The effort is two-pronged, said WOCCU Vice President of Communications Janette Klaehn.
First, a network will bring together female credit union leaders from around the world to discuss strategy and compare best practices to reach members in need. Then, through fundraising efforts and donated time and expertise, field projects will support female credit union members and executives as they expand credit union services in their communities.
"This isn't about gender issues, it's about using networks as a way to combat poverty," Klaehn said.
Women and children are most often left behind by financial systems, she said, but by using existing women's networks that form the cornerstones of households and villages, credit unions can more effectively serve them.
"It's not just credit union access we're talking about, but what it means: better nutrition and education for children, improved standards of living, and, of course, the building of confidence and leadership that comes along with that," she said.
The experience also provides credit union executives in developed countries with creative new ideas to reach low-income members and a renewed commitment to the credit union movement.
Sue Mitchell, CEO of the professional development firm O'Rourke, Mitchell & Associates, heads the group's volunteers. She said she's donating all her free time, including weekends and holidays, to ensure the initiative's goals are reached, and to provide fundraising accountability.
"It's difficult in these times to not only raise money, but do so with the intent of sending it out of this country," Mitchell said. "But to me, this is the perfect example of something I can do to help promote traditional credit union values."
One field project already underway is the support of the Konya Women's Group in Western Kenya. Because the area has been hard hit by AIDS, political strife and severe drought, many of the women have lost their husbands and struggle to provide for their families. So, to survive, the women banded together to grow food collectively and care for not only their own children but also the many AIDS orphans in the community whose parents lost their lives to the disease.
The women work together to maintain community garden plots and small agricultural fields, which provide food for their families and extra to sell at the local market.