Second CU visit

On Friday am Gene and I were off to meet with the people at the Madina Teachers CU.  We were met at the gate by the Chairman of the Board, Mr David Addo.  He introduced us to the Manageress Victoria Abugre and the staff Charles and Rainer.

Other members of the board soon arrived and introductions were made.  The board is 5 members, all teachers and an ex-officio member who is a past board member.  The structure of the bylaws has all of the board members terms coming due at the same time.  This board were all elected at the same election and the former board members had all served on the board for their maximum of two four year terms in succession.

The new board welcomed us and seemed very keen to gain a better understanding of how their CU could be made better.  We all sat in their meeting room and discussed their history, their challenges and opportunities for the future.

The CU has about 1470 members, mostly teachers but they are an open bond society that has members that are not teachers.  The teachers are paid by the government and they serve teachers in about 150 schools in the area.  The schools are smaller than what we would know in Canada but structured as basic, elementary and secondary.,_Ghana

The CU primarily serves the teachers in the community but has some members from the community.  Their growth will come from the community and increasing the savings of the current members.  As was the case with the Animal Research Institute, this board was keen, committed and well educated.  They did express a bit of a sense of surprise at the time needed to fulfill their duties as members of the board and committees on which they served.  I expect that some of this came from the fact that they were all new and there were some troubles and issues that needed to be addressed.

The loan delinquency was about 37%.  More than a third of all of the loans that were outstanding were late in repayment by more than 14 days.  They still had loans on the books that were nearly 5 years late in repayment.  Some very difficult decisions needed to be made and to the credit of the board, they made those decisions.  The manager was sacked and all loans more that 12 months delinquent were written off.  This write off created an overall loss for the year.  That impacts their ability to pay a dividend to the members like our patronage.  In the past, they have paid a dividend of 10% on the members shares.  The members can invest in the CU by holding more than the minimum share requirement of GH¢100 (about $50 Cdn).  Both Gene and I reached for our wallets as were told them about the rates of return possible in Canada today.

But as they made a difficult decision to take the write down and create a loss in 2012, they have positioned themselves for success in the future. Our impression was very positive as they had created a well documented business plan for the year.  They had recruited Victoria and she has great education, experience and skills.  After the meeting with the board, we had the chance to spend some time with her alone to gain a little more of the operational perspective.  She is a keeper and we will include that in our report.

After a full day, at about 4:30 we headed out of Accra to spend the weekend near Cape Coast.  About a 150 kms from Accra – we arrived to the hotel at about 8:25.  Seems everyone had the same idea to leave Accra on Friday night and remember it is a city of 2,000,000 and the Greater Accra distruct is over 4,000,000.

The plan was to meet with another team of coaches, Derek and Anthony who were in Swedru about 2 hours from Cape Coast.


First Credit Union visit and report complete

Gene and I visited the Animal Research Institute Credit Union on Wed and Thur.  The travel was as shown in the pictures from my previous quick update.  We were going in the opposite direction of the mass flow of traffic and still took over an hour to get north to Frafafa in Greater Accra a distance of about 25 kms.

We were met by the CU manager and his three staff.  Members of the board, including the Chairman, Dr Charles Domozoro dropped over at various times during the day to welcome us.  The secretary of the board, Andrews Kofi Assante (Andy) spent most of the day with us and the manager, Yaw Mensa as we discovered about their credit union.  

The ARI is a government department under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research ministry.  The ARI does research in the area of improving the production of livestock for food. There are 4 facilities around the country and we visited the main operations. The CU office is in space provided in the administration office. 

The CU was started in 1999 as a closed bond society that only served the staff of the ARI offices around the country.  Recently they adopted an open bond that allows them to serve more than just the employees.  The main operations are located in a community called Fafraha. There is a population that is not served by any other nearby CU and they were able to increase their membership. Today is stands at little over 1000 members and they have aggressive plans to grow to 3000 or 5000 members.

Almost 100 percent of the staff of ARI are members and make up a little over 600 of the current 1000 members.  The staff have just recently completed a project to enter the membership information into a new computer system and now await some assistance from the software supplier for help in adding the members account information into the computer system.  In the meantime they continue to use pen and paper in a ledger card system and give members handwritten receipts and passbooks.  Most of the deposits come to the CU by payroll deduction from the ARI payroll department.

