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NAIROBI, Kenya — Audia Williams wasn’t expecting more than 200 people to attend her breakout session at the recent Africa Savings and Credit Co-operative Association African Congress held here, but her knowledge of setting deposit rates stirred interest in the packed room. Williams, president/manager of $8 million Union Settlement Federal Credit Union, was one of two members of the African-American Credit Union Coalition who gave presentations at the meeting held Oct. 3-6. The annual congress gathers representatives of savings and credit cooperatives, known as SACCOs in some African countries, on a yearly basis to exchange ideas and perspectives. It is hosted by the Africa Savings and Credit Co-operative Association, World Council of Credit Unions, Inc., Canadian Co-operative Association, Irish League of Credit Unions and the Kenya Union Savings and Credit Cooperatives. The theme was reducing poverty through sound SACCO governance. More than 5,000 attendees from 20 countries came to this year’s meeting. Williams found that representatives wanted to learn more about how club accounts, individual retirement accounts and money market accounts worked, among other deposit products. Members of SACCOs have the ability to borrow up to three times the amount in their deposit account and another person must be able to guarantee the funds, she said. For those who don’t want to take out a loan, Williams told attendees that there are other ways to keep members including through dividends. “They wanted to learn more about how much to set a deposit rate versus what could be loaned out,” Williams said. “Most members are net borrowers, not net savers. So, it was like ‘wow, I didn’t know I could offer these types of accounts.’ ” More than 200 people attended Williams’s breakout session and she continues to receive e-mails from African credit union representatives wanting to learn even more. This is not the first time the AACUC has connected with Africa. The coalition has a mentoring and African Development Fund committee that works to assist credit unions throughout the continent. Last summer, it provided $2,700 in scholarships for three native Africans to attend WOCCU’s African Management Institute. Several members of the AACUC board have visited the continent several times to give presentations on marketing and other operational endeavors. “ It was a great experience carrying the credit union philosophy to them and they’re trying to do the same thing with their members,” Williams said. Tarra Jackson, vice president of lending Del-One Federal Credit Union, spoke on the diversity of loan products the SACCOs could provide to their members. Her main theme was mobilizing savings, she said, adding once they get the diversity in savings, they can expand their loan products. “Some credit unions approached me and said they realized what they were doing wrong,” Jackson said. “Maybe they didn’t do enough research [for example] but they were able to see the gaps.” Jackson also stressed to attendees the importance of hiring someone with experience in marketing and “not a loan officer” to initiate product development from research, design, prototype and launch. One pressing need she heard attendees share is having someone to provide hands-on technical assistance. “In some villages, there is no running water, no electricity, but they have a SACCO,” Jackson said. “We tend to label people who are rich or poor but it’s all relative. Every person has the capacity to save.” Jackson said she and Williams were invited to attend next year’s congress. The AACUC is scheduled to hold its annual conference in Africa in 2008.

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