Four Canadians and one American join women credit union leaders for first-ever Africa Women’s Forum
Ottawa, April 12, 2012
It was history in the making for 20 women credit union leaders from 16 African countries who gathered in Botswana recently to share their successes and struggles working in the credit union sector.
Ingrid Fischer, Africa Region Director with the Canadian Co-operative Association, the event sponsor, says the first-ever Africa Women’s Forum was a timely event.
“As in so many other parts of the credit union world, women in Africa’s credit unions face tremendous barriers advancing their careers. In fact, many leave the sector for lack of opportunities to advance.”
She says women must contend with male dominated boards, cultural barriers against women taking on leadership positions, demanding domestic responsibilities, and little if any access to opportunities for professional development.
Hosted by CCA and the African Confederation of Cooperative Savings & Credit Associations (ACCOSCA) on the eve of its annual leadership conference, the two-day Africa Women’s Forum was a rare opportunity for women to openly share their workplace challenges and successes, and their experiences helping other women to succeed – whether by mentoring female colleagues, introducing policy changes to increase female membership, or encouraging women to serve in leadership positions within their credit unions.
Dorothy Namirembe, Administrative Manager with the Y-Save Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) in Kampala, Uganda says the Forum has already had a positive impact in her own credit union.
“As women we are going to another level. I am so grateful that, through this forum, change is already coming to my own SACCO. I have always advised our CEO to have job rotations so that we could learn how to do other credit union jobs, but in vain. After the forum I have been promised we are having rotations.”
CCA and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada sponsored the inaugural Forum. Five North American credit union women – four Canadians and one American – attended and spoke at the event. They were: Elisabeth J. Geller, Manager, Community Engagement, Digital & Community Engagement Dept., Vancity Credit Union, Carmelina Michalenko, Marketing and Strategic Services Manager at Affinity Credit Union, Lorri Lochrie, Consultant, People Solutions, Central1, Kam Raman, Assistant Vice-President, Sales and Member Experience at First West Credit Union, and Monique Dunbar,Training & Development Manager with Communicating Arts Credit Union in Detroit.
Ms. Raman says women in credit unions in Africa and Canada have more in common than one would think.
“My presentation on product innovation morphed into a discussion about setting customer service standards and how to increase membership, things that also challenge us here in Canada.”
She was struck by the story one manager told her about how she keeps staff engaged in her credit union by holding a five-minute meeting with them each morning to go over the work day ahead and to thank them for a job well done.
“It was an eye opener for me to see just how powerful grassroots approaches like this can be for staff.”
Ingrid Fischer says CCA also achieved the other goal of the Forum, to help bring women’s perspectives to the attention of the annual ACCOSCA leadership forum by increasing female participation there.
“We particularly wanted to do this in 2012, the International Year of Co-operatives. Last year, in Kigali, 30 of the 138 participants at the leadership forum were women. This year, 82 of the 176 participants were women, and two-thirds attended on their own dime or that of their SACCO.”
The four Canadians also visited credit unions where they heard testimonials from women members.
“I was moved by how deeply rooted women members are in their SACCOs,” says Ms. Raman. “One woman in a small rural SACCO told me the latest loan she received from her credit union was to buy a blanket for her daughter because she had heard it was cold in Ireland where her daughter was going to attend medical school.”
The Africa Women’s Forum is part of the Global Women’s Leadership Network, which is a joint project of the World Council of Credit Unions and the Canadian Co-operative Association. ACCOSCA is a non-governmental, pan-African confederation of national associations of savings and credit co-operative societies working to promote credit unions in Africa.