Wednesday, 13 February 2013

February 24th - Erussi SACCO Day 2

Another early morning as we headed up the mountain again....  It was a market day so the road was much more busy with people walking up to sell their produce at the market.  I was struck by how difficult it was for people to simply transport their products to the market - how important infrastructure is the economy and how often we take good, well maintained roads and available, reliable transportation for granted.  It simply isn't good enough to be able to produce a good product - you need to be able to get it to market and this is completely outside of your personal control.

We moved from the 'movie theatre' to the school for the second day of training.  It was a much better facility as everyone had desks and could take notes without balancing their notebooks on their laps.  The windows provided more light and more air movement.  When discussing school generally, we learned that most members accessed the SACCOs services to obtain loans for school fees. 

We started the morning with asking everyone to give their 'elevator pitch'.  The moment I said it, I knew how ridiculous the phrase was in the context of a community without power, let alone one without two story buildings.  It was so gratifying to see how each of the participants had contextualized the 5 key benefits to make it more meaningful for their community members - it showed us that they were really considering what we were saying and I had high hopes that this would help them make their SACCO offering more meaningful to their community.

The balance of the morning was spent completing a review of the rest of the tools.  We had some good discussion; especially when it came to 'conflict of interest'.  It was interesting how these words carried different meaning for our Ugandan friends.  To them, they focused on the conflict part - they saw it as a disagreement.  We had to clarify the intended meaning through a series of examples. Given how tightknit their communities are, total absence of conflict of interest is very difficult to achieve.  They are always lending to one of their friends or family members; a lack of connection between the loans committee and the borrowers is virtually impossible and absolutely impractical.  We focused on the message that all decisions must be in the best interest of all of the members of the SACCO not just the borrower.

At tea break, a special treat was provided.  Tea was served with little balls of dough that had been deep fried - you got it:  Ugandan Tim Bits!!! 

They were still warm and so very delicious.  As I write, my mouth still begins to water at the thought of them.  Made by Sister Mary's group at the bakery, these morsels of goodness seemed to come directly from heaven.

During the break, everyone retired outside for a change of scenery. 

After the morning session, we had a chance to visit members and tour Sister Mary's operations. 

We started by hiking down to the fish pond that had been recently built by Sister Mary's group.  A short walk from the church, they had dug a big hole and filled it by diverting water from a stream.  They had built an overflow so that any excess water wouldn't breach the banks and wash them away.  The design was simple but very effective.  To harvest the fish, they would turn the overflow pipe 90 degress to drain the pond.  Sister Mary explained that during times of low water flow, they could increase the oxygen in the water by adding chicken manure.  While they were growing their first batch of fingerlings, it was obvious that the operation was well managed and would be successful. 

While walking the site, Sister Mary pointed out  a small garden beside the pond.  During a recent wedding, a florist from Nebbi expressed frustration that most flowers had to be trucked from Kampala, some 350kms away.  Ever the entrepreneur, Sister Mary had begun planting flowers that she could sell to the Nebbi florist.  She was always on the lookout for opportunities to provide her group with new products and ways to improve their well being.

When we got back to the Church, she showed me her bakery.  She had a coal fired oven and steel cake templates in the shape of hearts, circles and books.  She explained that when a couple gets married, the cake is in the shape of the bible.  Afterward, she showed us how paper beads are made and their embroidery work.

It was astounding to see all of the things that the Sister's group was involved in.  The power of cooperation was obvious as no one person could have managed all of these projects yet all will benefit from them. 

It is hard to express how inspiring this experience was!

We spend the rest of the afternoon visiting various members and touring their operations.  Each member would share how the SACCO had helped them expand their operations and profitability.  It was cool to hear how someone borrowed 150,000 USG and within three months had paid back the loan and generated a profit of 80,000 USG.  In addition to generating more profits, these members were also diversifying into other crops and products to mitigate risks associated with only having one income stream. 

This was the highlight of my trip - talking to local entrepreneurs about their businesses and how having access to financial services had a profound impact on their ability to provide for their families. 

In Canada, credit unions compete directly with banks.  Almost everyone has access to financial services....  in Uganda, there are many communities that would not have access to any financial services if the SACCO wasn't there.

I am thankful to be a part of a global cooperative financial services movement that plays such an important part in so many of our members lives!

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