Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa 2.0

It is that time of year again we hustle and bustle frantically to prepare for the arrival of Santa. Here is a funny story to highlight how things have changed to what I call Santa version 2.0. This morning before school I was showing my 9 year daughter Sophia a video from Santa on our laptop. What was interesting is that Santa was going through the motions telling her that she was a good girl by looking through her personal book which he retrieved from a shelf holding every child's personal book. She became quite surprised when Santa opened her personal book and there were photos of her on the pages. The video had ended and she looked at me and said, "I wonder how Santa got those pictures…oh I know, he must have Facebook". Needless to say I had a good laugh, and then took time to think about what she had said. The first thing I realized is that technology certainly influences our opinions tremendously. The next thing I realized is that Christmas has been molded and reshaped to fit the times. In reflecting back to when I was a kid and Christmas consisted of Santa bringing me lots of gifts, the town virtually shutting down for Christmas week, and friends and family came together for celebration. I also remember my father telling me at that time that Christmas had changed, as when he was a boy they would get a piece of candy or fruit and maybe a gift or two. There was a larger focus on visiting one another and community spirit.
I guess I will have to accept the fact that my daughter receives video messages from Santa, and that he can take photos from her Facebook account, ha. Technology is a part of Santa 2.0 and it is alive and well in our household and I am sure in many others. However I think I have an obligation to ensure that tradition remains in Christmas. They attend Church regularly and are participating in the services leading up to Christmas which is very important. I also think it's also important that they experience the social aspect of Christmas. It has become more difficult to participate in this ritual as more and more retailers choose to remain open for Christmas holidays. Boxing Day sales are now marketed as a time to consider shopping versus spending time socializing with friends and family. In retrospect, we cannot scratch our heads in wonder on how Santa 2.0 came in existence or talk negatively about it. We have supported the environment that has created it. I have heard myself say that "It's Christmas every day now for kids". So this year, I am going to commit to giving, socializing, and being thankful! I am going to make a valid attempt to not only support some Christmas traditions but possibly create some new ones. Christmas is a wonderful time of year and I want to wish everyone a joyous and spiritual holiday!
I should also remind our members that we are closing Christmas Eve this year. The staff has worked hard all year providing great service to our members; closing Christmas Eve will mean they get to spend more time with their familiesJ
Merry Christmas


Online Shopping

I received this information from our credit bureau partner Equifax and thought I would share.

Defensive Holiday Shopping

If you've ever seen a shopping centre parking lot after November 15th, it will come as no surprise that more and more people are avoiding the hysteria of malls during the holiday season. Online shopping is increasing in big numbers, with 55 per cent of Canadians planning to purchase most of their gifts through a computer, smartphone or tablet.

With the ease and convenience of never having to stand in line behind a coupon-clipper again comes the risk of your identity being kidnapped and your holidays not being happy. But for every risk there is a shield. Make sure you're equipped with the right armour so that shopping online doesn't become a bigger chore than finding a seat in the food court.

Shield your connection

Before even typing in the URL of a retailer's site, check your surroundings; are you using public Wi-Fi? You could already be at risk, so first things first: turn on your firewall. Gone are the days when you had to be a hacker genius to figure out how to infiltrate a Wi-Fi connection. Rookie hackers can now easily install a plug-in to their web browser and steal private information, such as credit card numbers and date of birth, being transmitted to unsecured websites.

A good rule of thumb is to always check for the padlock symbol beside the URL field and to make sure the URL begins with https, not http. The 's' is the difference between your private information being encrypted or not. If you find yourself in a position where you need to buy ASAP and are willing to take the risk, then your best bet is to use a credit card and not your debit. Should you notice something unusual about the transaction afterwards, you can always put a stop-payment on credit and you won't be out of the cash when you may need it the most.

Practice smart shopping on your smartphone

Smartphones are a new target for fraudsters looking to lift your identity and your money. From phony apps designed to steal your financial information to QR codes that install malware onto your mobile device, thieves have become more sophisticated and creative in their methods. Because so many of these features are new to us, it's much harder to recognize an illegitimate app than it is to know not to send your banking information to the foreign prince who just inherited millions of dollars that he wants to share with you. Here are some tips if you're keen on doing some shopping on your smartphone or tablet this year:
Only download apps from trusted retailers. A recent scam called "toll fraud" guises itself as an app from a familiar retailer, but once downloaded, will start sending chargeable text messages from your phone. It's best to download apps directly from their website and not from links containing the retailer's name. Fraudsters can easily make a URL read whatever they want to direct you to a malicious site
Try to avoid clicking social media links to special offers and discounts. Anyone can create a Facebook or Twitter account. Better to check the retailer's own site and see if they're offering the same promotion.
Before scanning any QR codes promising a great bargain or an interesting newsletter, download a reader that will first let you see the URL you'll be directed to. Recent QR code scams attack mobile phones by stealing the private information they contain.
Watch out for emails from familiar retailers asking you to "confirm your purchase" by clicking links or opening attachments. If you have made a purchase from that particular retailer and are unsure about the email, call their customer service line to get a confirmation.
Use common sense. If you receive an email or Facebook post promoting iPads for half the regular price, think twice about it. During the holidays, it doesn't make sense to reduce 'hot' items by such a large percentage when people will buy them at full price anyway. When in doubt, leave the link alone!

