Everyone Learns When African and U.S. Credit Union People Get Together

hand with light bulb in front of map of Africa
Angela Prestil, I-CUDE, CUDE, ADE, AADE Photo
Senior Consultant
CU Difference, FI Strategies
Katy Zaleski, CUDE, ADE Photo
VP/Human Resources, CUDE
Simplicity Credit Union

5 minutes

An update on good exchanges in progress plus ideas for how you can participate

The credit union movement is an international phenomenon. Our training to become credit union development educators and African development educators (and Angela’s to become an international CUDE and advanced African DE) reinforced in our minds and hearts the value of global cooperation. That’s why we’ve gotten involved in learning and idea exchanges with credit unions in Africa. From our experiences, we know first-hand that everyone benefits when we put our heads together.

We Learn

It’s important to keep in mind that African savings and credit cooperatives are ahead of North American credit unions in some areas. For example, the democratic structure of African SACCOs is something North American credit unions and their members could learn a lot from.

More specifically, members of SACCOs are very active in their annual meetings and election of their board members. They embrace the second cooperative principle, that of democratic control, and each member takes their single vote seriously. It’s not unusual to have 100% of their member delegates present at every annual meeting.

Another African SACCO model worth considering comes from The Gambia, where the core system is shared by SACCOs throughout the country. Can you imagine how the ability to serve members could be elevated if more credit unions worked together to share a core system?

In terms of payments leadership, most of Eastern Africa uses Vodaphone’s Mpesa system, which eliminates the need for credit and debit cards. Mpesa is short for “mobile” payment, and “pesa” is the Swahili word for money. The system’s all-over use allows even roadside produce vendors and artisans to accept mobile payments. Using mobile payments greatly reduces fraud and plastic card theft. Plus, SACCOs are not bearing the costs of issuing and reissuing plastic cards.

Katy visited multiple SACCOs during previous trips to the continent and witnessed a deep commitment to member service similar to what we see in the U.S. She also saw a very strong sense of pride in having visitors and welcoming guests to their SACCOs.  

We Teach

We want to do our part in the exchange of ideas and learning.

Through the development educator program, we connected with George Ombado, executive director of the African Confederation of Co-operative Savings and Credit Associations, “ACCOSCA.” He was intrigued when he learned our specialty areas—performance management, hiring, interviewing, service, sales coaching, empathy and goal-setting—as these areas tend to present learning opportunities to SACCOs. Ultimately, George invited us to present at the Savings and Credit Cooperatives Associations (SACCA) Congress in October 2021.

Angela conducted a two-day pre-conference workshop on deepening member relationships and building staff and member loyalty. Her co-presenter to the group of 75 participants was Solomon Angutsa, CEO of Kenya National Police DT Savings and Credit Cooperative, Nairobi. Katy led a two-day pre-conference workshop for about 45 people that covered HR recruiting practices and managing talent. Both workshops emphasized focusing on top performers while inviting lower performers to seek their happiness elsewhere.

We also co-presented a workshop for about 75 participants from The Kingdom of Eswatini, Liberia, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana and other African nations. At that workshop, we discussed the value of engaged employees and backed up with data the theories we presented. We also did a unique goal-setting exercise, asking participants to draw their desired future using a proprietary methodology in which Angela is certified.

The questions participants asked during our sessions included many of the same questions we hear from U.S. credit unions. These included, “How do we help high performers feel valued?” and, “How do we deal with employees who struggle to be on time for work?”

Additionally, attendees asked questions about how to engage members in deeper conversations to help understand their financial needs, especially members the staff serves regularly. We also practiced coaching techniques.

Our sharing continues, as Katy did HR and performance management practices training this month in Nairobi. In addition, Lois Kitsch, co-founder of CU Difference, has spent several weeks training and working with staff and boards of SACCOs so far this year.

Looking to participate in the exchange? One idea for you is that North American credit unions excel in mortgage and lending innovation, and African SACCOs have much to learn in both areas. Maybe it’s your next right step to travel to Africa and present what you know.

Continuing the Idea Exchange

While leading sessions at the congress, we became part of a big dream for how to boost our learning and idea-sharing with African SACCOs: the creation of The ACCOSCA Academy, a first-of-its-kind training center for SACCA leadership, staff, board members and community members from around the continent.

When complete, the academy will occupy half a floor of a new office building in Nairobi. Construction is in full swing. Here is a short video that shows the progress being made. ACCOSCA Executive Director Ombado is the man in the video, making a video of his own!

The space will house a large training center for in-person classes; the CUNA Mutual Group/TruStage Technology Studio, which will include a recording space for online course narration, podcasts and other broadcasts; office space for the ACCOSCA team; and meeting space for SACCOs, regulators and members of the community.

 Men working on new leadership academy.
Men work on the construction of the new ACCOSCA Academy in Nairobi.

The two of us have jumped into this effort with both feet, pledging to raise $5,000 each, as part of the campaign called Climb Africa. So, another idea for how you can participate in an international exchange of ideas and learning is by sponsoring us (Angela’s page, Katy’s page) and supporting the construction of this new learning center.

We hope you’ll support this and upcoming learning exchanges among credit unions around the world in whatever way feels right to you.

Angela Prestil, I-CUDE, CUDE, ADE, AADE, is senior consultant with CU Difference and FI Strategies. Katy Zaleski, CUDE, ADE, is VP/HR, $435 million Simplicity Credit Union, Marshfield, Wisconsin.

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