From the The Lough Credit Union to The Gambia
Mary O’Reilly, Finance Officer, The Lough Credit Union recently participated in the ILCU Foundation Volunteer Coaching Programme. Mary travelled to West Africa and spent two weeks sharing her expertise, knowledge, and skills with her credit union counterparts in The Gambia. Mary was accompanied by her fellow volunteers from around Ireland: Michael Byrne, Core Credit Union, Gerry Reynolds, Castlecomer Credit Union and Bernie Moran, Roscommon Credit Union.
The Gambia, a small country located in West Africa, is known as the Smiling Coast of Africa. It is a developing county, with a population of over 2 million people and life expectancy of 61 years. A former British colony, The Gambia celebrated 54 years of independence in 2019. The country is younger than the Irish credit union movement. There are currently 53 credit union members with over 80,000 credit union members in The Gambia. The ILCU Foundation provides technical support to the representative body for all the credit unions in The Gambia, the National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions (NACCUG) to ensure strong, secure and sustainable credit unions throughout the country. The Coaching Programme uses the expertise within the Irish credit union movement to build the capacity of the credit union staff and directors.
Mary and her fellow volunteers spent the first three days in NACCUG’s office, in Serekunda, where they were welcomed by the Senior Management team and were provided with an overview of the movement. The focus of their work in NACCUG was to provide support to the Compliance Officers, whose role is to monitor the credit unions throughout The Gambia. This included learning about their challenges implementing compliance and investigating where best they could assist them with plan and controls on their visits. A two day training was put in place and this involved Mary provided training on financial accounts and PEARLS ratios, whilst the other volunteers provided training on other areas of credit union operations.
Following the three days at NACCUG the volunteers broke into two groups and began their credit union visits. Mary and Michael visited Gambia Revenue Authority Credit, a work based credit union to meet with the staff and board members before heading to the Bwiam region for two days to work with rural community credit unions. Whilst in Bwian Mary and Michael visited Foni Kansala Credit Union and Foni Berefet District Credit Union. The visit allowed Mary and Michael to meet with the board of the credit union to discusses challenges and ways to improve the credit union. Following two days in Bwiam all the volunteers returned to Serekunda. Mary and Michael visited three more credit unions Sofora Cooperative Credit Union, Gambia Teachers Union Credit Union and NAWEC Credit Union. The credit union visits allowed Mary and Michael to review the operations, identify challenges and put forward recommendations to improve the credit union and ensure it continues to meet the needs of its members.
At the end of the visits Mary and her fellow coaches hosted a one day workshop for participants to discuss key issues and address challenges. Speaking about the programme, Mohammed Kandeh, compliance Officer, said we’ve learned a lot for the coaches on all areas in credit union compliance…….we appreciate every bit and piece of the programme.” The programme concluded with a debrief with the NACCUG management team which will inform next year’s programme. Foday Sanyang, General Manager NACCUG, expressed his thanks to Mary, the coaches and the Irish credit union movement, he thanked “the coaches for giving their time to help the credit unions in The Gambia and for all the knowledge they have provided to the credit unions that they met”.
This is Mary’s second year volunteering for the ILCU Foundation having participated in the Coaching Programme in Ghana in 2012 and 2013. The programme is an opportunity for credit union personnel give back to the credit union movement. Credit Unions have done so much for communities throughout the island of Ireland and through volunteering with the ILCU Foundation Mary is helping to educate, enable and empower others in the wider credit union movement. Speaking about her experience Mary said: “……………….”
Alan Moore, CEO ILCU Foundation said: “It is great to have someone of Mary’s experience on the Coaching Programme, she is a fantastic ambassador for the ILCU Foundation and indeed the wider Irish credit union movement. Throughout the course of the two weeks our partners in The Gambia learnt a great deal from Mary. Mary’s generosity in volunteering her time is really valued by us and indeed our partners. I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Lough Credit Union for supporting Mary to participate in the Coaching Programme and for their continued support to the ILCU Foundation’s work.”