Only download apps from trusted retailers. A recent scam called "toll fraud" guises itself as an app from a familiar retailer, but once downloaded, will start sending chargeable text messages from your phone. It's best to download apps directly from their website and not from links containing the retailer's name. Fraudsters can easily make a URL read whatever they want to direct you to a malicious site
Try to avoid clicking social media links to special offers and discounts. Anyone can create a Facebook or Twitter account. Better to check the retailer's own site and see if they're offering the same promotion.
Before scanning any QR codes promising a great bargain or an interesting newsletter, download a reader that will first let you see the URL you'll be directed to. Recent QR code scams attack mobile phones by stealing the private information they contain.
Watch out for emails from familiar retailers asking you to "confirm your purchase" by clicking links or opening attachments. If you have made a purchase from that particular retailer and are unsure about the email, call their customer service line to get a confirmation.
Use common sense. If you receive an email or Facebook post promoting iPads for half the regular price, think twice about it. During the holidays, it doesn't make sense to reduce 'hot' items by such a large percentage when people will buy them at full price anyway. When in doubt, leave the link alone!

There are some things you should be doing regularly, regardless of the season, to make sure your information is still yours.
Check your accounts frequently; don't wait for bank statements. You're more likely to find irregularities sifting through a week's worth of transactions rather than a month's worth.
Change your passwords often and make them complicated. Most websites have upped their password criteria to include numbers and capital letters and this is a practice you should adopt when creating passwords for anything.
Get a copy of your credit report annually. You should be familiar with every detail in the report. If you're not, call the credit-granting institution and the credit report provider to correct any faulty information. If the activity winds up being fraudulent, there are options for monitoring your file that will safeguard you against future attempts at identity theft.

The bottom line is to be very protective of your information, especially now that you don't know who is behind the desk asking for your credentials. All that a thief needs to inhabit your identity is your name and date of birth; very little to do significant damage. With a high guard and a watchful eye, you can still get great (safe) deals to give great gifts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Festivals and Fun

The warm air of summer also brings the introduction of local festivals. We are very fortunate on the southwest corner of Newfoundland and Labrador to have numerous festivals take place in our back yards. Each festival is a little different but the main thrust is to encourage residents to network with other residents of their communities in a great social setting. Commencing July 27-29th, one of the longest running festivals of the Province is taking place in the beautiful Codroy Valley. In 1982, the Codroy Valley Lions Club wanted to create an opportunity to collectively showcase these musical wares and the concept of a folk festival was introduced. This newly created Codroy Valley Folk Festival was to serve a threefold purpose: 1) offer a location for local musicians to publicly display their many talents; 2) provide a social event, or gathering place, for local residents and visitors; and 3) be a source of funding for local organizational activities. The Lions Club was successful in forging a partnership with the Codroy Valley Fiddlers' Association and the Codroy Valley Recreation Association in this major undertaking. Many of the youth who have performed down through the years have pursued a musical career as adults. Today, a partnership between the Knights of Columbus, Fiddlers' Association, St. Ann's Guild and the community at large ensures that the tradition continues. While the festival has dabbled with outside entertainment for a brief time in its history, it now remains true to its roots in showcasing local entertainment. 

I would strongly encourage everyone to take in this wonderful opportunity to witness this great family event at the
 Recreation Complex, Upper Ferry, Codroy Valley, Route 406 from July 27-29th!
This Years Festival is a tribute to Jerome Downey

Sherman Downey, a long time participant in the festival and now international musician
 for more pictures visit

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's the Spending Season

It is that time of year when we experience more sunlight, warmer days, and a bounce in our step. Summer also brings about the hustle and bustle of activities that winter prevents us from completing. We come out of hibernation to eagerly commence renovations, gardening, and summer fun. These activities come at a cost, of course, so it is important to consider ways to finance activities to ensure that savings are a plenty.

The new season uncovers work around the home that needs attention and, in many cases, people have not budgeted for these expenses. Given that credit cards are a popular choice to access credit, it is only natural that many people utilize credit cards to fund renovations. The reality of this decision is that most credit cards carry interest rates from 9-19%. It is convenient, however it is not the most cost effective purchase method. The first consideration is what will be the total cost of renovations. If the costs are going to be excessive, consider using a loan or line of credit where the interest rate is lower and the payment can be set. A fixed payment will assist in ensuring that the loan obligation will be paid over a set period in time. Placing a large purchase on a credit card while making a minimum monthly payment will see the expense stretch into the long term, and you will pay an exceptional amount of interest.
An example:  Assume you place $6000 of home repairs on your credit card at an interest rate of 19%. You are only responsible to pay $100 a month.  It would take you 20 years to pay it off and in total you would repay $24,000 of which $17,829 would be interest. Take a loan out for the same amount at 7%, and you would pay the debt off in 5 years by paying $122 a month. Now imagine you are carrying credit card debt. Consider the example outlined and the amount of interest charges you are paying. A loan to consolidate that debt would be wise.

Recreational vehicles and automobiles are popular purchases when the spring-time weather arrives as well. Consumers have lots of financing choices when purchasing these vehicles and the understanding of the credit terms can be quite confusing. When purchasing one of these items, always ask for a quote broken down so you can see exactly what you are being charged. Dealers will offer financing normally through their affiliated company, i.e. Ford through Ford credit. The advantage of taking such financing is that it’s quick and convenient for the customer. The downside is it allows little room for dealer incentives which means it is more difficult to negotiate a deal. Providing your own financing through your credit union will allow you some opportunity to negotiate a better price. The major thing to consider when considering financing a vehicle is the term. Most dealerships are offering up to 9 Years to pay off a vehicle which although makes a low payment, the potential need for another vehicle after 9 years is great. Also, the warranty normally expires after 3 years so you may end up making a car payment and paying for maintenance.

