MADISON, Wis. — Ten Guatemalan credit union professionals arrived in the United States last week to begin the first phase of a month-long internship program with credit unions in California and Iowa. The interns, all under the age of 40, are the first cohort of World Council of Credit Unions' new International Credit Union Leadership Program. The program, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, is part of the State Department's larger Professional Fellows Program.
With assistance from the California and Nevada Credit Unions Leagues, six interns have been placed in credit unions in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas. The Iowa Credit Union League has helped place the remaining four interns at credit unions in Des Moines and Ames. During the program's second cohort, 10 U.S. young professionals will be chosen to intern in Guatemalan credit unions as a way to further broaden international relations and establish higher levels of credit union professionalism worldwide, according to Brian Branch, World Council president and CEO.
"The goal of the Professional Fellows Program is to increase networking among young professionals and foster higher performance levels," said Branch. "For participants in the International Credit Union Leadership Program, this will translate into a stronger global credit union network and better member service delivered by credit unions in participating countries."
Interns traveling to California will focus on gaining new skills in credit union management, including greater marketing awareness, training in financial disciplines and techniques for new product and service delivery methodologies, while also improving their English. Although the program is not part of the World Council International Partnerships Program, the California and Nevada Leagues see the internships as a natural extension of their existing relationship with credit union trade association Cooperativas Federeadas de Ahorro y Crédito de Guatemala, their Guatemala partner organization, according to Diana Dykstra, president of the two U.S. leagues.
"This is another great example of our partnership with Guatemala — to share expertise and experiences, and improve the credit union movements in both countries," Dykstra said. "We also thank the six credit unions who have so graciously agreed to host Guatemalan credit union professionals throughout the month of April."
Interns in Iowa will gain expertise in many of the same areas, as well as seeking potential solutions to operational challenges they're facing at their credit unions back home. In addition, the exchange program allows host credit unions to gain a greater perspective on Hispanic culture and business practices that may have practical applications in help the credit unions better serve their own Hispanic populations, according to Patrick S. Jury, president and CEO of the Iowa League.
"We are thrilled to be able to offer this fellowship to the four successful candidates selected for the 2012 program," said Jury. "Our credit unions will provide a unique perspective and training environment for our guests looking to take home new experiences."
At the conclusion of their fellowships, all participants will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will take part in the Professional Fellows Congress, May 3-5, 2012. The congress marks the culmination of the U.S. exchange experience, providing a forum for participants to discuss best practices, meet other young leaders within their profession, and develop concrete projects and networks they can implement upon their return home.
In October, World Council's International Leadership program will pair interns from the Dominican Republic with credit unions in Wisconsin and North Carolina. The Wisconsin League also is paired with the Asociacion de Instituciones Rurales de Ahorro y Creditor Inc., the Dominican Republic's credit union trade association, as part of the International Partnerships Program. In January 2013, the next group of U.S. program participants will be selected to intern with credit unions in the Dominican Republic.
World Council's International Credit Union Leadership Program, which promotes internships for young credit union people from various countries, is designed to facilitate idea exchanges, promote foreign language skill development, enhance cultural diversity and improve problem-solving skills as they relate to credit union development and management on a global basis. The program's second cohort, which will involve choosing 10 Spanish-speaking U.S. applicants to intern in credit unions in Guatemala, begins in June. The deadline for applications is April 20, 2012.
For those interested, more information and a program application form can found at www.woccu.org/leadershipprogram. For more information on the Department of State Professional Fellows program, visit http://exchanges.state.gov/citizens/profs/professional-fellows.
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.