GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Nine young credit union professionals from five U.S. states recently returned from Guatemala City after two weeks participating in the second phase of World Council of Credit Unions' International Credit Union Leadership Program (ICULP), a cultural exchange initiative supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges. Participants were hosted by Guatemala's largest credit union system, MICOOPE, to learn about the growth strategy that led it to reach more than 1 million members today.
The leadership program develops professional skills among young credit union leaders worldwide. U.S. participants were selected through an application and interview process that evaluated leadership skills, adaptability to new surroundings and the potential to initiate change in their credit unions. Program participants included Mayra Gamarra, Truliant Federal Credit Union, Greensboro, N.C.; Claudia Germeshausen, Patelco Credit Union, Pleasanton, Calif.; David Jamshid, Coastal Federal Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C.; Maricela Jauregui, Mid Cities Credit Union, Compton, Calif.; Hector Montano, Verity Credit Union, Seattle, Wash.; Maria Martinez, San Francisco (Calif.) Federal Credit Union; Oscar Porras, MAPS Credit Union, Salem, Ore.; Hector Santos, Seasons Federal Credit Union, Meriden, Conn.; and Alejandra Seluja, Guadalupe Credit Union, Santa Fe, N.M.
"The leadership program is developing young credit union leaders from Guatemala and the U.S. by helping them understand both the cultures and credit union systems of each other's countries," said Brian Branch, World Council president and CEO. "In addition to strengthening the individuals and the systems they represent, this type of exchange program also helps enhance the global credit union movement."
During the group's first week in Guatemala, World Council provided an onsite orientation to cover logistical and cultural aspects of the trip. MICOOPE executives provided an overview of the Guatemalan credit union system and an explanation of their shared branding strategy and consolidated back-office operations. All MICOOPE system credit unions use the same branding and adopt consistent member service standards, while sharing back-office operations such as human resources and marketing.
From Guatemala City, the group traveled to Esquipulas, a town near the Honduran border, where they took part in two community events organized by COOSAJO, MICOOPE's largest credit union. First, they accompanied COOSAJO's mobile branch, which is mounted on the back of a trailer, to a rural community. The mobile branch serves members in small communities who otherwise could not afford the time or cost to travel to the nearest branch office. Next, the group joined COOSAJO mascots and employees while they interacted with local schoolchildren and spread the word about the benefits of credit unions and youth savings.
After their first week, participants moved from their hotels to stay with families of credit union staff to gain a better understanding of Guatemalan culture and tradition. Spending time with Guatemalan families is part of the program's cultural aspect and designed to help participants experience what life is like for a typical Guatemalan.
Participants then spent the week serving credit union internships. Each participant was placed in one of the 26 MICOOPE credit unions to get in-depth operational training by shadowing employees across departments. Through the internship, participants learned best practices and strategies the credit unions use to overcome their limited resources and attract new members.
"The program was a life-altering experience, giving me the opportunity to see how credit union business is conducted in Guatemala," said Germeshausen, assistant vice president of human resources at Patelco Credit Union. "We have a lot to learn from Guatemala in terms of how they are able to engage members and build a strong sense of community through the support of local projects and education."
This year in May, 10 Guatemalans visited credit unions in California and Iowa during the first phase of World Council's inaugural program. In January 2013, ICULP's fourth and final phase, 11 U.S. credit union participants will visit the Dominican Republic for two weeks to experience a program similar to the one in Guatemala. The application period for this opportunity will open October 2012. For details and an application, contact Joshua Fetting, International Partnerships officer, at firstname.lastname@example.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 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.