If you are considering a vacation and find yourself short on funds, consider a short term loan and a savings plan. The short term loan could assist you in paying for your current vacation and a monthly savings plan could prepare you for the following year. Every October I start a bi-weekly savings plan to commence saving for Christmas for the following year. The pressure of going in debt for Christmas is removed and I can take comfort in knowing that this expense is covered. I did the same for an annual vacation fund, with automatic withdrawals from my account on payday. The funds are only accessible twice a year and not available for transactions online which removes any incentive to access the funds. I have been doing this for three years now and would highly recommend this to everyone.

We live in a world where everyone wants things yesterday. We have little tolerance for waiting to make a purchase since waiting means planning, and planning means saving. I remember speaking to a lady one time who told me that she drove her old car until the floor rusted out of it and she could see the pavement as she drove up the highway. The reason for this action was she was saving for a new car; and she paid cash for it. Today our kids have little knowledge of saving to make a purchase as they witness their parents buying things with little hesitation continuously. I placed a water jug in my house and everyday when I come home I place my loose change in the jug. I advised my kids that this is our vacation jug, and by putting our loose change in there we can save for a vacation. When it came time for counting and rolling, although painful, they were on-side trying to get to our final tally. It was a valuable lesson as they too held onto their change for their spending money.  We will celebrate this lesson in saving this month on our family vacation. We have a wonderful youth savings account at Leading Edge Credit Union, so consider starting one for your child and encourage them to learn the value in savings. Next blog will be on those considering mortgages!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Best Places to Work In Atlantic Canada

Last week I had the opportunity, along with Lisa Purchase of Port aux Basques branch and Lydia Bennett of St. Georges branch, to attend the "Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada" awards. I am pleased to report that Leading Edge Credit Union placed 13th out of the 27 recipients that made the cut. What makes us different?
This is a question that I can easily answer based on my own perceptions and opinions. However, this very question was asked to 32 of our staff and the answers that were provided included words like:
-Great team work
-Friendly work environment
-Not a high stress place to work
-We feel like we are a family
-Encourages training
-Everyone is approachable
-Open communication
-Encouraged to be innovative
-Opportunities for advancement

The culture at Leading Edge Credit Union must be conducive to the service we expect our membership to receive. A happy employee will deliver exceptional service and enjoy doing it. When people love to come to work and the atmosphere is positive, employee motivation will be higher which translates into better relationship building with our members. We have friendly, professional staff, not by accident, but by selecting people whose values align with those of the Credit Union. I am extremely pleased that our organization is viewed so strongly as a great place to work!

Here is a recent article in the Credit Union Newswire, an internal Credit Union publication for Canada.

Seven of Top 27 Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada are Credit Unions

Seven of the top 27 Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada 2012 are Atlantic credit unions - including Metro Credit Union, which placed number one on the list prepared annually by Progress Magazine.
Metro Credit Union’s General Manager Bernard Gillis notes, “Metro is full of great employees who take pride in their career, who value the role our credit union plays in the community, and who go out of their way to provide outstanding service to their members. We’re very pleased to be honored this way.”
In addition to Metro Credit Union, the list includes Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union (no. 2); OMISTA Credit Union (no. 6); Leading Edge Credit Union (no. 13); Bergengren Credit Union (no. 16); Bayview Credit Union (no. 18); and East Coast Credit Union (no. 23). Every province is represented among the credit unions. The list was announced May 17 in Halifax.
NLCU’s Chief Operating Officer Glenn Bolger comments on NLCU’s website, “Having this many credit unions recognized at such a prestigious event is a true indication of the strength of the credit union system in Canada. Credit unions understand that we cannot be successful unless our owners and our employees are successful - and we make it our mission to help them get there.” (
Atlantic Central President and CEO Bernie O’Neil offered congratulations to all credit unions on their recognition. “While not surprising it is tremendously gratifying to see seven Atlantic credit unions on this list, particularly to see the top two spots occupied by credit unions. Special congratulations to both Metro Credit Union and NLCU for this achievement.”
“Credit unions are special financial institutions because we do focus on people; both the needs of our members, and also our employees. Our focused approach ensures that we not only manage our members’ assets wisely, but that we help members and staff meet their goals. That’s our definition of success.”
The role of Atlantic Central is to represent and support the credit unions of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.
2012 is the United Nations’ International Year of Co-operatives, and credit unions are co-operative financial institutions founded on the same seven values that all co-operatives share. (  The theme for 2012 is Co-operative Enterprises Build a Better World, and awards like this demonstrate that the theme is correct. Credit unions, through their boards, staff and members, are building stronger communities all across the Atlantic region.
For more information on the credit union system, visit
Last Updated on Wednesday, May 23 2012, 10:03AM ADT

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leading Edge Credit Union to Host a Woman Credit Union Manager from Africa

