KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- More than 100 people gathered for the grand opening of the Kandahar Islamic Investment and Finance Cooperative on July 15 despite a nearby prison break a month earlier that freed 800 prisoners, including 400 Taliban fighters.
World Council of Credit Union personnel, who were in the country launching the cooperative and building the country's first credit union system, were forced to evacuate to the Kandahar military base for their safety until fighting subsided.
The grand opening ceremony began with an Islamic prayer, ribbon cutting, speeches and the disbursement of the first loans. The Kandahar IIFC is funded by the agricultural, rural investment and enterprise strengthening program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
With the new cooperative, WOCCU has achieved its goal of developing three IIFC's within the dangerous southern regions of the war-torn country and will begin its outreach into neighboring districts as security permits. WOCCU has been working in Afghanistan since 2004.
"Regardless of what's going on, people need some way to conduct business, to save for themselves and have some kind of normalcy," said Dave Grace,
WOCCU vice president of strategic services. "That's what we're seeing in Afghanistan, early economic development and people being very receptive to these financial cooperatives."
As of March 3, Afghanistan's IIFC system represents nearly $4 million (U.S.) in assets and 14,414 members. WOCCU incorporates traditional and Islamic banking principles in its model credit union building methodology for its work in Afghanistan, consulting with Islamic mullahs in each new community to ensure compliance with Shari'a, the body of Islamic law.
The project has provided women equal opportunity to join and participate in credit union governance. Per policy, at least one member of the board of directors must be a woman. Currently each credit union has two women serving on their respective boards.
The Utah League of Credit Unions and $4.3 billion America First Credit Union of Ogden, Utah, have provided support to the WOCCU's Afghanistan program. In the absence of donor funding, the league and credit union financially supported IIFC project activities for more than a year.