Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gene Creelman - Being a coach

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Redemption Co-op Credit Union is a small, parish based credit union with room to grow. The board, for simplicity and convenience, meets jointly with the loans and supervisory committees monthly – which means these committees that are set up to operate independent of influence from the board, are essentially circumventing the safeguards the structure has put in place. After reviewing our concerns with the manager and the board secretary, they felt re-assured as they had had small small discussions in the past, but the affirmation from the coaches gave them new resolve to address these concerns.

The credit union bylaws has also enabled the board to delegate authority to the manager, but they had never taken advantage of this. Members asking for loans had to wait for the monthly credit commitee meeting and were not being served well by this.

Many of the loans were smaller in size to members that had been successful in paying off previous loans. The board will be addressing providing loan approval to the manager for these more routine loans – a positive step for the management and for the members.

Along with several other recommendations, our report was positively received and Bruce and I have completed the onsite visits with credit unions. We have some homework to do for CCA whcih we can do between now and Canada – we have a debrief on Thursday and then off to arrive in London Friday monring and then leave for Canada on Sunday/Monday.

The whole experience here in Ghana with the credit unions again has been very gratifying – I am always surprised at the insight we Canadians are able to offer even in areas outside of our expertise. There have been many changes in the 7 years since I was last year – I will note them in my next post…..


Jodi Chambers - A crazy couple of days

Monday January 28, 2013

It's been a couple of days since I have posted a video. I can honestly say it has been CRAZY - crazy good, crazy bad, crazy scarey, crazy emotional. We went to the Wli waterfalls,which were awe inspiring. Unfortunately Fintan, my fellow coach from Ireland fell on the rocks and cut his hand really bad. We had to take him to emergency....hmmmm.

That was pretty much all of yesterday - though the cool thing was our waterfalls guide, Alfred, was very interested in learning more about the credit union. He is a farmer and a tour guide. He wants to save for his daughter's education and borrow to help finish building his house out of the cement blocks he had made. His current house was made of clay. We said we would come back and speak to his village about the credit union in the hopes they would build a savings group. I will post tomorrow the pics and videos we have from our visit to Alfred's village today. While we were there we met with some of the village people and spoke to them and took questions about the credit union. Then Alfred took us on a tour of his palm nut, rice, pineapple and casova farm - WOW.

Until then here is the video from the past two days!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Anthony Okuchi - The chance to be a small part

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Its Sunday afternoon and the other coaches have gone off on an excursion to visit Cape Coast Castle. If you have never been, it’s a great experience seeing what our forefathers did during the height of the slave trade in the name of profit.

There is a plaque at this castle which I’ve copied for you, “Of the anguish of our ancestors, may those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never perpetrate such crimes against humanity. We the living. Vow to uphold this”.

But, I’m sitting at the restaurant next door since I saw the slave castle earlier this week and wait for the other coaches to finish their tour. It’s a wooden framed restaurant with no windows, two stories up on beams with corrugated aluminum panels forming the roof that overlooks the ocean. It’s a color restaurant painted in greens, red and white. Its filled with patrons and a bustle of activity, shuffling feet, creaking floors, laughing, and people having wonderful conversations. I’ve somehow managed to secure a window seat overlooking the ocean which I’ll hold onto like a stubborn barnacle that clings to a rock until they kick me out, or at least until the other coaches return. You can smell the humid sea air from my perch and watch the people frolicking on the beach. I feel like a bit like a lone seagull high overhead as I watch the families coming down to the beach and take various pictures. They look like middle-income families who have enough resources to afford taking trips. Significantly different from others that I have met in Ghana.

Its telling to watch. Ghana is changing. Clean water is becoming more common. I can actually eat salad in some restaurants without getting sick. I see digital cameras, tablets, and I even saw a high end motorcycle in the countryside. Many years from now, Ghanaians won’t have to worry about their children dying from sickness. More people will be educated. More will even have luxuries that their forefathers would have never dreamed of. And even better. No one would ever dream of trading people for goods.

It’s nice to feel like I am a small part of this. I’m so thankful for Vancity for helping to sponsor me. To be with a co-operative which sees the value of this global work. I’m so thankful to CCA for doing this wonderful work and working harder and harder each year and always looking at ways to enhance the program. They have changed so much since my first experience in 2004.

I reflect on this experience as I tap away at this keyboard overlooking the ocean and watching the lives of Ghanaians pass me by and realize that life does not get any better than this. How lucky I am to be able to enjoy this authentic experience. Ghana will change. One step at a time, but mostly because the people here want to and are doing everything they can for their country. CCA, Vancity, and the number of coaches before me like Erin, Miriam, Tracey and I just get to be a very small part of it. Its Sunday afternoon and the other coaches have gone off on an excursion to visit Cape Coast Castle. If you have never been, it’s a great experience seeing what our forefathers did during the height of the slave trade in the name of profit.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Bruce Rogers - More then just a loan

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gene and I visited the Animal Research Institute Credit Union on Wed and Thur. We were going in the opposite direction of the mass flow of traffic and still took over an hour to get north to Frafafa in Greater Accra a distance of about 25 kms.