I am pleased to report that Leading Edge Credit Union will be hosting a Woman working in the Credit Union system in Africa. The bio of the sponsored lady has not been made available yet however we are extremely excited to receive this news.
In January 2012, while I was away in Uganda, members of the Port aux Basques Branch and Corporate office completed an application under the CCA Womens Mentorship Program (WMP). The program will see 15 Credit Union Women leaders from 9 countries come to Canada on May 7th for two weeks training and knowledge sharing. May 10th-20th our sponsor will be hosted by Leading Edge Credit Union staff. During this time, the sponsor will be introduced to our best practices of managing a Credit Union and also be exposed to our culture and way of life.
Zirobwe Credit Union home of Rita
The goal of this program is to provide tangible experience to these leaders so that they can implement the knowledge gained in their own Credit Union. The Credit Union in their communities is so vital to the success of the community that ensuring sustainability of the system is critical. During my visit in Uganda I had the the opportunity to visit Zirobwe Credit Union (SACCO). The manager Rita, was a former participant in the WMP in Canada. It was clear from reviewing her branch operations that she had implemented a significant amout of the knowledge that she gained from her experience.  The branch had well defined policies and procedures, was neat and tidy, and had adequate risk controls. The relationships with the members were secure and the branch was growing significantly. It was very rewarding to talk to her and see the impact of this program first hand. It was comforting to know that this experience improved many lives, beyond Rita.

I will keep the blog updated with our sponsor information as soon as it becomes available. The great news is that we scheduled our annual general meeting date around the time when our sponsor will be visiting us. For those membership that attend the AGM they will get to hear hopefully her story and life in Africa.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Honourable Keith Hutchings Address on Co-operatives

Statement by
Honourable Keith Hutchings
Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development
March 12, 2012

Co-operatives Contributing to Community and Business Development

Mr. Speaker, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we are home to some well-established co-operatives that have contributed greatly to community and business development.  We are also home to newer co-operatives that hold tremendous promise.In southern Labrador, when the Bank of Montreal withdrew its operations, residents stepped-up, mobilized their resources, and formed the Eagle River Credit Union.  It was a collective effort that ensured that the delivery of financial services would continue and today it has accumulated more than $79 million in assets.By pooling valuable resources so that it could better access equipment and expertise, the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative has helped grow the sector to $30 million – up from $2 million a decade ago.  More recently, Seed to Spoon has emerged as a co-operative that sells locally-grown produce to restaurants, residents, and the St. John’s Farmer Market.  It is proving to be a positive relationship among co-operatives, local farmers, and community members, directly linking products with consumers.  In January, I accompanied representatives from local co-operatives at the Canadian launch of the International Year of Co-operatives.  Just last week, I was pleased to join several local co-operatives in formally proclaiming 2012 as the Year of Co-operatives in Newfoundland and Labrador. As a government, we view co-operatives as being integral in community and economic development.  Co-operatives serve a key role in developing industry sectors and addressing market demands. In the coming weeks, the Provincial Government will be renewing its Memorandum of Understanding with the Newfoundland-Labrador Federation of Co-operatives. We want to build off the progress made from our 2007 agreement, which positioned this province as a leader in Canada for our working relationship with the provincial co-operative business association. Mr. Speaker, the door is open to further strengthen and develop co-operatives.  This MOU is one important step in that process. Co-operatives are good for communities, they are good for industry growth, and they are good for the province. Over the course of 2012, I encourage all members of this Honourable house to join in celebrating the value of co-operatives in their own districts. 
Thank You

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kungulimera SACCO

Approximately two hours outside of the capital city of Kampala, Uganda is the trading center of Kungulimera. A trading center is basically a hub point where merchants gather with shops (not stores I learned) that service outlining communities. The SACCO is on the main street, smack in the middle of the hustle and bustle of activity. There is a goat under the SACCO sign and just up from the entrance is a huge pile of fresh pineapples that farmers are offloading from a fresh harvest. We are greeted by a kind and gentle armed guard with a warm smile. It's already warming up and we instantly start to sweat. The guard tells us it is also hot for them. We enter the premise after posing for a few pictures with my new guard friend. Immediately I notice on the wall of the manager/loans officer office something very interesting. They have handwritten the list of the board members, the committees, the mission, the values, and the goals of the Sacco on the wall. They also had their budget in plain view as well as all their results for the last 12 months. I could immediately tell this was a SACCO that was organized and proud.

The introductions followed with the management team and members of the board. The people are so friendly and accommodating and it was an easy transition from stranger to partner. The Canadian Coaching program is a partnership in its highest form. This SACCO is very proud to have the rare opportunity to host Canadian coaches. We learned that just our presence in their town will demonstrate strength in their SACCO and spread good will. This was quite evident in later discussions with merchants and members.

We are sitting in a room in Uganda waiting for the audience to outline their challenges, when the manager insists we go for Breakfast as his guests. We make our way down through town to a quaint little restaurant where I get to try African tea. It is warm milk with a hint of spice. We have some informal discussions before heading back to the office to get down to business. The questions ranged from delinquency management and building a new premises, to branching in other locations. It was a great dialogue and the chair of the board did a great job to include everyone in the discussion. They were very proud of their gender equality philosophy. They had a great mix of women and men on both the board and staff. This may seem trivial to us, however, these are bold steps in Uganda. Traditionally, women played a homemaker role and were not involved in such commerce activity. To demonstrate this, we noticed that all the SACCO's we visited broke down their membership by male and female statistics. This is certainly not the practice in Canada as we do not differentiate the sex of a member or staff person. It was clear that the SACCO was liberal and innovative. Upon completing our analysis and gathering data for our report, it was time to see how this SACCO makes a difference in this trading center. We took a 15 minute drive on a dirt road to visit a farmer who focused on pineapples and other crops for their livelihood. We were greeted by a quiet, sweet lady that seemed quite shy by our presence. She had very limited English and her husband had left the farm to run errands, still she graciously agreed to give us a tour despite being pregnant. She described how the SACCO has provided loans to assist her and her husband with expanding the farm and increasing their livelihood. Her children now have the opportunity to go to school and get an education because they can afford the school fees. This story seems to be the overall message we received with every visit. It was such a wonderful feeling to look into the eyes of this lady and realize that credit unions make a real difference and her family was going to be OK. What must be understood is the access to capital makes the difference. These families would not have access to money were it not for the SACCO. There are other agencies there, but they change interest rates in excess of 30% with unfavorable loan terms. We saw many vacant buildings that were a result of loans being called by these institutions. People stripped of their land and home. It is certainly easy to see why the SACCO is growing at such a rapid rate.

