HONG KONG—World Credit Union Conference attendees gained insights into credit union development in Africa on the last morning of the World Council of Credit Union's (WOCCU) annual event, both through the eyes of one of the region's most influential leaders and by "traveling" directly to Kenya. The morning closed with an inspirational presentation out of Australia that brought the audience to its feet.
Keynote speaker Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive of UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, outlined the urgent need for affordable housing worldwide and the role that credit unions and the African savings and credit cooperatives, known as SACCOs, can play to help meet this need. Tibaijuka's oversight includes housing issues, and her presentation was a plea for assistance in meeting one of the most basic and dire needs of the world's poor.
"In Africa, 72% of the urban population are slum dwellers and in Asia 46% are slum dwellers," Tibaijuka told the audience. "And those who benefit by exploiting the poor don't want things to change."
Tabaijuka explained that poor housing means much more than a lack of shelter. It causes malnutrition, poor health, low self-esteem and a raft of social issues, including crime and substance abuse. Rising food prices have only exacerbated the problem, she added.
The demand for affordable housing is reaching a critical level worldwide, with 5 million new units required per year, or 4,000 new housing alternatives needed every hour by a growing population of poor, Tibaijuka said. That's not counting replacing the current inventory of substandard housing.
"The advantages [of supporting the development of affordable housing] are great, and each of us must play a role," Tibaijuka added. "The knowledge and efforts on the part of credit unions can help millions."
The keynote address was followed by a visit to Africa, courtesy of a live computer uplink directly to a SACCO in Kenya sponsored by Tandberg. WOCCU program manager Erick Sile anchored a brief discussion between WOCCU president & CEO Pete Crear and SACCO staff and members. Kenya currently has 4,000 SACCOs serving more than 4 million people, said Sile, manager of one of WOCCU's three development programs in Kenya.
Sile described the way SACCOs were largely protected by their members from looting and burning during election riots and civil unrest earlier in the year, while the SACCO managers explained the service offered to microentrepreneurs, two of whom were present on the call.
The conference closed with an inspiring speech by Khoa Do, a young Vietnamese expatriate who survived personal peril and poverty to immigrate with his family to Australia. Do grew up to become a filmmaker who led a group of troubled youth to create a feature-length film that garnered critical acclaim, earning him the honor of being the 2005 Young Australian of the Year.
"When you face your greatest obstacle you will also often find you greatest opportunity," Do told an enthusiastic crowd. "Appreciate what you have and follow your heart. You will succeed."
The World Credit Union Conference, an annual event organized by WOCCU and its host member countries, concluded July 16.
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, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.