Madison, WI—For almost a century, International Women's Day has honored the achievements of women worldwide and has called people to action on current women's issues. On March 8, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) will join in celebrating the role women play in economic development.
"World Council celebrates the advancement of women on a daily basis through the scope and success of its development programs worldwide," said Pete Crear, World Council CEO. "Women make up nearly half of all WOCCU project credit union membership. They are 'agents of change' in society, and their energy drives the development of families, communities, nations and indeed the world."
Through World Council's Savings and Credit with Education program in the Philippines and CREER ("to believe") program in Ecuador, women have been able to move up the economic ladder as a result of participating in cooperative group savings and lending. Through the programs, developed in collaboration with Freedom from Hunger, women not only have access to the financial services they need to build micro and small businesses, but they also participate in educational sessions on topics such as women's health, family nutrition and financial planning. The United States Agency for International Development funded the Philippines program, and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor supported the CREER initiative.
Appreciating the impact of the group savings and lending programs, local credit unions have sustained them beyond the WOCCU projects' close. Today in the Philippines, women comprise 71% of membership—the highest of all WOCCU projects.
In Afghanistan, some women are discovering their first taste of economic freedom at the investment and finance cooperatives (IFCs, credit unions). Marzia was left with three children and no income when her husband died during the war. She was one of the first members of Balkh IFC, where she borrowed $500 to start a bakery with her small mud oven. Marzia bakes the bread, and her children sell it in the market. The family retains 100% of the profits on their sole source of income and is able to reinvest the money to grow their business.
Strathmore-WOCCU African Management Institute (SWAMI) graduate, Margaret Ngunjiri from Kenya, will attend Western CUNA Management School in July thanks to their scholarship award. World Council nominated Ngunjiri for the award because she stood out as a leader among leaders in her SWAMI class. Ngunjiri is the finance and administration manager at Jamii Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO, credit union), one of seven SACCOs working with the WOCCU project in Kenya funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarship will enable Ngunjiri to continue to develop her skills as credit union leader and become an agent of change in society.
Catherine Roberts, president and CEO of Research Federal Credit Union in Michigan (United States), and Penny Reeves, Credit Union Central of Canada and Servus Credit Union board member, proudly represent their national credit union systems on World Council's board of directors.
CUNA recently appointed Anne Cochran, CEO of the Louisiana Credit Union League, to the World Council board of directors. She will take the oath of office at this year's World Credit Union Conference in Calgary, Canada. Cochran spearheaded the development of SWAMI, where students have nicknamed her "Mama SWAMI." She is also providing her expertise to World Council and RCUL in developing a Russian training institute.
Among her extensive community service activities, Roberts volunteers with a program that pairs young professional women with female mentors. A number of organizations have honored Roberts for her achievements, and Crain's Detroit Business magazine twice recognized her as one of Detroit's "100 Most Influential Women."
Reeves represents credit unions on the local, national and international level as a board member for her Servus Credit Union, CUCC and World Council. As a business owner and sole proprietor, she has received her hometown's Small Business Owner of the Year Award and the Integrity Award from St. Albert's Rotary Club.
International Women's Day is an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam and is celebrated as Mother's Day in many countries. In the United States, March is designated as "Women's History Month."
For more information on International Women's Day history and activities, visit www.internationalwomensday.com.
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.