It is so hard to contain your thoughts on what the future could be like in this area. We visited another farm and the thoughts again started on "if only...". If only they had the money for a well to have an irrigation system and if only they had a small tractor. The next farmer had an amazing farm, but as we stood on a small hill he pointed out and told us his green crops are dying. The drought is having an impact despite trying to water the crops by hand. What I mean when I say "by hand" is he walks over 500 feet through rough terrain with two 20 liter jugs. He retrieves water from a hole that he had dug in the ground. It is mind blowing to think how labour intensive the management of his farm is. The heat, at this point, is taking its toll as we tuck under some sugar canes to interview the farmer. Shielded from the sun we begin to ask questions, however I cannot help but notice his farm workers continuing to work in the field with equipment we would simply cast aside. The farmers son joins us and listens in his dad describes his challenges and the difference the SACCO made in his life.
Small business member

We made our way back to our hotel, and while driving the roads and witnessing people going about their business, I tried to challenge myself on what I learned today. I believe that this experience is not only about delivering a well written report to assist our SACCO friends, it's also about learning something. I realized that this SACCO prides itself on disclosure and allowing the membership to be a part of their organization far more than any other credit union I've ever experienced. The membership, after all, has it all on the line. The failure of the SACCO can mean the demise of the community. If the membership cannot safely deposit or gain access to capital, they cannot expand, invest, or improve themselves. This SACCO recognizes this and is very transparent with its activity; ensuring members take comfort in knowing the strategic direction. It made me think of our own annual general meeting and how important it is to ensure members see where the credit union is heading and the impact it will have on them. It would also be great if I get some feedback on their thoughts. This is the value proposition of being a member after all.

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Member above deposit book, she was very proud

Kungulimera Area Co operative Alliance

After a great visit with the Kungulimera SACCO, we arranged a visit to the Kungulimera Area Cooperative Alliance (ACE). The ACE was created for one simple reason; to bring groups of farmers together to sell their crops at a better price, and introduce them to new markets. A cluster of farmers in an area get together in whats termed an RPO (Rural Producer Organization). The RPO's then become members of the ACE to form a larger group. In the Kungulimera ACE, there are approximately 28 RPO's which consists of over 1450 farmers. In the past, these individual farmers would not work in cooperation to sell their product in the trade centers and wherever they could yield sales. Larger organizations, serving as middlemen, bought much of the product from the farmers at deep discounts and then took it to market to make large profits. The farmers were on the losing end and at the mercy of the middleman. Today, the ACE works with the farmers to provide training, support, and most importantly, a market with a much higher price. Due to the larger volume that the ACE can now collect, they can market to Sudan, Kenya, and the Congo. The farmer gets money for his crop right away, alleviating the pain of waiting for the product to sell and the risk of loss due to potential spoilage. The ACE also borrows from the SACCO to pay the farmer, which is good business for the SACCO. In this triangle of commerce, it is a true demonstration of how cooperatives can work together for the good of a community.

The ACE we visited has high aspirations. They just started to do value added processing, which is the first evidence of this strategy that I witnessed. On a tour of their location, they showed us how they make pineapple juice and wine. Producing juice for local schools is just a bonus for the community. They actually increase the profit on a pineapple fourfold. A raw pineapple will yield at best 1,000 shillings, but it will produce enough juice to generate about 10,000 shillings. Take out the cost of production, and it is easy to see the benefits. They are working on increasing the market, however, this will also provide them options when they have difficulty selling raw pineapples with a limited shelf life: bottle the juice (which contains no preservatives, by the way) and store for market. I purchased a bottle of pineapple wine and am saving it for home - but I am confident it will be delicious.

They also showed us their sun-dried pineapple operation that they are trying out. They have large solar units outside their building where they place the cut pineapple to be dried by the sun. Obviously the sun is present quite often and makes for a simple drying process. The drying units are simply plastic houses to magnify the sun's power. The issue they are having now is the packaging company will not sell them the bags, but want to do the packing themselves and label it for market. The ACE is getting hit with a middleman themselves and they are looking for a solution. I sampled this pineapple and, all I can say is I would eat this everyday! I truly hope they can gain access to the bags themselves and start producing dry pineapple and other fruit. They have so much access to raw material, and this would put more money back into the hands of the farmers, the ACE's , and the SACCO's. Oh, and they also want to produce cough syrup using pineapple juice and aloe, but that is my next blog, lol.

