Volunteerism is embedded in the credit union movement. We have a number of volunteer programmes in place where staff and volunteers from the Irish Credit Union movement travel to West Africa to provide direct support to credit unions and share the Irish Credit Union experience.
The Volunteer Coaching Programme is an opportunity for credit union managers and senior credit union staff to provide direct support to our credit union partners. It is a two week programme whereby the volunteers travel to our partner countries and work directly with credit unions and the national apex body. They undertake a number of credit union visits to review their operations and help them address any challenges, and subsequently report to the Board of the credit union. Following the visits the volunteer coaches host a two day workshop on topics they have identified from the visits. Since its inception in 2009, the ILCU Foundation has had almost 20 credit union managers and senior staff generously give their time and expertise to the programme, whereby helping credit unions to help their members in Ghana, The Gambia and Sierra Leone.
The structures are pretty much the same as in Ireland. The average credit union loan out there is €30, which is a lot of money to them. But they are very resourceful. We met people who bought their own homes and educated their children on the back of credit union loans.
In the 1960s representatives from America and Canada shared their expertise, knowledge, and skills with their Irish credit union counterparts. This has now come full circle and it was our turn to pass on our learnings to the next generation of Credit Unions.
In The Gambia there is a serious distinction between the rural and industrial credit unions and the industrials appear to be more robust in terms of lending, savings and growth. The credit union movement is ripe for promotion. I loved my experience – it took me out of my comfort zone to do it.
The Governance Volunteer Programme is an opportunity for directors of Credit Union Boards to share their knowledge and experience of governing credit unions with our credit union partners. Our volunteers travel to The Gambia for five days to undertake credit union visits and host a workshop on governance.
It was amazing though, to see volunteers who had so little but they knew so much about what was going on in the community and, for me, that is what the Credit Union is all about – People helping People.
The impact of the credit union has been extraordinary and it is a very effective socio-economic
tool for development.
While we have received the support of American Credit Unions, we have also been very fortunate to have been in a position to provide coaching support to Credit Unions in The Gambia…Gambian Credit Unions are trying to do today what Irish Credit Unions achieved 50 years ago.
In 2019, the ILCU Foundation piloted a CEO Volunteer Programme. This is a shortened version of the Volunteer Coaching Programme where CEOs travelled to Sierra Leone for five days. The programme consisted of urban and rural credit union visits and finished with a day and a half of workshops, attended by staff and volunteers from the credit unions visited.
Credit Unions made a huge difference for good since they were introduced in Ireland nearly 60 years ago. We got great help and guidance from credit unionists in the U.S.A. and Canada back then, and it is only fitting that we give our fellow credit-unionists in Sierra Leone and other countries a helping hand now.
Visiting Sierra Leone and seeing credit unions in their infancy there gave me a much greater insight into the work of the founding members of our credit union movement…It makes you appreciate much more the risks the founding members of our credit union took in pooling their hard-earned savings to let one or other of them have a small loan.