St. Paul, MN—Officials from the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) attended an international seminar in Paraguay on May 21-22, entitled "Credit Unions: Valid Alternatives for Social and Economic Development, emphasis on Training, Technology, Regulation, Ecology & Microfinance."
MnCUN Board Chairman Dick Nesvold of SouthPoint Federal Credit Union and MnCUN President and CEO Mark Cummins both attended the conference and addressed attendees during the fifth annual event. Approximately 400 credit union representatives took part in the international seminar.
Credit unions of Minnesota have a special relationship with those of Paraguay—MnCUN and Central de Cooperativas del Area Nacional Ltda. (CENCOPAN) partnered in 2004. The two credit union trade associations were paired through the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) International Partnership Program.
During the event, Nesvold spoke on credit union governance, and Cummins discussed politics, government relations and its effect on credit unions. Other conference presentations focused on monitoring financial risk, advances in regulation and supervision and the impact of tax reform on credit unions.
"The conference attendees were very in-tune with what is going on in their respective credit unions and with the cooperatives as a whole, and it was an honor to be a part of such an event," Cummins said of his first partnership visit. "You get a real sense that Paraguayan credit union professionals and volunteers are not just hoping to make a difference, but that they actually expect to make a difference.
"CENCOPAN and the credit unions of Paraguay have a good foundation of political involvement, but they are in a similar position as we are. They are looking to transition from issue-driven political advocacy to systemic political advocacy," Cummins added. "We all are interested in avoiding crisis-mode grassroots lobbying by working with legislators on a continual basis, and we have much to learn from each other."
After the conclusion of the international conference, the US visitors met with Senator Rolando Dietze, member of Paraguay’s National Congress and its Committee of Cooperative Affairs. Sen. Dietze discussed the country’s economy and the impact of cooperatives with Nesvold, Cummins and Michelle Kramer of WOCCU.
During the final two days of the trip, CENCOPAN representatives coordinated several tours of credit unions, including Mercado No. 4 Ltda., Universitaria Ltda., Del Sur Ltda. and Colonias Unidas Ltda. Nesvold, who previously traveled to Paraguay in 2004 during MnCUN’s inaugural partnership visit, was pleased to revisit the Mercado and Universitaria credit unions and be able to personally assess the changes.
"It was amazing to see how the credit unions have developed over the past three years, including membership growth and level of savings," Nesvold said. Although Universitaria is the largest credit union in Paraguay compared with Mercado No. 4, which is smaller and specializes in microfinance lending, Nesvold said both had made tremendous advances.
"It is encouraging to see the commitment and the passion that [Paraguayan credit unions] have, regardless of their size or limitations, and to see the service that they provide to their members," Nesvold said.
The MnCUN-CENCOPAN partnership has a number of initiatives on deck yet this year: the continuation of a credit union exchange program and an international dialogue with regulators from Paraguay, NCUA and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
"The credit unions of Paraguay are truly mission- driven and are focused more on helping people than on growing and making money," Cummins said. "They recognize that growing and having a secure institution is the best way to serve their members, yet they live and breathe that member focus. This trip was an incredibly energizing experience."
El Consejo Mundial de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito es la asociación gremial y agencia de desarrollo para el sistema internacional de cooperativas de ahorro y crédito. El Consejo Mundial promueve el crecimiento sustentable de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito y otras cooperativas financieras en todo el mundo a fin de facultar a las personas para que mejoren su calidad de vida a través del acceso a servicios financieros asequibles y de alta calidad. El Consejo Mundial realiza esfuerzos de defensa activa en representación del sistema global de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito ante organizaciones internacionales y trabaja con gobiernos nacionales para mejorar la legislación y la regulación. Sus programas de asistencia técnica introducen nuevas herramientas y tecnologías para fortalecer el desempeño financiero de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito y profundizar su alcance comunitario.
El Consejo Mundial ha implementado 290 programas de asistencia técnica en 71 países. A nivel mundial, 57,000 cooperativas de ahorro y crédito en 105 países atienden a 217 millones de personas. Obtenga más información sobre el impacto global del Consejo Mundial en www.woccu.org.