A value added product
I will soon be heading home, but what a great lesson in farming, cooperatives and partnerships. I cannot help but think about the Codroy Valley and the opportunities that are available. I am challenging myself to play a role in stimulating farming in this area by offering leadership and identifying how our credit union can be a strategic partner. Let's face it, I'd much prefer potatoes or other produce from our local farms than from some far-off land. How can we convince people to support it? What products are they looking for? What would encourage farmers to sell to the cooperative and become members? What are the barriers to farming? Maybe once we get the answers to these questions we can call on our friends from Uganda to assist us.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Farmers Supporting the SACCO's in Uganda

Mpagi Saul -Coffee, Bananas, Livestock, and Fruits
At Nizigo SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-operatives, Credit Unions), we had an opportunity to visit three farms to learn more about how the SACCO helps them and in return how they support the SACCO.

Jack Fruit

Saul was a very well spoken farmer who has a degree in Agriculture from Kenya. He was quite proud of his education and accomplishments. He gave us the grand tour of his huge farm and demonstrated how his education in farming has paid dividends. He hires labourers and harvests his crop with money he borrows from the SACCO.  He very generously shared a Jack Fruit with us. Most North Americans would not have the opportunity to try the Jack Fruit as it only has a shelf life of about 4 days. We were lucky to enjoy one, right off the tree, and it was very tasty. I cannot describe the taste but it was a coarse slimy fruit, similar to a honeydew. It had huge seeds and you could pick the fruit with your hands once it was cracked open. It is the size of a watermelon and it grows high on a tree.

James Kakooza

The next farmer we met was James Kakooza. He had a small garden in front of his house and a large banana plantation. I had to use a interpreter to talk to James as he knew little english. He showed us an impressive farm that he had also been able to build as a result of the SACCO giving him a farm loan. He has used the income from the farm to pay for school fees and keep his home in good shape for his family. You can certainly tell that this man is a hard worker and he is very proud.

The last farmer we visited was Ali Kabanda. He is a youth pineapple farmer. He also took out a loan to plant pineapples in about an acre of land. He had an impressive farm and you can tell it has been a lot of work. He advised that it takes the first harvest of pineapple about 18 months. You can see an interview with Ali in the previous blog.

So what did I learn about Nazigo Credit Union and the farmers we met that day? There is a strong commitment and loyalty to one another. This is not the kind of relationship you get to witness everyday. These relationships are strong and supportive to the point they consider each other partners and family. As coaches, we prepared an in-depth report to the board offering suggestions on how to tackle some of the problems they were facing. They do great things, and although we were there to provide advice and recommendations, I too learned a great deal. The board and management take great pride in the community and supporting their members. They have their loans staff visit their commercial clients regularly to have tea and discuss their business. The farmers were quite proud that the loans staff brought Canadian coaches to their farms and were pleased to show us their farm - once we signed their guest book. I was so impressed by this relationship; it will be something I will never forget and certainly encourage at our Credit Union.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Uganda Credit Unions (SACCO's) Making a difference

I am attaching a video of a Uganda Youth Farmer (Ali). He is 26 years old and had received some land from his family to farm. He was unsure how he could turn his land into something worthwhile so he visited the SACCO from his hometown Nazigo. The Nazigo Credit Union with 1962 members - my partner and I bought shares so we were 1960 and 1961 - educated Ali on the importance of credit in a week long education program. He then had to purchase shares of 100,000 shillings (approx $40) if he was to borrow 1 Million shillings for his farm. He saved and bought the shares and he was granted the loan to buy plants. He cleared about 1 acre of land by hand with a homemade tools and the land was rocky and dry to work with. He planted pineapple plants in rows of two which will yield a single pineapple after 18 months and he will earn approximately 3000-4000 shillings per pineapple. He has been paying his interest only loan until such time his crop will harvest, then he will repay his loan to the SACCO.
In Canadian standards it is safe to say that these loans may never be granted. Rules, policies, best practices, legislation, and other governance issues would stand in the way of preventing action. The Credit Union system has to also follow such rules, however thankfully, the membership selects a board to determine these guidelines. The rules are local rules that work for the local economy and not that of Toronto. Watch the video and see for yourself the impact of a SACCO to this farmer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Uganda Credit Union Experience

Where do I start?? There is so much information on the history of the credit union system in Uganda, I find it difficult to digest, compress and relay it in a meaningful manner. So there it is, my testament that writing a blog is a little challenging. I want the information to be interesting and captivating while providing my insight on this wonderful experience, so here goes!

First Meeting the Uganda Co-operative Association
We are not good stewards for our own community development.

The rationale behind this bold statement is from a meeting that I attended this morning with the Uganda Co-operative Association (UCA). I received a great presentation from Leonard Msemakweli, on the history of the co-operative movement in Uganda. He described the robust co-op sector which was formed in 1913 and how it had to overcome numerous obstacles in the following 90 years. The largest obstacle was the change in Government in the 1990's which dismantled the previous governments great relationship with co-operatives. The new government simply wanted to remove anything that the previous government liked and in doing so, stopped supporting co-operatives. In return, many of the co-operatives began to suffer and fail and the Government did not realize the impact of their decisions. On top of the Governments poor attitude, the Uganda currency "Shilling", lost significant value on the world markets. Uganda is a large exporter of agricultural goods, and as a result, the production of goods became unprofitable. With the growth in population - 32 million in a 240 square kilometer area - they are also struggling with land availability.