We were met by the CU manager and his three staff. Members of the board, including the Chairman, Dr Charles Domozoro dropped over at various times during the day to welcome us. The secretary of the board, Andrews Kofi Assante (Andy) and the manager, Yaw Mensa spent most of the day with us as we learned about their credit union.

The ARI is a government department under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research ministry. The ARI does research in the area of improving the production of livestock for food. There are 4 facilities around the country and we visited the main operations. The CU office is in space provided in the administration office.

The CU was started in 1999 as a closed bond society that only served the staff of the ARI offices around the country. Recently they adopted an open bond that allows them to serve more than just the employees. The main operations are located in a community called Fafraha. There is a population that is not served by any other nearby CU and they were able to increase their membership. Today is stands at little over 1000 members and they have aggressive plans to grow to 3000 or 5000 members.

Almost 100 percent of the staff of ARI are members and make up a little over 600 of the current 1000 members. The staff have just recently completed a project to enter the membership information into a new computer system and now await some assistance from the software supplier for help in adding the members account information into the computer system. In the meantime they continue to use pen and paper in a ledger card system and give members handwritten receipts and passbooks. Most of the deposits come to the CU by payroll deduction from the ARI payroll department.

The CU has some very interesting projects that are designed to provide benefits to the membership and make the CU attractive to join. The CU has an investment in a Layer and Broiler Chicken operation in the community. Using their technical expertise and dollars (well really Ghanaian Cedis) they invested in this operation. They bought a chicken for every member at Christmas plus had a small profit at the end of the year.

They have a food hamper program where the members can buy a supply of food items and pay for it via a small loan. 

Again, a benefit for membership to both the staff and outside members. Two Cedi is a Canadian dollar.

The CU also has a land development project where they bought a parcel of land a few years ago and are in the process of surveying and subdividing this into building lots. They then sell the land to the members at a much reduced price in comparison to the regular real estate market – about half. The members who want a lot, make an agreement and then buy the land over time. It seems that the average person takes about 7 years to purchase the land, buy the materials and construct the house. Every stage needs to be paid for in cash, there are no mortgage loans. They laughed when we talked about 25 year amortizations on mortgage loans. They will save to buy the land, save to buy the blocks for the walls, save to buy the timbers for the roof, save for the metal for the roof, save to finish the interior – maybe plumbing, tiles for the floors and furnishings.

There are as many buildings, homes, apartments or office buildings, under construction as there are built today. They just don’t get done quickly.

Our report was well received by the board and they were anticipating some of our recommendations as they were well aware of some of the things that would improve their operation. The questions asked and comparisons made to our Canadian operations indicated that they were keen to see the continued development of their CU.

The Africa Cup is being played in South Africa now and Ghana’s national football team was on the pitch at 3:00. The nation almost stood still for 2 hours. It was fun to watch them watch the match. They were like any Rider or NHL fan in the seats or in a seat in a bar or at home. Everyone helped coach the team through the entire match. Shouts, groans and cheering assisted the Ghanaians to a 1-0 victory over Mali.


Anthony Okuchi - Why Ghana

Thursday January 24, 2013

Today, I was idly watching a credit union internal auditor pouring over weathered receipts and documents that were haphazardly piled on his desk and at his feet. Some of the receipt books looked like they were about to fall apart from overuse and I was silently observing to myself how tough it must be to audit in these conditions.

I could tell that he was curious about me. Stealing glances at me as he worked. I could see that he didn’t know what to make of me. He was mustering the courage to ask me a question, but was hesitating. I decided that it was in our mutual best interests to introduce myself before he lost the nerve.

He was polite and dignified man who asked permission to ask a question. He asked me if I live in a country where there are poor people. I replied, “Yes, we have many people who are poor and cannot afford financial services. There are people in Canada who lack access to financial services and there are many Credit Unions who are trying to help communities.”

He then replied, “Why Ghana? Why not help communities in Canada that are poor? Why come to Ghana?” I was taken aback at his question with a mixture of reverence for his wisdom to be so insightful, and his ability to be so authentic with a complete stranger from another country. I did pause before I answered, but I replied, “Of course many Credit Unions help at home, but it is in our nature to co-operate with others. It is our nature to share, learn, and work together as a common global co-operative to help each other succeed.” I explained that my Credit Union is also the largest in Canada and has learned many lessons over its lifetime and now feels an overwhelming responsibility to pass these learnings onto other Credit Unions so that they can be successful.

