This article first appeared in the January 2018 issue of Credit Union Magazine and is also posted on the CUNA website here.
A World Council of Credit Unions project in Ukraine is improving the quality of services and products credit unions offer to rural farmers and agribusinesses.
The Credit for Agriculture Producers (CAP) Project is a four-year effort (2016-2020) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by World Council with oversight and technical assistance from the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance.
The CAP Project contains a significant volunteer component, drawing upon credit union experts who possess a wide range of technical abilities and worldwide experiences.
“The entire experience puts things into perspective,” says Melissa Osborn, a regulatory and legislative affairs specialist at the Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates, who served as a volunteer expert last summer. “I met with individuals who love what they do.
With financial services in Ukrainian credit unions in an infancy stage, they were asking for more structure and regulation to have clear-cut guidance on operating.”
Osborn responded to a Global Women’s Leadership Network call for volunteers for CAP. The volunteer assignment aimed to begin the process of making gender mainstreaming a substantive part of the project.
She worked with Ukrainian regulators to improve regulation through engagement with credit unions and presented the importance of maintaining open communication and finding balance within the regulations to ensure credit union growth.
As a gender specialist, she worked with the CAP Project team to provide training on gender equality and attracting women as new members.
Osborn says she relished the opportunity to combine her credit union experience and her passion for supporting women. Ukrainian Federal Credit Union in Rochester, N.Y., also sent volunteers to support the project. Oleg Lebedko, CEO of the $225 million asset institution, and Board Chair William George Kornylo visited Ukraine last summer.
The volunteers worked with the All-Ukrainian Credit Union Association to develop a three-year growth strategy. Simultaneously, the Irish League of Credit Unions’ International Development Foundation worked with the Ukrainian National Association of Savings and Credit Unions on strategic planning.
“They were hungry for, and very receptive to, all kinds of information and experience,” says Lebedko, who initially compiled data and gathered material for the growth strategy. Kornylo compares the presence of volunteers working on the project alongside the national associations to “a light of hope.”
As the project reaches its midpoint in 2018, World Council expects the first assignments will bring to the surface Ukrainian credit unions’ other needs, and the demand for more volunteers.