The environment for the rural citizens became very difficult with access to jobs, credit, and opportunities drying up. In a bold move by the UCA, they sought out to convince the new government that the co-operative model was what the people needed. They developed a new co-operative model and implemented the model in 10 organizations. The model had several critical success points:
  1. Staff were trained using a strong management and co-operative knowledge training program.
  2. Policies and procedures were implemented with stringent requirements.
  3. The co-operative principles were enforced
The model became so successful that the government reversed its decision and made bold statements such as "all financing should be done through a co-operative". Citizens now had access to co-ops where they could jointly come together and negotiate prices for their products and sell to suppliers at a more profitable price, sometimes three times higher then negotiating on their own. The local credit union would lend to the co-ops thus providing the financial injection required to stimulate growth in their economy. Rural citizens began to
borrow and save and as a result mass social improvements came to fruition. Employment increased, incomes increased, children became educated, and production of agriculture increased. The stigma that government had attached to co-ops had fallen and support soon followed. The government created a department and assigned a Minister of Co-operatives. Leonard credits the Canadian Co-operative Association for assisting with the new model development and implementation. He also credits CCA for assisting UCA to lobby the  Uganda government  for support.

All of this change happened in the last 10 years, and had resounding impacts on this region. Interesting enough, the commercial banks have arrived in Uganda, 12 in total. They had tried to now penetrate the rural areas as 80% of the population resides in rural areas. The citizens have responded with a strong commitment to their co-op's. I asked Leonard why is that the citizens have opted to continue to bank with the co-operatives and shun the banks with only 10% of the population supporting banks. He advised that they have not forgotten what the local co-ops have done for them. They appreciate that they elect local representatives and they speak and manage the way their local co-ops operate. They determine how to distribute funds and do not appreciate that their savings would be removed from their community and invested in other countries when the need is on their doorstep. They also have recognized that during tough times, their co-operatives would work with them, invest in them and not leave them as the banks have done before. WOW!
I look at our own credit union where three out of the six branches are operating where the bank has pulled out. Four of the six branches operate as the single financial institution in town. We are operating on the same principles of the Uganda model however there is a stronger loyalty, and commitment to the community in Uganda. It seems that price in many instances is the underpinning decision maker for most people, leaving me to question so much. What value today do people place on their community?  I have described how a co-operative model in Uganda basically is the foundation of rebuilding that country. I am very pleased to have such a small piece of that development. The coaching program has been running for numerous years and assisting the co-ops in numerous areas. The partnerships between the establishment of co-operatives and credit unions is admirable.

So when i think of some of the areas in which we operate and consider some of the needs out there, my head spins with opportunities. Opportunities that are left vacant because having one entrepreneur invest is out of reach. Imagine many like-minded and needing people investing in something however, and now you have a working model. I think of a certified daycare in Port aux Basques that is much needed however can never seem to take off. Farming in the rich soils of the Codroy Valley that requires trained farmers, equipment, markets, financing, land, and professional services. Housing in many other communities are a definite need and yet lacking investments. Maybe we need to take a lesson from the people of Uganda and put the riches aside and focus back on our communities. Maybe Leading Edge Credit Union needs to take a leadership role and work with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Co-ops and start to develop some of these community services. After all.... the United Nations declared this year the "International Year of the Co-operatives"!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Long Travels

Wow, what a long day! I am on the Tarmac in Istanbul, Turkey at the moment. When leaving Ottawa on Friday we learned that our flight would be delayed by two hours which then meant that our connections would be impacted as well. The end result meant flying from Frankfurt, Germany to Istanbul, rather than going to Brussels. The change had meant for a longer day and a little stress which our gang handled quite well. We narrowly got on the plane in Istanbul due to some mix up with the tickets and once we got on board they have called for a doctor on the flight. We have approximately a 7 hour flight remaining to get to Uganda and we are now 22 hours into our travel.
Needless to say the whole gang is in good spirits despite being very tired as the other common denominator is that we are also working with a 8 hour time zone difference. We are all certainly looking forward to arriving in Uganda and retiring this evening. The time zone impact to me is six and a half hours. I took advantage of this tonight when I called home to wish my little girl a happy 9th birthday. It was great to hear her voice as I find that when you travel you find lots of things to remind you of home. It could be the movie on the plane or simply seeing other kids. I was real pleased to hear that when she blowed out the candles on her cake she wished for my safe return:)
The introductions to the safety videos are in three languages and is clear by the passengers that we are on our way to Uganda. It was great to see the warm smiles of the Ugandans in the airport and it immediately brought back memories of my travel to Ghana. I am really looking forward to meeting our partners and working them over the course of the next two weeks. It is currently 24 degrees Celsius there and 9:30pm, a welcoming change to Ottawa's -24. My partner and I will be visiting three credit unions in total. We will also have the next weekend off and we will be traveling to Murchison Park. If you google the park, as I did, it looks quite spectacular. I plan to take a boat tour up the river and snap a lot of pictures. In Mole Park last year I had the rare opportunity to see free roaming elephants and other wildlife. It would be great if I can get to see some hippos.
Well we are finally moving to the runway, I will be reporting tomorrow on our arrival.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Team

Here is the Canadian team heading to Africa! The group consists of three teams with each having an assigned country (Uganda, Malawi, and Ghana). I will be traveling to Uganda with another seven Canadians. My partner, Harvey and I will be visiting 3 credit unions in the Central region near the capital city Kampala. We have just completed our cultural training for our respective countries. It was great to meet two former residents of Uganda and learn about their culture, heritage, political, and general geographic information. The training is very important as it prepares you for the introduction to a very unfamiliar situation. We learned simple things like the proper way to introduce yourself and say hello, and more important information such as ensuring that we don't insult others by doing certain gestures or saying something offensive.

