It’s a long way from Ghana to the small community of Ladysmith in western Canada, but when Mavis Nketia arrived for a two-week placement at Ladysmith Credit Union last year, she was greeted by staff members wearing T-shirts bearing the Ghanaian flag.
That’s just one example of how Canadian credit unions have made women credit union managers from Africa and Asia feel at home as part of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s annual Women’s Mentorship Program.
Now in its 11th year, the program welcomes between 12 and 17 women to Canada annually, dividing their time between classroom sessions in Ottawa and placements with credit unions across the country. The women learn about how credit unions in Canada operate, from physical layout to loan applications to marketing to procedures for dealing with defaulters. And they learn about Canadian culture, a culture which prides itself in its commitment to gender equality.
The program was originally created in 2002 by CCA’s then-regional director in Africa, who expressed concern that women working in African credit unions had little access to professional development opportunities. The idea was to provide the women with hands-on training, while directly involving Canadian credit unions in the process.
Since the program began, more than 150 women from 16 countries have participated. And the program has had a profound impact on both the women’s home credit unions and the women themselves.
At one credit union in Uganda, the rate of loan delinquency declined from 16 per cent to six per cent within a year of its manager’s participation in the program. Other credit unions have improved their policies and procedures, implemented marketing plans or increased their membership. Canadian credit union professionals who work with African credit unions through another CCA program say they can usually identify credit unions managed by Mentorship Program graduates within a few minutes of walking in the door, just from the energy and creativity that is abundantly in evidence.
The impact on the women has been less measureable, but equally significant.
“Many of them say they have received more respect among their colleagues, their boards and even among family members,” said Laurie Tennian, who manages the program for CCA. “Many of them had never before left the country; for them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When they return home, they share their stories with their community and are viewed as internationally-trained people. Many go back to school for further education as a result of their experience in Canada.”
For the host credit unions in Canada, the learning has been a two-way experience.
“Everyone that meets Alice walks away with something,” said Debbie Neddow, a branch manager at Servus Credit Union in Alberta who hosted Kenyan Alice Kosgei during last year’s program. “One of the lenders in the rural branch put it best when she said that talking to Alice makes us realize the true meaning of a credit union/co-op. She is showing us why we work for the credit union, and is giving us renewed pride in our institution.”
To find out more about the Canadian Co-operative Association’s Women’s Mentorship Program, see CCA’s video, Giving Credit Where Credit is Due.