The importance of saving

NS man showing how youth savings can save credit unions in Ghana

 

Most of the 500 children in the Youth Savings Club in Mim, Ghana, leaned forward in their blue plastic chairs, listening attentively to Joel Inglis discuss the value of credit unions. It wasn’t until he offered pop and cookies at the end of his presentation that they screamed excitedly and began acting like the group of five- to 13-year-olds they were.Jan-Feb cover

Inglis, an MBA student at Cape Breton University, is completing a six-month internship in Accra, Ghana, as part of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) International Youth Internship Program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

“We work with youth savings clubs in order to promote youth involvement in the Credit Union system,” he said. “We’re training and educating kids on things like how to start their own business or how to be financially responsible. We’re also giving them the opportunity to band together and encourage each other to save and learn those financial responsibility skills at a young age.”

Though the first credit union in Ghana was established in 1955, a coup in 1966 brought decades of military rule until the country adopted a constitutional democracy in 1992. Credit unions struggled to cope with the instability.

“During the mid-90s, a lot of the credit unions were in financial difficulty. Some of the staff and  members were leaving,” Inglis said. But with the help of international aid, including a loan from the CCA, credit unions began making a resurgence.

“Over the last 15 years or so those credit unions have bounced back and become really major players in their communities,” he said. “As they do in most parts of the world, they’re giving people that opportunity to take financial responsibility for themselves, especially in those areas where the major banks are coming in. Credit unions are the more democratic way that people are taking control of their money and saving.”

Today there are over 400 credit unions in Ghana, with close to 370,000 members out of a population of 30 million.

Political stability has attracted large, international banks. Though Barclays of London had been operating in Ghana for 90 years, in 2011 it re-launched its premier banking services and now has 59 branches and 135 ATMs in the country.

“The big banks have been moving into Ghana more and more over the last five years or so,” Inglis said. “I really feel like the credit unions are a way for people to avoid the debt cycle that the big banks endorse. The big banks come in and offer these loans to people that don’t quite understand how the loan is detrimental to them.”

Inglis said the growth of credit unions in Ghana is a grassroots movement of small groups of people with the same goals.

“A lot of the credit unions in Ghana are common bond credit unions, so that they all have something that’s very distinct in common,” he said. “Even within the office where I work, there’s a credit union that was built specifically for the people that work in the office, which would be less than 50 people. There are a lot of very small credit unions that have one single vision or one single goal. So it’s definitely a grassroots bottom-up development.”

Credit unions in Ghana have an aging membership, which is why educating youth is so important, Inglis said. But the problem isn’t unique to Ghana.

“Trying to get youth involved in the credit union and trying to educate them on the democratic process of credit unions and how to govern an organization like that, I think that’s something that could definitely be implemented in Canadian credit unions,” he said. “Canadian credit unions are having the same issue, that there’s older membership. Most people on boards and committees are older and there’s not younger people in the wings ready to take their place.”

However, in Ghana, interest in credit unions continues to grow.

“People are much more willing to participate,” he said. “They want to be trained to do new things. If they’re going to be on the loans committee, they want to be trained to read financial statements, and that’s a new, marketable skill for them.”

Inglis said the same level of interest is evident in Ghana’s youth.

“I find it really surprising that the way the kids interact with adults,” he said. “They pay strict attention, they want to interact and they want to learn, which is really something I didn’t see as much in high schools back home. The kids here more so appreciate the opportunity to develop and grow.”

Inglis is scheduled to graduate with his MBA in Community economic development in the fall and plans to further his career in the co-operative sector.

“I would like to work in the co-op movement back home in Nova Scotia,” he said.

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