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HARAHAN, La. – Dublin is a not a city easily quantified; it is a place of energy. These are words some use to describe Ireland’s capital city. Perhaps they also describe Anne Cochran, an Irish native who, in addition to fulfilling her role as president and chief executive officer of the Louisiana Credit Union League, has energetically labored with World Council of Credit Unions in recent years to help emerging credit union systems in at least five African nations. Her involvement with Africa began six years ago when WOCCU asked LCUL to host Robert Mbeza, vice president of the Malawi credit union league, as an intern. She agreed, and since has also hosted Sylvester Kadzola, the league president, for a week-long visit in Louisiana. Shortly after Mbeza’s visit, another opportunity arose. One of Cochran’s board members, Richard Turnley, CEO of Southern Parents & Teachers Federal Credit Union and a former state senator, had been appointed by the governor to an international trade committee. Before heading to a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, Turnley asked Cochran if there were any credit unions there. Cochran referred him to WOCCU. After discovering several credit union projects in South Africa had yielded dismal results, LCUL with the assistance of WOCCU and Turnley agreed to host six South African interns. They mentored them at the League level and placed them in credit unions around the state to help them understand what their credit unions could become. “There had been a lot of donor money over the years, but credit unions had not seen growth,” Cochran said. “It’s a country that could and should be developed, but for some reason it hasn’t taken off there. Even today the movement has not grown comparable to the population; credit union membership hovers around 15,000 in a country with a population of 44 million. “Being not that long after apartheid, the South African interns told us we treated them with so much hospitality and kindness. They had never been treated like that in their lives. We were taking care of needs – education, etc. – but they saw it as so much more,” she said. Subsequently, CUNA Mutual made a grant available to WOCCU to work on three projects in South Africa. Again, results just were not there. So the organizations pulled back to re-strategize. The resulting arrangement was a team approach in which WOCCU put a representative in Cape Town to manage the credit unions until they became solvent, with the help of donor funding. Anne Cochran served as consultant. “Eventually [funding] bypassed WOCCU and went directly to the South African league to stabilize one credit union completely. I did consulting with the University of the Western Cape credit union and CME in Cape Town. Both are making progress. I did less with UWC – design of marketing brochures and so forth – but I understand it’s doing well. For CME, we developed and printed brochures, gave advice on delinquency, lending and rates. I did a planning session for them, worked on a business plan and spent time with their board. CME is now solvent,” Cochran declared. “When I tell you they are solvent and they have current financial statements, I want to reach up and touch the moon. That’s so insignificant here, because that’s what you have to do. Over there, it takes a lot of moral support to get them to complete financials and complete them on time.” As the need for assistance in the three South African credit unions diminished, WOCCU asked Cochran to serve as a speaker at the Africa SACCA (South African Credit Cooperative Association) Congress, a forum for networking and education of credit unions across the African continent. This year’s Congress was held in Swaziland last week; last year it was held in Uganda. “Attendance has been steadily increasing. I think we had 300 people representing 23 countries last year,” Cochran said. “Some drive many hours to the conference destination, because they have no funds to fly. Some take off work without pay to further their education. I am privileged to speak at these events.” While in Uganda last year, Cochran facilitated a planning session for the Ugandan league, which has fueled an ongoing work relationship. “Working with their league is second nature because of our own league,” she said. “They’re coming off rough times with bad credibility. I’m helping them with advice and little things. For example, we’re purchasing 50 International Credit Union Day posters to take to credit unions in Kampala and to the registry of cooperatives, and maybe to the parliament to get a proclamation – things we do here that are so routine. They can’t cookie cutter what we have here, but they can take our information and tweak it.” This year LCUL invited Jackson Rwakishaija, chairman of the Uganda league, to the LCUL annual meeting. Years of mismanagement have created a public relations challenge for Ugandan league officials. Cochran is a source of encouragement because she has revived an ailing league. “I took over a league 16 years ago that was totally insolvent, with negative consolidated retained earnings, and an operating line of credit (cash used) of $240,000. His circumstances are much worse. I have to be sure Jackson realizes that what he saw in his experiences with us has taken us a long time to achieve. “They have a long row to hoe. It’s an uphill battle trying to build credibility and offer programs and services and not have the funding to do it. I’m not a league that is flush with money. I can’t send thousands of dollars,” Cochran said. “But I can share talent, time and ideas and develop materials and samples. In Uganda, I definitely see, sense, and feel with every part of my being an appreciation for whatever we do. Total appreciation.” Through CUNA Mutual, Cochran is currently helping develop a CUNA Management School-style program in Nairobi, Kenya. SWAMI (Strathmore-WOCCU African Management Institute) will provide a week-long management track three times per year and a three-day volunteer track once each year for African credit unions. The first institute is scheduled to begin Nov. 8. “Strathmore University instructors will teach the modules. I’ll sit in the back of classroom to make sure we stay on top of the goals and objectives,” Cochran said. While Cochran encourages other LCUL staff members to get involved in WOCCU projects, she does most of the international travel. “I travel because I have the all-around experience from the League and credit union standpoint. The fact that I’m Irish has something to do with it, but I can’t tell you what. There’s something in me that does reach out. But it’s not just me going to these countries. It’s a whole League effort. I think our board deserves credit for being supportive of our involvement. We are reaching out to help people, which is the root of the credit union philosophy. Most of the time I feel like a grain of sand on the beach. I feel like the effort is so insignificant, because when you’re there, there is so much to be done.” Cochran calls herself a workaholic. Her kids are grown and she names credit unions as her only hobby. She credits divine order for her career path. “What can I say? Things happen for a reason. I was going to be an Irish mother with five children – I have two. I never intended to be a League president.but I love the spontaneity of bringing a suggestion that helps somebody.” And that’s exactly what she’s doing in her international role. “I’ll go and do whatever World Council asks me to do, wherever they feel, knowing my talents and my strengths. If I can reach out and help a developing country anywhere, I’ll do it.” -

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