Sunday, 20 January 2013

Here I sit in seat 37F… boy did it take a while to get off the ground!  Must have been at least 3 hr delay.  I was thankful though….  I got to talk to JJ and Tara before we left Montreal.  Jordan was watching ‘Shrek the Halls’ but sacrificed a moment of viewing to talk to me.  It probably helped that her mom paused the show and threatened to turn it off unless she spoke to me.  No matter – I was thankful to hear her little voice and that of Tara, the love of my life.  Her unwavering support of me and her willingness to indulge my aspirations never ceases to amaze me.  My heart sinks when I think about how long it will be until I see my family again. I have a habit of feeling homesick but I am hoping that I have grown up enough to realize that this time away is temporary and that I will see them again soon enough.  After all, I am a big boy now, right?

I feel so fortunate to have been selected to go as a CCA volunteer on this Africa Coaching trip.  I have already met incredible people.  I am struck by the like-mindedness of our group – we all come from a life of privilege and seem to understand the gift that CCA has given us…  they have allowed us to become better people and grow our understanding of the importance of the co-operative movement.

Due to the delay, we are in danger of missing our connection in Brussels.  I suppose it will depend on if we get lucky and have a strong tailwind.  Either way, we will get there.  Either way, it’s out of our hands.  No point in worrying about it too much.  I am trying to enjoy this leg as much as possible as I have an empty seat beside me and will take full advantage while crossing the Atlantic; the plane from Brussels to Rwanda is packed and it will be significantly less comfortable.

It was cool to fly over Nova Scotia on a clear night – tons of little towns dot the horizon as we float towards Newfoundland.  I will definitely have to come back someday – I would love to tour around and soak in the East Coast culture.

CCA has done a good job at preparing us.  CCA’s staff is truly amazing – you can feel their passion and commitment.  At the same time, they are pragmatic and practical about their ability to help the African SACCOs.  My favorite quote from the last few days is “This is a game of inches”.  Many times, they stressed that their commitment is for the long haul – these programs cannot be effective without sustained effort. 

At the same time, CCA is eager to receive feedback on their programs and are willing to act on that feedback.  An example of this is the new coaching tools…  they have reviewed 10 years’ worth of coaching reports and identified common challenges to most SACCOs.  They have built tools to help coaches analyze these challenges; these tools provide suggested questions, best practices and financial analysis. Additionally, they have developed a report template so that the feedback from the different teams takes on a similar format and feel.  I appreciate the work that CCA staff and volunteers have put into these.  Field testing these tools will be interesting and I hope to help them make any necessary improvements.

Another initiative within CCA is the Development Ladder Assessment.  In November and December 2012, CCA sent a team to Uganda to evaluate the effectiveness and challenges of some Regional Producer Organizations (RPO), ACE (I may not have this name exactly right) and SACCOs.  These organizations are linked – the RPOs are co-ops representing farmers to provide, among other things, greater buying power; ACE provides marketing and transactional support while SACCOs provide the financing.  These volunteers have provided us with a detailed evaluation of the SACCOs – this helps us ‘hit the ground running’ and will allow us to have more detailed discussions around the challenges facing them.

An aside – we are just flying over St. John’s now (yes, I type slow (right, Audrey?)) and it looks quite big from the air.  One day, I need to spend time on the ground here.

Today, CCA provided us with some case studies to help us prepare for our coaching assignment.  These were real examples of SACCOs and some of the information was astounding.  One SACCO had grown it’s assets from $9MM to $153MM in (short) 5 yrs!  Despite this success, challenges remained and their board and management would benefit from some outside (honest and unbiased) feedback.

As a Commercial Lender, I am really interested in learning how they lend.  How do you register your interest in collateral?  How do you valuate it?  How do you determine your client’s capacity to borrow?  How do you protect against fraud?  How do you realize on security if a loan isn’t paid?  If the SACCO’s banking system is a ledger book, how do you track delinquency?  None of this seems possible without government registries, valuators/appraisers, accountants, lawyers/trustees, repo firms and computer systems.  Yet – it is done and it is done successfully.

There is no doubt that I will gain more knowledge on this trip than I leave behind.  I can’t wait to meet my new African friends!

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