About Bruce Rogers

Manager at Conexus Credit Union

Saturday Debrief and then home

All of the coaches gathered and were led through some of the things we could expect to experience as we unwind from this adventure.  CCA has done this program for 11 years and they have learned from the past coaches.  The sharing of this will be invaluable to all of us as were head home and back to work.  There is no doubt that this experience can be life changing.  

How we deal with what we saw, smelt, felt, heard and touched will impact everyone of us that made this journey.  Everyone had different stories about what touched us the most.  We shared those stories around the room. Tears were shed and laughter was heard.  There is no doubt that we are all better people for having participated in this journey.

We were all well prepared for what we would see and we are well prepared for what we can expect to feel as we return to our normal lives.  Things will be different. I will have a different lens through which I see the world.  I certainly have a better understanding about the way Credit Unions and Co-operatives can have a role in building a better world. 

Please take 2 minutes and look at this video from CCA. 

London – decompression

The team that was in Uganda was also arriving to Heathrow on Friday in the morning and a day was planned for some debriefing during the day on Sat with a couple of the CCA staff from Ottawa were here to conduct those sessions.  

A few of us took the underground from Heathrow to central London and did some sightseeing. That was just a teaser – I had never really considered London as a place to visit but it was very interesting to see and really just walked past, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and much much more.  The theater district has dozens of productions.  The art galleries and museums.  I commented to the group about the number of languages we heard from the visitors.  It will be added to the list of places I need to visit and explore more deeply.

 

Team Ghana Wrapup

After Tuesday and Wednesday last CU visits, all five of the CCA coaching teams headed back from the areas where they were visiting to Accra.  Gene and I welcomed them to our place.  This has been our home for the most part of the two weeks were in Africa.  Thursday was our wrap up meeting with the executive and some of the staff at CUA.  Each of the teams provided a verbal report about each of the Credit Unions at which we had spent time.  That meant 15 verbal reports.  Lots of common themes were heard and none of what we said really was surprising to the CUA staff. 

The presence and the advice of the Canadian CU coaches in these Ghanaian CUs would go a long way to making changes that would help the development.  We had talked at each CU about our background, the Canadian CU history, and how we often faced the same issues.  The sharing of our experience was welcomed everywhere we went.   What I take away is the commonality of our opportunity and go home with a bit of a feeling that we should be reminded of our co-operative principals and the impact we can have on the lives of our members.  Adults everywhere in the world want the same thing.  An education for their children and an opportunity to have success.  That holds true in Ghana as it holds true for Canada.  

After the wrap up in CUA House – as the Central`s office is called, we have a little time for some last minute shopping and then head to the airport for our 10:30pm flight back to Heathrow.  That gets us into London at 5:30 am.  We all cross our fingers that the hotel has rooms available for that early arrival and we don`t have to wait hours to be able to check-in. 

Flight is on time, I catch a little sleep on the plane and we arrive on time. As a bonus, everyone`s luggage also arrives.  Clearing immigration and customs and a shuttle bus ride to the hotel take a couple of hours but the great news is that we have rooms ready for us and we can grab some sleep and a shower.

Second day at Redemption Parish

We arrived at Redemption Parish CU on Wed AM and were crossing our fingers that some more members of the board would attend and the minutes would give us confirmation of what we expected.  Auntie Charity, a board member brought us the minutes.  They were quite complete and gave us a good sense of what was happening.  The most common issue we found were issues of Governance.  Defining who does what within their structure, board, supervisory committee, loans committee and education committee and management. 

In this case, there wasn’t much separation and it appeared that they most commonly all met jointly.  The loan delinquency and approval process also received some of our attention as well as the current status of their record keeping and conversion to a PC based system.  A new bookkeeper appeared to be struggling with keeping up with the paper ledgers and having no or little opportunity to add these paper records to the software. 

This is the street leading to the CU – blue truck has been our transport since we arrived.

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Justine, Bruce, Auntie Charity, Gene, Yvonne and Seth. Eric was out chasing deposits. 

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Our report was presented to Auntie Charity and Seth and they seemed eager to understand and implement the things we were suggesting.  Some of what we suggested was already written into their bye-laws they just weren’t using the tools within the bye-laws to make things easier. By some simple changes, following the bye-laws and separation of duties, things would be easier for all,  members, the manager, and the board and committees.  It was written but it wasn’t in practice. 

