Dublin, 30th March 2016 – Irish Volunteers Return From The Gambia
“Being the new recruit this year I had no idea what to expect from the trip other than tips and advice from those who had gone before me. I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life”, Sabrina Woods, CEO of Connolly CIE Credit Union Ltd. said on her return to Ireland, having just completed a two week volunteering mission in The Gambia to provide training for credit unions on behalf of the ILCU Foundation.
Sabrina and four other Irish credit union personnel visited one of Africa’s smallest and poorest nations, The Gambia, at the beginning of 2016. The country ranks 168th out of 187 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index. Liam McCullagh, Manager of Camlin Credit Union Ltd., Louise Shields, Compliance Manager at St. Anthony’s and Claddagh Credit Union Ltd. and Pat Morrissey, Business Development & Marketing Manager at Fermoy Credit Union Ltd. also took part in the programme which allowed the participants to share their expertise, knowledge and skills with their counterparts in some of the most rural areas of The Gambia.
The Irish coaches spent a number of days on arrival to the country in The National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions of The Gambia (NACCUG) which is based in the City of Banjul, the capital of the West African country. The Irish coaches met with the representatives of the credit unions which they going to visit and they were provided with an overview of the operations and the challenges which they were facing.
Following their time in the capital the coaches then divided into two groups and set off towards different regions of The Gambia, The Greater Banjul Area and The Bwian Region. In each region the coaches visited various credit unions, both large work/industrial based credit unions and small community rural based credit unions. During their time the Irish coaches met with the board of directors, staff and management to obtain a deeper understanding of the challenges which the credit union was facing.
Many topics were discussed amongst the group such as risk management, governance, savings & loan products, marketing and strategic planning which they believed to be areas for improvement. It was from these consultative meetings that the Irish coaches developed a training plan which would then help the credit unions overcome their challenges and to develop themselves. At the end of the two week programme the coaches returned to the Capital Banjul where they had the opportunity to discuss their visits to credit unions; the implementation and monitoring of the training plan and to obtain feedback from all of the credit unions that were involved in the programme. The Irish coaches will follow up with their partners in The Gambia to obtain the results of the effectiveness of the training received.
A subsequent debrief took place in Dublin with all of the Irish coaches to evaluate the two week coaching programme and the technical assistance provided.
Below are some comments from the coaches about their experience:
Sabrina Woods, CEO Connolly CIE Credit Union Ltd.:
“The hospitality we received was unbelievable; the people we met during our credit union visits had so little yet gave us so much. I felt both humbled and honoured by their generosity and will never forget their warm welcome. I found the on-site visits extremely beneficial and whilst we were there to impart our technical knowledge and experience, I can honestly say that I also learned a lot from them. I returned home to my own credit union with a fresh perspective and a whole new attitude. With Ireland’s ever-increasing regulatory environment it can be easy to lose focus of our ethos and our mission – this trip has forced me “return to the basics” and concentrate again on areas such as member service and community development. I hope that the participants in The Gambia found the coaching programme as worthwhile and valuable as I did and apply their learning to their individual credit union’s future development. I am very grateful to the ILCU Foundation and to my own credit union for giving me the opportunity to take part.”
Liam Mc Cullagh, Manager of Camlin Credit Union Ltd.:
“Some of the communities we visited had no electricity or full water supply. The people had little formal education but a wealth of experience of life on a limited income. They were proud of what their credit union had done for them and their community, and were working hard to help others achieve financial independence. They shared their food and their stories with us and listened intently to any advice we were able to give them. We in turn came away re-energised and encouraged that the credit union movement is still making a difference in people’s lives throughout the world.”