Credit unions around the world serve over 274 million members. Together with their members' households they touch close to one billion lives. Furthermore, in the midst of a crisis such as a natural disaster or the global pandemic the world is currently experiencing, they are a trusted source of information.
Health experts say that during a health crisis with rapidly changing information, the key is daily communication from a trusted source. Credit unions and cooperatives are those trusted sources in many communities and have existing channels of information that can be mobilized. Credit unions can help correct misinformation and affirm key messages about preventive strategies to keep people healthy and safe. And due to the cooperative spirit, they can be key in inspiring whole communities to move beyond denial and start adopting a new normal of safe behaviors, such as social distancing and hygiene.
This does not mean in any way that credit unions should create their own health messages. Rather, in all cases, credit unions should rely on the World Health Organization (WHO) or a credible national resource for messaging, and they should ensure their messages are in sync with Ministry of Health directives. Where there is a local USAID Mission, national credit union associations can alert their Mission that they are available to help.
Of course, the first step for national associations is to ensure their staffs are protected and well informed about good public health practices. The next step is to set up their channels of communication (from national associations to credit unions to members) through text messaging or other means.
Here are some examples of WOCCU partners in the USAID CDP TIFI Project that are doing their part to facilitate social distancing, and going above and beyond to protect people:
- In Guatemala, as of March 17, FENACOAC suspended all activities in the offices and sent all staff to work remotely.
- In Kenya, KUSCCO CEO George Ototo sent a letter to all member SACCOs (credit unions) with recommendations about promoting good hygiene, such as handwashing, increased cleaning and disinfecting, avoiding contact with objects and surfaces, social distancing, enabling remote work by employees and promoting safe food handling.
- On March 17, Felix Ochieng, CEO of Kenya's Siraji SACCO, sent a letter to all of his customers and members, encouraging them to use mobile banking or ATMs and, if they are not yet registered on mobile platforms, to sign up immediately. He announced that loan applications will be discussed by phone only, and that some branch offices are now closed, while others will operate with minimal staff. The letter notes that Siraji SACCO has “taken the above measures to protect our members, customers’ families and the general public.”
- In Burkina Faso, CIF (the confederation serving the national associations of credit unions in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Mali and Benin) is closely monitoring the pandemic and undertaking hygiene measures requiring behavior change and budgetary implications. CIF is considering solutions in the event of a containment decision, such as facilitating remote work through high-speed Internet.
- One of CIF’s member national associations, PAMECAS in Senegal, established a committee to prepare the staff and member credit unions for the pandemic. One of the steps taken by the committee this week focused on working with credit unions in Dakar to ensure they have enough hand sanitizer for members and staff, and instituting safe distancing when conducting transactions to mitigate human contact as much as possible. The CEO of PAMECAS also sent a letter out to credit unions in Senegal promoting public health.