specific regulations that will enable the movement to grow.
"[National Bank] Deputy Chairman Vasily Matyushevsky believes that the assistance of WOCCU and NACSCU is critical in developing the credit union sector in Belarus," Grzesik said. "He encouraged our further involvement in building the capacities of both the credit unions and their association through training and study tours to neighboring countries, including Lithuania and Poland."
Because of geographic proximity, NACSCU will lead the development charge in Belarus, Branch said. "We have offered NACSCU our support due to their success in assisting other emerging movements throughout the region," he added. "Belarus is one more example of our two organizations' abilities to work together to foster credit union development on a global scale."
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, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.