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 http://www.woccu.org/ 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!!