Again, the absence of most of the board and the chairman may be a telling story to see if anything is changed in 12 months if we return.  As our report is shared with CUA and their field officer I suspect there would be some followup. 

Last CU – Redemption Parish CU

As indicated in the name, this is a church based CU that has operated for nearly 25 years.  They have low income, low expenses and have a very healthy balance sheet with lots of assets in comparison to the members savings deposits.  In the past couple of years to increase their membership, they opened their bond to the community.

The manager, Seth and the board chairman, Sylvanus both talked about the challenges they face and the opportunities they have in their community.  They identified their delinquency rate as high but couldn’t put a real number or estimate the percentage.  From their 2011 financials (last available) it was over 30%.  They had taken the CUA auditor’s advice and written off the loans that were more than 12 months old.  They felt that with their open bond and the hiring of a marketing manager, Eric, they could make gains in their membership and the savings deposits.  Eric had brought at least 30 new members to the CU since his hiring in Oct 2012.  He goes out to gather savings as well as recruiting new members.  There are two markets in the neighbourhood.  These would have traders and sellers that have money but the CU is too far away to easily get to the CU Office. The total membership is under 1000 members

Tomorrow we will come back and are promised that the minutes of the board meetings and committee meetings will be brought by the board secretary.  What was filed in the branch was mostly from 2011 and were not all there.

There seems to be some underlying issues with the CU.  The manager was eager to talk and the board chair was less eager.    Tomorrow will tell if we can help but we need more details than we got today.

Madina Teachers Credit Union – Monday visit

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Gene and I made the trip back to the Madina TCU on Monday am to spend a little more time with the manager Victoria before the planned meeting with the Board of Directors at noon.

We had completed the most of our report on Sunday evening and had some additional questions and clarification was needed on a couple of items.  We made some minor changes to the report and added a couple of sections and then reviewed our report with Victoria to make sure she was comfortable with what we were identifying and recommending for changes.

Our review and recommendations covered a number of areas: Delinquency management, Governance, Strategic Planning, Loan Operations, and Human Resource Development.  At the 37% rate of delinquency, we spent a lot of time and focus here.

As the board was all brand new a little over a year ago, they had to be quite hands on with the operation of the CU, primarily as a learning experience for themselves.  Since the hiring of Victoria and the establishment of their planning document, we suggested that they let her manage and they provide the strategy and oversight to the operation.  They don’t need to have their loans committee who meets once a month to provide 100% of the decisions about loan approvals.  Imagine the member that needs to wait 30 days for an approval when the competing banks and micro finance companies can get the loan approved and funded in a day or two.  At a much higher interest rate, but does the interest rate matter when I need the funds in a few days versus as much as 30 days?

As with the first Credit Union, the board and staff of the CU were very curious about our system and operations.  We explained that our sharing of knowledge and experience came from 75 years of history and that the challenges that they face today are the same challenges Canadian CU’s faced in our early years.

We try hard to learn and use a few common phrases in Twi the most common native language.  Me din de Yaw Píèsíe Bruce.  My name is Bruce and I was born on a Thursday (Yaw – pronounced Yow) and I am the first born male in my family.  We badly butcher the accents but everyone has a broad smile or outright laughter.

Hello, Goodbye, Good Morning, Thank You are also received in the same manner.  I am working on ordering a beer.  Ma me nsa toa baako.  That one just gets a blank stare and I fall back to “I will have a big big Star”.  Nice lager beer in a 675 ml bottle, that’s the big big part.

At both CUs and occasionally in chatting with the staff in the hotel or other servers, I am asked about my impressions of Ghana, I respond and talk about coming from Regina where we have a population of less than 250,000 and the first “smack in your face” impression is the density of the population and the amount of traffic.  Keep in mind that Accra is 2,291,000 and the region of Greater Accra is 4,000,000.  The city of Accra covers, and area of 173 sq. kilometers. That is over 13,200 people per sq kilometer.  Regina covers an area of 145 sq kms for our roughly 225,000 people or a density if 1,551 people per sq km.

As I said earlier – wall to wall people and vehicles.

The next biggest impression is of the warmth and welcoming people that we have met.  Akwaaba is said to us often.  You are welcome here.  The people seem genuinely happy and sincere in wanting to know about where we come from and wanting us to be happy and comfortable.  So far the experience has been great.