In this picture, we are suppose be raising our hands in celebration of completing our training. Yes I am aware that it looks like I am being robbed, ha.

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My Journey Begins

Uganda 2012
The start of my journey begins with waking up in Corner Brook to a foot of fresh snow. It is a gentle reminder of the weeks that I will be missing in Newfoundland. The immediate thoughts turn to home and wondering if I had made all the necessary preparations. It was this time last year when I left home and we had no snow. The following days it was storm after storm, which wrecked havoc on my driveway and the management of a few apartments I own. However, this time I am good; I was smart enough to hire a contractor for snow clearing and Roger, my trusty Operations Manager, agreed to look after my home driveway.
I took the opportunity to visit most of the branches yesterday and further explain why their CEO was going to be absent for 3 weeks. In one of the many conversations that I had, I was intrigued by a staff persons reaction to the news that I would miss my daughters 9th birthday on this trip. The reaction of that staff member, as well as that of many other's over the last few weeks when I announced my travel plans, has been to question why I would subject myself to this experience.
I am currently on a plane to Halifax typing this blog. Half the plane is filled with diamond workers going to the North West Territories for work. They make this long journey twice a month. I took the opportunity to speak to a good member of ours while waiting for the flight and he described travel as second nature now. My good friend Scott Savoury, who just completed his last posting in Afghanistan, is retiring this month. He has countless stories of military travels all over the world. Most of these locations certainly are a lot more risky then the comforts I will have in Uganda. The point is, that the pitfall of traveling is missing out on daily activities that we live each day. Whether it is traveling for business or pleasure, time away means some form of sacrifice. Unfortunately I will miss my daughters birthday, and as I explained to my coworker no matter what time of the year I opted to participate in this program there will be a sacrifice. I am sure Shawn Brownrigg, who I chattered with in the airport, will encounter the same during his two weeks up North.
In my case, this is a small price for a huge reward. First and foremost, this experience is about helping my credit union coworkers in Uganda. The transfer of my 18 years of financial experience will hopefully yield large dividends for their communities in the future. I did question this project last year in Ghana after my first credit union visit. The advice and recommendations that I was providing seemed so trivial in comparison to what I do daily at our credit union. However, after just one visit I was completely shocked by how the recipients of the information immediately started to make changes and implement our recommendations. I have to credit my Irish partner Barry Tracey, who assured me that patience and simple strategies are the keys to success for the Ghanian credit union system.
Second, the training experience from a leadership perspective is unmeasurable. I have the opportunity to coach, mentor and enhance my communication skills. In my last coaching experience, I learned how important it is to listen and ask numerous open ended questions. Working in a credit union in Ghana, it is vital that you have strong communication skills to get a thorough understanding of their situation before providing recommendations. I have traditionally been someone to jump right in and start throwing around solutions as normally I would have a good understanding of the situation I was presented with. Listening is so important to what we do daily in our personal and work life. I have to admit it is not my strong suit, so in my coaching capacity, I am forced to manage this behavior.

Third, members and potential members of credit unions should want to align themselves with a socially responsible credit union. Over the next two weeks, I plan to share lots of stories of how credit unions in Uganda make a difference in people's lives. Leading Edge Credit Union does a lot of great socially responsible work within the areas in which we operate. All staff is actively involved in numerous projects such as the Relay for Life, and other great social programs. I am very proud to work for an organization that supports international projects and truly believes in enriching people's lives.
Well folks, tomorrow we depart for Uganda, and my next blog report will be on the ground in Kampala, the capital city!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

International Year of Co-operatives

Please see the attached link and see the Video of Pauline Green, President of International Co-operative Alliance discuss the great things that Co-ops are doing around the world!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Uganda, Africa 2012

Uganda, the three dots are where I will be posted.

Well its official, I will be traveling to Uganda on January 20th to do my second assignment for the Canadian Cooperative Association. I am extremely pleased that once again the Board of Directors has allowed me the time to volunteer for this assignment. It is great to work for an organization that not only supports local social responsibility initiatives but global initiatives as well. I have attended several world credit union conferences and it is truly amazing to witness the scope of the credit union movement. The world credit union association is referenced as WOCCU (World Council of Credit Unions). Their website is which displays amazing work being done by credit unions throughout the world. There are 188 Million members being served by 53000 credit unions in 100 countries. I have the rare and unique opportunity to visit 3 of those credit unions in the Central Region of Uganda. I have just received my postings and look forward to visiting my assigned credit unions. The three credit Unions I will be visiting are on the outskirts of Kampala, the capital city. There are 32 Million people in Uganda, in a 241,038 sq km area. The main exports are coffee, fish, tea, tobacco, cotton, corn, beans, and sesame. I am sure the fruits are amazing as they were in Ghana.
I will be updating my blog daily on my activities once I leave the airport on the 17th of January. I am hoping that I can ascertain internet while I am there to keep in touch with everyone. Personally I am excited about going and working with these credit unions despite the long travel commitment. I am sure my teammates in Canada and Ireland are equally looking forward to providing guidance and assistance to our friends in Africa.
Credit Unions are doing good work in this area of Africa. I have had the time to review one credit union in particular and in 2008 they had only 432 members and in 2010 they tripled to 1425. The startling statistic is that out of the 1425 members, 1257 hold active savings accounts. In a country that has seen such poverty, 88% of the membership attempts to save money. Surely a lesson for us Canadians!
Keep watching for updates!!