|Rebuilding after Ebola - Co-ops in Sierra Leone
Taken in November 2013, the photo above captured a proud moment when the first ever board of directors of Sierra Leone's then brand new credit union apex, the National Co-operative Credit Union Association Sierra Leone (NACCUASL), took their oath of office. In just a few months the country was rocked by Ebola and this promising moment for co-operatives in Sierra Leone was put on hold.
The Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) began the ACCESS project in 2009 to provide access to financial services throughout Sierra Leone, as the financial sector has very limited outreach. Since 2009 the number of credit unions in Sierra Leone has increased from 6 to 20 and membership has grown from 762 to 4,482.
However activities were suspended in July 2014 as measures to manage the Ebola outbreak forced many credit unions to close. CCA’s project manager Solomon Mwongyere observed the celebrations after the World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone Ebola free in November 2015, "People from all walks of life in the country and international organisations happily celebrating. There was jubilation across the country because they knew that they would be free to move once again.” So with life slowly returning to normality, Solomon is getting a clearer idea of the how the credit union system has been affected and how the project will move ahead. He tells the story from here:
"The emerging credit union movement was hit hard by Ebola. A total of 71 members died, some of them were leaders and staff. Most credit union members lost family and close relatives. This created fear among communities and forced small scale entrepreneurs to abandon their businesses.
This affected members’ incomes. As the situation worsened, some members who had borrowed ended up using the borrowed funds to care for their families. Some people relocated to other districts and as a result credit unions are suffering from high default rates and that is putting member's savings at a risk. All credit unions were forced to close for some time, some for a month or two while others closed for the duration of the crisis. Monthly meetings in all credit unions were suspended for almost a year due to government restrictions on assembly, resulting in reduced savings and awareness of credit union performance.
In some cases, however, the Ebola crisis proved the depth of members trust in credit unions as many businesses placed revenue (from selling out of inventories) into the credit union for safekeeping until they were able to reinvest this money in their businesses.
CCA is redesigning the project to cater for lost time and momentum. In partnership with the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation, commitments with credit unions are being intensified through tailored trainings, increased audit services, increasing the number of credit unions we work with from 20 to 35, strengthening NACCUASL, and working with the Department of Co-operatives to improve the Co-operative Law.
Our vision is to have 100 credit union access points and 100,000 people accessing services from credit unions by 2025. Low income earners are excited about the prospect of accessing credit union services as they are the only financial institutions giving them an opportunity to save money and get credit."
CCA is supporting this work in Sierra Leone with funds from the
Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF). You can support this work too and help make a difference. Visit www.cdfcanada.coop.