NAIROBI, Kenya — If the purpose of travel is to enlighten and educate, then Joe Finnigan achieved his goal during the inaugural engagement program trip to Kenya with World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) Global Women's Leadership Network. Finnigan, board treasurer for Vermont Federal Credit Union in Burlington, Vt., traveled with program participants to visit a variety of enterprises supporting Kenya's many small savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs), the name by which credit unions are called throughout Africa.
The lesson Finnigan learned from the eight-day program is that credit unions are a global movement no matter where they are located and that supporting other institutions is the responsibility of all credit unions.
"There's no question that credit unions have a responsibility and role to play in helping smaller institutions at home and abroad," Finnigan said. "We can and should be making a difference."
The network's engagement program was designed to engage members of the international credit union movement in experiences that allowed them to share ideas from their different systems. Participants learned about various WOCCU activities that support and foster growth among Kenya's SACCOs, shared their expertise to strengthen the development program's implementation and evaluated methodologies for adaptation and application back home.
Participants met with staff from WOCCU's Kenya program and WOCCU Services Group, the trade association's for-profit arm, at their Nairobi office, as well as officials from the Kenyan Union of Savings & Credit Co-operatives, the country's credit union trade group and a WOCCU member. The group also traveled north to the rural town of Kisumu to visit Busia Compassionate Centre, a credit union-supported orphanage on the Uganda border. All experiences were designed to provide insight into how SACCOs are reaching underserved markets, showcasing their outreach and increasing capabilities through WOCCU technology applications, according to Brian Branch, WOCCU president and CEO.
"Kenya's credit unions also have come to play an important role in the lives of their members," Branch said. "There are many good lessons to learn in Kenya. We are pleased that the Global Women's Leadership Network chose the country for its engagement program."
In addition to Finnigan, program participants included Gene Brody, president and CEO of Bay Ridge Federal Credit Union, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Linda Darling, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla.; Linda Hardy, compliance officer, and Sandra Paynter, financial services representative, Consolidated Credit Union, Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island, Canada; Hank Hubbard, president and CEO of Communicating Arts Credit Union (CACU), Detroit; and Stacey Walker, a volunteer with Xcel Federal Credit Union, Forest Hills, N.Y.
Participants spent time learning about the challenges facing Kenya's more than 4,000 credit unions, many of which are very small. They also discussed WOCCU's application service provider (ASP), which is giving a growing number of those credit unions access to affordable banking solutions by connecting them to a central computer platform in WOCCU's Nairobi office. Small Kenyan credit unions can upload data and access financial software, analytics and reporting tools in a manner that increases transparency and provides greater clarity behind the numbers. The ASP's advanced capabilities allow credit unions to better serve their members.
The group also discussed addressing the need for greater financial inclusion through cellphones linked to a mobile money transfer service, in Kenya's case M-PESA. The service enables credit union members to access financial transaction services through their cellphones, a concept that CACU's Hubbard thought could be useful in his native Detroit.
CACU's past efforts to reach its marginalized member base, 90% of whom are African Americans, were based on the community development credit union's attempts to provide more affordable versions of existing services. Thanks to his experiences in Kenya, Hubbard is now approaching the process differently.
"Brainstorming during the engagement program has put a crack in my thought processes about how best to serve our members," Hubbard said. "The trip has caused me to take a look at our operations from a different angle, and I will now be thinking about new strategies that aren't necessarily tied to traditional financial service delivery."
For more information about WOCCU's Global Women's Leadership Network and future engagement programs, which are open to both men and women, visit www.cuwomen.org.
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.