Across the globe there are over 1.7 billion people that are have no access to formal financial services – women and the rural poor generally being the most affected. This means they are financially excluded – they have no means to securely save their money, no access to borrow money at low-interest rates, no financial education and as a result, are at risk of becoming indebted to high-interest money lenders.
To be financially included means you have access to formal financial services. The World Bank defines financial inclusion as follows: “individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs…delivered in a responsible and sustainable way”. Credit unions can help to ensure financial inclusion. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions can give people the opportunity to save money securely and borrow at affordable rates
Image 6: Oralised passbook training image
The credit union movement transformed the landscape on the island of Ireland. Both the American and Canadian credit union movements provided support and advice to the pioneers who established the Irish Credit Union movement in the late 1950s. Therefore, we at the Foundation are replicating the support received to the Irish Credit Union movement, and giving back to help others, ‘cooperation among cooperatives’. We are sharing the success of the Irish Credit Union movement with credit union movements in low-income developing countries, to build financial inclusion.
We believe that credit unions are a model for socio-economic and human development.
The UN member nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”.  By 2030 the UN aims to have achieved 17 SDGs. Although none of the goals explicitly refer to giving people access to financial services, the World Bank acknowledges that “greater access to financial services is a key enabler to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity” and “has been identified as an enabler for 7 of the 17 SDGs“.
Working closely with dedicated local partners and credit union movements in the developing countries of Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, the Foundation assists in building an equitable financial environment for all by providing access to education and affordable, ethical saving and loan products.
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Our work is largely supporting the education and training of staff and volunteers at grassroots credit unions, and at the national apex level. In addition we support credit union members to improve their understanding of their finances through financial literacy training, and work closely with key stakeholders at government to ensure they understand the role credit unions can play in society. Our work is all about ‘people helping people’ and it embodies the philosophy, principles and ethos of the credit union movement.
IMAGE 8: SDGs image of members