Credit Unions Help Ghana's Working Women
Businesswomen worldwide work very hard at their jobs and their lives, but one Canadian credit union official discovered that few women work harder than those in Ghana.
Loree Gray, senior vice president of operations at $7.1 billion First West Credit Union in Langley, B.C., recently traveled to the West African nation as part of the Canadian Cooperative Association’s credit union coaching program. Gray, who spent three weeks visiting credit unions throughout Ghana with CCA officials, saw first hand how credit unions provide vital services to their members and how hard those members, particularly small scale women entrepreneurs, work to survive.
“The one thing that stood out to me was how hard women there work, both physically and mentally,” said Gray. “They mind their children, often carrying them on their backs while working in a small space on the side of the road selling their goods, handling not only the sales, but negotiations and distribution. They do it all, and usually all at the same time.”
As in many other developing countries, women in Ghana tend to be the ones who run the family businesses while the men travel looking for work to help support their families. In many cases, it was the women who held memberships in the credit unions, took out the loans for their enterprises and were responsible for paying the loans back. Most of these women, Gray discovered, were reliable credit union members in good standing.
One woman entrepreneur was on her fourth loan, Gray said, with each loan having been paid in full and the proceeds used to continue building her business. With the first loan she bought a truck to transport her goods to market, and the second loan bought her a second truck, which she rented out to establish an additional revenue stream. The third and fourth loans were used to improve her store in the marketplace.
“She’s already talking about her next borrowing to build a home,” Gray said of the woman entrepreneur, who also won a credit union award for being 2013’s “highest saver.” “What a great success story and a truly remarkable way to show how one woman is inspiring change in her community.”
First West has supported CCA for over a decade, contributing more than $305,000 to international development efforts. Complementing this financial support is First West’s commitment to other CCA initiatives, including its Women’s Mentorship Program, and its credit union coaching program. In past years, First West leaders have travelled to Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Botswana to participate in the credit union coaching program and women’s leadership forum, sharing information and learning from cooperatives overseas.