Washington, DC—World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU) assessment team of Brian Branch, chief operating officer, and Jamie Raile, business development manager, traveled to Liberia in late May to evaluate the current state of credit unions and potential reestablishment and expansion of the Liberian credit union movement. With peace now restored to the West African country suffering from 14 years of civil war and government oppression, the assessment team found credit unions poised to play a vital role in Liberia's redevelopment.
"Credit unions were organized in Liberia in the late 1970s and 1980s around companies with payroll deduction systems and closed bonds of memberships," reports Raile. "They lost their deposits which were held in private banks that failed during the war. Many credit union records, equipment and buildings were destroyed or damaged, as well. But a dozen credit unions have now reactivated, and other employer-based credit unions are starting up again as companies are being reestablished.
"Credit unions in Liberia have not had access to the best practices and the more progressive credit union model established in the 1990s that allows for increased sustainability and outreach. Liberian credit unions are now recognizing the need to increase outreach by reorganizing on a community bond basis.
"The national association and credit unions have expressed the need for training, technical assistance, capacity building and a central finance facility. The time for credit unions to grow to help the citizens of Liberia is now."
As part of the assessment, the WOCCU team interviewed a number of Liberian citizens to determine the need for credit union services. Raile recounts the stories of two of those interviewed:
"Henry is a 28-year-old entrepreneur with an internet café business on Bushrod Island, a suburb outside Monrovia. He grew up learning about credit unions through his father who has been active in the credit union system since the 1980s. Like other Liberians, Henry's story has had many twists and turns. For ten months in 2003, he was a refugee in Guinea. When he returned to Liberia, he purchased his first two (used) computers with a $700 loan from his father, and gradually started his business. By reinvesting his profits, Henry was able to expand his business and now has 20 computers in three locations.
"As with other Liberians, Henry lost his personal savings in one of the many failed private banks. While he has known about credit unions all his life, he has never been able to be a member. Closed-bond credit unions limited to employees of large companies cannot serve entrepreneurs like Henry.
"Jacquelene is a single mother with two children to support. She works at the domestic airport in Monrovia. It is common in Liberia to have several income- generating activities to support a family. Last year, Jacquelene went to a local money lender and borrowed $200 to start a restaurant/café at the airport. The café is managed by her mother and employs several workers. Jacquelene is well on her way to paying off her loan, in spite of the fact that the airport was destroyed during the war and now is only being used by UN helicopters. The café is also serving the community.
"When a new manager was assigned to the airport this year, he taught Jacquelene about credit unions and the advantages they have over predatory money lenders. Jacquelene became convinced and decided to organize a community credit union around the airport. A study group was organized with 50 members in March 2006. The members have started paying for shares and begun saving. They believe many community members will want to join because of the advantages the credit union has over the local credit clubs and money lenders in the area. The group, however, is in need of training in order to move forward with its mission."
For more information about the recent assessment of Liberian credit unions, please contact Jamie Raile at 202-508-6755 or 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, 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.