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Sierra Leone is located in West Africa. It had a thriving cooperative movement prior to its decade long civil war, which ended in 2002. In 2009, there were only ten credit unions left with a total membership of 2,000. In 2013 the ILCU Foundation, in partnership with the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) and the Credit Union Association of Ghana (CUA), set out to revitalise the credit union movement and expand financial services to thousands of communities in Sierra Leone. This project began successfully and progressed; however, in early 2014 the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history led to its suspension and the Technical Advisor who was overseeing the project had to leave the country. In November 2015 Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free and we were in a position to commence our work on re-building sustainable credit unions.

ILCU Foundation & Irish Aid - Working Together To Make A Difference

In September 2015, the project was reactivated and to ensure the successful delivery of the project a full-time country manager has been employed to oversee the work. The project has engaged with 20 credit unions from across the West African nation and while the project was suspended credit unions have reported an increase in membership and assets whilst continuing to support their members needs.

In 2018 the ILCU Foundation was awarded funding from Irish Aid for a three year project to support the development of credit unions, and build on the work undertaken to date. The Financial Inclusion for Resilience (FIRSL) project aims to improve resilience of 13,000 poor and disadvantaged people and their families (72,800 people in total) in Sierra Leone. In year one, the project supported the development of credit unions, the capacity of their apex body, the National Cooperative Credit Unions Association (NaCCUA), and the credit union regulatory authorities.

2019 Highlights

  • Credit Union membership grew by 27%, with national savings growing by 37% to €585,000. – Provision of financial literacy training with lessons on the importance of savings, how to manage finances and loan assessment. 
  •  362 credit union leaders both board and staff received (130 female, 36% of total) benefited from training in risk-related topics such as bookkeeping, credit risk management and governance. 
  • 10 credit unions were selected for IT training as part of the roll-out and implementation of an automated management information system (MIS) to improve risk management standards and practices. 
  • Six credit unions were competent in the use of Microsoft Word and Excel and therefore, received laptops to be used in their CU offices. 
  • An enhanced monitoring system was designed and rolled out to credit unions.
  • 23 credit unions were audited jointly by project staff and Department of Cooperatives. 
  • Three volunteers participated in the two week Volunteer Coaching Programme to provide peer-to-peer support to a number of credit unions throughout Sierra Leone to work directly with staff and volunteers. 
  • Five CEOs from Irish credit unions participated in the first CEO Programme.