Back to the hotel and again watch the country grind to a halt as Ghana was playing another football match in the African Cup tournament.  Niger was the victim today.  In the restaurant at the hotel there were staff, patrons and neighbours dropping in to view the game.  One guy came draped in the flag, wearing his jersey and sporting a temporary tattoo on his forehead.  Ghana prevailed 3-0 and will advance to the next round and play again on Sat.   It was fun to see and listen to the fans and watch their wild gestures with their hands and arms at every close shot at either goal.

Tuesday we are off to our last Credit Union – Redeemer Parish in the community of Banana Inn.

Weekend at Cape Coast

We travelled a couple of hours west of Accra to meet up with another pair of coaches, Anthony and Derek.  They were in a community a couple of hours north called Swedru.  We met in the Cape Coast area and stayed in a community called Elmina.  It is now primarily a fishing village but has a number of beach resorts in the area.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmina

There are a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites at Cape Coast and Elmina that are castles/forts built in the mid 1400’s as trading posts by the Portuguese.  Ghana had resources that were desired by the Europeans, Gold, spices, and other commodities.  The Portuguese wanted to compete with the Arab world that was seeking the same trade.  Unfortunately, one of the commodities was human, in the form of slave labour.  The tours focused on the long history of the slave trade and the horrific conditions that were endured over the long history of that trade.  The castles are known as the slave castles.  Portuguese built the castles and operated them for a couple of hundred years. The Dutch fought and overtook them at one point and then the British took control.  Slavery was banned in the early years of 1800 and the trade ended in 1837.  It was identified that outside of the trade of slave labour to Europe, the Caribbean, South America and America,  Africa has been the source of slave labour for thousands of years back to Roman times.

It was very sobering to stand in a holding cell, that held hundreds of prisoners for weeks or months at a time and hear the fact, that if they had not survived their bodies were simply tossed into the sea. If they survived, they were loaded onto a ship and sent to be traded or auctioned like livestock.  They called the doors out of the castles to the ships as the door of no return.

On a brighter note, we also visited the Kakum National Forest.  The forest had a Canopy tour and a forest tour.  We paid the entry fee and met our guide that shared his knowledge of the environment.

A fear of heights would be a big challenge for the canopy tour.  Suspended cables approximately 100 feet off the forest floor created a suspended walkway from tree to tree.  Total length of the 6 or 7 spans was 350 meters.  The photos don’t really give a sense of the height off of the ground and in some cases, the trees towered above the walkways.  Picture two steel cables that are strung between the trees and some ropes that tied a netting material that holds a 12 inch wide aluminum ladder with a plank of lumber as the walkway.  It is that 12 inch wide at your feet and about 3 feet wide at shoulder height at the top of the netting.  That is the walkway suspended about a 100 feet off of the forest floor.  Must be safe,  designed by two Canadians from Vancouver who are mountaineers.  Inspected every six months to ensure safety,  they told us this after we had paid and climbed up the mountain to the start of the canopy tour.

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After the canopy tour, the guide took us through the forest and talked about the cultural significance of the forest and history of the use of the various trees and vines for practical, not so practical and medicinal purposes.  It was fascinating to see, touch and hear his explanations.  He was kind of scary in that he identified a couple of plants that could be used to kill an enemy. A single press of a fingernail into the sap of a vine could be passed to the lip of a glass of water or cup of tea and when drank by an enemy, it would kill that person.  Then there were leaves of plants that masked the smell of a decaying body.  Kill someone and hide the evidence, like I said he was a little scary.

Sunday after lunch, we split up and made our way back to Accra with our driver, Bright.  Anthony and Derek headed to Swedru with their driver, Moses. Along the highway, it is not uncommon for the Ghanaian Police service to have checkstops and randomly check drivers for licenses.  We got stopped.  Bright had a minor issue with his driver’s license and was going to be given a ticket for Gh¢50 and told he had to come back to court the next day to pay his fine.  He argued that that was too much.  After some arm waiving and discussion, the “fine” was set at Gh¢20 and we were on our way and the ticket was ripped up.

Three and a half hours (150 kms) Gene and I checked back into the Paloma Hotel in Accra and started the work we needed to do for preparing our report for the board of directors at Medina Credit Union.

We will visit that group tomorrow and present our findings and recommendation.