Uganda Coaching Mission 2010 By: Gary Forsey, Steel Centre Credit Union
In February 2010 I was one of six Canadian Coaches who returned to Africa for year two of our Credit Union Coaching Mission. Sponsored by the Canadian Cooperative Association, we travelled to Uganda to exchange information and to help promote, develop, and unite cooperatives and credit unions. The Coaching Program is a joint effort of the CCA and the Uganda Cooperative Alliance and has proven to be a very effective way to help credit unions in the developing world.
We knew Uganda was a poor country of course, but until you witness this kind of poverty first hand it is very difficult to imagine what it must be like to struggle every day just to survive. Uganda is about twice the size of the island of Newfoundland but has a population the size of Canada. Poverty, civil unrest and disease have ravaged the Ugandan population to the point where the average life expectancy is just 52 years. And the average annual income is less than $500!
It doesn’t take very long to realize that credit unions operating in Uganda have many more challenges than we face here at home. For example, some branch offices had no electricity and most were manual operations with ledger cards and hand posting. Electricity is unreliable and you can only count on it for a few hours of each day. Security is always an issue in a country where corruption and poverty are rampant. Twenty-four hour a day armed guards are the norm for all financial institutions, hotels and other businesses handling large amounts of money. And if those aren’t enough challenges, we can add that there is no system wide liquidity management, training is not readily available, and there is no effective means of regulation.
On the positive side the credit unions are helping to alleviate poverty by providing financial services to people who otherwise would not have access to them. Through the spirit of cooperation they are sharing information and resources to create better lives for their families. They embrace the cooperative principles and are having tremendous success in doing this in spite of the challenges they face.
During our stay in Mbarara we took time to visit with an old friend by the name of Privah Nsasiirwe. Privah had visited Canada as part of the CCA’s Women’s Mentoring Program in 2005 and had spent ten days with us at Steel Centre Credit Union. Privah became ill during her stay in Canada and was diagnosed with a brain tumour that was affecting her vision. With the help of her friends at Steel Centre and at the CCA, she underwent successful surgery in Ottawa to remove the tumour and had an extended stay in our country while she recovered from the operation. It was so exciting to see her again, especially since she is doing very well. She is the Manager of one of the most successful credit unions in Western Uganda.
Credit unions in many third world countries don’t yet have the support systems in place to ensure their sustainability. As co-operators, we have a tremendous opportunity, and perhaps even an obligation, to help them become successful, sustainable operations so they can continue the great work they do. To witness first hand the commitment and determination of members, staff and volunteers in the face of such huge challenges is truly inspiring.
My trip to Uganda and the wonderful people I met there is something that I will never forget. I am truly grateful to our Board of Directors for their support in allowing me to participate in the Coaching Program. I also thank the CCA for this opportunity, and for the great work they do promoting and developing credit unions in the third world.