He immediately smiled at my response. Initially inquisitive, he now pointed at me, shook both my hands, and said, “Happy Family” which is a common phrase used by Credit Union Members here to describe the co-operative movement here.

Today, I feel very proud to be a part of this happy family. Only in a co-operative can you get this kind of wonderful experience that if you travel the world as a co-operative you will always find family.
                      He asked me to take a picture of him working so that he could show his boss.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Richard Turley - 2 million to 1

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The work begins.....

Our second day in Kampala was filled with meeting our Ugandan colleagues at the Ugandan Cooperative Alliance (UCA) and working on the 'coach toolkit' that we are to use in the field to assess the SACCOs.

The day started off with a bang - Kampala style! As we walked down to the UCA from our hotel, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the crowded streets and the cacophonic, congested traffic. The boda boda's (Uganda motorbike taxis) are absolutely everywhere and constantly offering their services - despite having seen you just decline ride from another boda boda. One of the coaches almost got run over - he had the audacity to use a cross walk when it was his turn. All other Kampalan pedestrians seem to simply step out into traffic and weave their way across. No kidding, it looks like a life size version of Frogger.
The meeting was held in a boardroom at UCA. Thankfully, we got there first and snagged a seat by the little window AC unit. We quickly learned that African time was no exaggeration. After an hour of sitting around, we finally got to business.

It was interesting to see the cultural differences in business culture in Uganda. People were answering their cellphones during the meeting, putting their head down on the table and appeared to be falling asleep in their chair. Amazingly, if they were directly called upon, it was as if they had total focus and could provide relevant comments/insights. Despite this, I am sure some of them were sleeping.

One of the older UCA coaches, Gabriel, had the most serious demeanor. When his phone rang, the ringer was set very, very high... A DJ shouts "ARE YOU SERIOUS?????? and the ringtone started blaring club music.... it was so funny due to the contradiction of his ringtone and his persona.... all the CCA coaches couldn't help but laugh out loud. Keeping in his serious demeanor, Gabriel appeared not to notice the laughter. Gabriel is my UCA partner and I can't stop laughing when his phone goes off. I have noticed that it only goes off for certain callers - I wonder who it is? I will try to find a link and share it on a subsequent blog.

During the walk home, we had a chance to spend some time in some shops. People were super helpful and patient with us. We were looking for a specific male to male USB connector. When we asked in one store, they said that the didn't have it but could get it by 10am the next day. We explained that that wouldn't work as we wouldn't have time to stop by before we headed out to the Nebbi region. The next day, in a city of 2 million people, the salesperson found us on a sidewalk 4 blocks from his store at 8am with this damn cable. I was astounded by his resourcefulness and willingness to take a chance to earn a few bucks. Unbelievable.

Anthony Okuchi - Passing the baton

Tuesday January 22, 2013

Tuesday 3:30am. I fell asleep at 8pm after our training sessions with the CUA staff due to our 4 hours of sleep the night before. Partly my fault as the old coaches were just catching up with each other. Overall it was success with staff saying they wanted to expand the training to two days and invite Credit Union Board Members and General Managers, even though we had to grapple with intermittent power failures throughout the day. CCA did such a great job. Kudos to all their hard work.

 But its 3:30am, and I’m wide awake now sitting in my humid hotel room reflecting on how the day went. The overhead fan is tapping out a rhythm on its dilapidated and worn bearings. Initially annoying, it’s become strangely soothing with its regular beat.

I’m thinking of a conversation that I had with some of the interns here and a new coach over lunch yesterday. It was so interesting hearing from these interns and the new coach who want to make a difference here. We talked a lot about what we are trying to accomplish. Evolve the credit union system to become more professional and impactful in these communities. To become a primary force for financial sustainability for these members in Ghana. To drive away the costly micro-finance institutions that really do no good for Ghanaians who are overcharged for access to credit just because they do not know any better.

I reminded them to think of their roles as caretakers of the credit union system. Much like the runner who passes the baton onto the next runner. We are all coaches who must help move the system forward so that the next year coach can be successful. It seemed to connect with them. We are going to come across many opportunities where we see this younger credit union system making many of the same mistakes we did in the 80’s and 90’s and wanting to redirect them. Much like what an over protective parent does when they don’t want their children to be hurt.

For example, they are still primarily lending based on character here and we introduced some basic financial models to help support decision making though a modified debt service coverage ratio. Many of the CUA staff saw this as really different to how they lend here and are still going through a change curve. But it’s about passing the baton. It’s about moving it forward so that next year’s coach may be able to deliver the models during their field visits next year.

Hopefully, I can help pass the baton on for next year’s coach...