MORELIA, Mexico – The first-of-its-kind Congressional staff trip – organized and co- sponsored by the World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU), the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), and the Arizona, California and Texas credit unions leagues – wrapped up here Friday evening after a day in the field meeting poor microentreprise credit union members.
Upon arrival in Tarecuato, a small community three hours by car from Morelia, the group was greeted by credit union members involved in the WOCCU Michoacán project – the vast majority indigenous women who sew elaborate traditional dresses and aprons to be sold both within and outside their community. Each member of the group, together for four months and meeting every eight days, saves 30 to 70 pesos (around $3 to $7 U.S. dollars) per month. Pooling their money, group members can then apply for loans. Before WOCCU and the credit union that adopted this group came to their community, group members told the Congressional and league delegation, the only access to loans was through local loan sharks who charged very high interest rates. Now they borrow at reasonable rates and are accumulating savings, as well.
"This trip has been one of the best experiences I have had to see the real impact that credit unions can have on peoples' lives. It really showed our group a comprehensive look at how credit unions impact peoples lives, from the legislative process in Washington, DC all the way to the most remote, poor regions of Mexico where people are for the first time gaining access to financial services" says Michael Considine, deputy legislative director and senior legislative assistant for international trade, investment, and development for US Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE).
Considine, one of six Congressional staff members on the trip – including representatives from the offices of Rep. John Carter (R-TX), Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ), echoed the reflections of a number of trip participants, saying that he will "tell anybody who will listen" about his experience in Mexico.
Among the many topics discussed during the week was the "credit union difference" and how it extends to credit unions around the world. "Things start clicking when you're able to understand on a more basic level how credit unions work," says WOCCU Governmental Affairs Manager Molly Schar. "The not-for-profit, democratically controlled, cooperative structure of credit unions is consistent anywhere you go. Understanding how credit unions start and grow and help people internationally is actually a very good way to better understand the work of credit unions in the U.S."
The WOCCU Michoacán project was one of three credit union development projects visited by the delegation. Earlier in the week, the group visited Caja Popular Mexicana, Mexico's largest credit union partnered with the California and Texas credit union leagues through WOCCU's International Partnership Program, and Caja Libertad, the second-largest credit union in the country and the international partner of the Arizona Credit Union System.
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 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.