LIMA, Peru—Seven women credit union leaders from the United States and Canada traveled throughout Peru and Chile this week to visit cooperatives managed by women and learn about the credit unions' efforts to increase women's access to finance as part of a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) study trip.
"All around the world, WOCCU applies market-driven solutions to provide access to finance for those without access," said trip leader Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Assisting credit unions in providing women access to products and services matching their needs and circumstances has always been part of our strategy. This group is taking us a step further, identifying strategies that WOCCU and participating credit unions can use to develop leadership opportunities for women in the global credit union system."
The seven credit union leaders joined Branch and other WOCCU staff on the association's Women's Leadership Engagement Program this week. Participants include Susan Albrecht, senior vice president, International Division, CUNA Mutual Group; Mary Cunningham, president and CEO, USA Federal Credit Union; Jo-Anne Ferguson, senior director, International Development, Canadian Co-operative Association; Sylvia Lyon, president and CEO, Credit Union Association of New Mexico; Winona Nava, president and CEO, Guadalupe Credit Union; Penny Reeves, director, Credit Union Central of Canada and WOCCU board member; and Catherine Roberts, president and CEO, Community Choice Credit Union and WOCCU board secretary.
During their weeklong travels, the U.S.-Canada delegation visited US$4.8 million asset, 8,626-member San Francisco de Huánuco Credit Union, which joined the WOCCU program last July. The group also traveled to Santiago, Chile and visited US$1.2 billion asset Coopeuch Credit Union, one of Latin America's largest credit unions. Coopeuch serves more than 370,000 members through 73 branches throughout Chile.
WOCCU is implementing and partially funding a three-year (2006-09) technical assistance program in Peru, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and contributions from the National Federation of Peruvian Credit Unions (FENACREP). The program goal is to increase income and wealth generation for poor households through improvements in financial services and greater market access for their products. Opportunities for value-chain financing, a method by which financial support is provided along specific products' development "chain" from manufacture or planting to final sale, is also part of WOCCU's focus in Peru.
Poor women in developing countries face obstacles to economic and social advancement, including denial of access to education, healthcare, ownership rights and capital, according to the International Center for Research on Women. The program's efforts to increase women's access to financial services through the introduction of targeted products that respond to market demand is one of the best ways to combat rural poverty, according to Luis Jiménez, director of WOCCU's program in Peru.
Crece Mujer (Grow Woman), a group-lending initiative for poor women microentrepreneurs in rural areas, is being introduced in several of Peru's nine program credit unions. The "collateral" for loans is the solidarity among the group members to cover each other's weekly repayments should anyone falter. The delinquency rate remains at 0% in two credit unions that have been group lending since October 2007.
The WOCCU program helped another of the participating credit unions launch an urban individual microcredit product for micro-entrepreneurs. The credit union is experiencing new member growth, delinquency reduction and further profitability as a result.
According to Manuel Rabines, general manager of FENACREP and second vice president of the WOCCU board, there were 168 FENACREP-affiliated credit unions serving 674,000 members as of December 2007. The credit unions had $758 million in assets and held a 2.3% share of Peru's national financial system's credit and 1.9% of the deposit market.
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.