The CU has some very interesting projects that are designed to provide benefits to the membership and make the CU attractive to join.  The CU has an investment in a Layer and Broiler Chicken operation in the community.  Using their technical expertise and dollars (well really Ghanaian Cedis) they invested in this operation.  They bought a chicken for every member at Christmas plus had a small profit at the end of the year.  

They have a food hamper program where the members can buy a supply of food items and pay for it via a small loan.  Image

Again, a benefit for membership to both the staff and outside members. Two Cedi is a Canadian dollar. 

The CU also has a land development project where they bought a parcel of land a few years ago and are in the process of surveying and subdividing this into building lots.  They then sell the land to the members at a much reduced price in comparison to the regular real estate market – about half.  The members who want a lot, make an agreement and then buy the land over time.  It seems that the average person takes about 7 years to purchase the land, buy the materials and construct the house.  Every stage needs to be paid for in cash, there are no mortgage loans. They laughed when we talked about 25 year amortizations on mortgage loans.  They will save to buy the land, save to buy the blocks for the walls, save to buy the timbers for the roof, save for the metal for the roof, save to finish the interior – maybe plumbing, tiles for the floors and furnishings. 

There are as many buildings, homes, apartments or office buildings, under construction as there are built today.  They just don’t get done quickly.

After the day with Yaw and Andy, Gene and I came back to the hotel. Had a beer and then got to work over and after supper.  We have some report templates and 6 areas that we can use to prepare our report to the board and manager.  This CU is pretty well run but it is run by the board.  Not uncommon in newer CUs and in this case it needed to be done as the previous manager had left in May 2012.  Yaw had only been at this CU for 3 weeks but he has 10 years of CU experience.  Andy had had to take over the day to day operation over the past months.

Our report was well received by the board and they were anticipating some of our recommendations as they were well aware of some of the things that would improve their operation.  The questions asked and comparisons made to our Canadian operations indicated that they were keen to see the continued development of their CU.

The Africa Cup is being played in South Africa now and Ghana’s national football team was on the pitch at 3:00.  The nation almost stood still for 2 hours.  It was fun to watch them watch the match.  They were like any Rider or NHL fan in the seats or in a seat in a bar or at home.  Everyone helped coach the team through the entire match.  Shouts, groans and cheering assisted the Ghanaians to a 1-0 victory over Mali. 

The blog of my partner is here and while we visited the same places here is his take on the day and a link to some photos.

I am working on a very slow internet connection to upload pictures to the Picasa.Google album I use and when I get them there I will include a link.


Wall to Wall vehicles


Wall to Wall vehicles

This is normal traffic in Accra. Our 25 km journey to our first CU this morning was well over an hour and that was going north out of Accra. Mind boggling. Part of the problem was a couple of sections of the road that were under construction, Conversations indicated this was the 4th year of construction of an overpass. Another reminder of African time. Patience is a virtue.

Wall to Wall people


Wall to Wall people

Accra is the major city in Ghana with a little over 2,000,000 people with the Greater Accra region having a population of nearly 4,000,000 people.
This is a small market area, maybe 4 blocks by blocks in size and one of hundreds of these market places.

Our day on Tuesday was a travel day. For Gene and I that meant travel back to Accra and check into hour hotel which will be home for the next couple of weeks.  Our driver, a young man named Kofi Bright was reminded that he held our lives in his hands and safe transport was better than fast transport.   We didn’t really have to worry about fast.  Coming the 30 kms into Accra with the traffic took nearly 1 and half hours.  We checked in and the Bright drove us to an area called OSU. This is an area largely in inhabited by ex-pats.  After lunch we walked down the street to check out some of the street vendors.  The vendors are all excited to see us and invite us in to see their stuff.  We stop at a couple but keep moving.  A couple of sellers of wrist bracelets ( made on the spot) are quick to tag along and for about 6 blocks, 3 down and 3 back on the other side of the street we find our new friends quick to make a personalized bracelet in Ghanaian colours with the flag.  “Guaranteed for 100 years – if I ever had a problem with it I could just come back to Ghana and he would make me another.  No thank you didn’t seem to be understood at all.   They finally gave up and went away.

We drove to another area and wandered through a less touristy market area – the picture above.  No hassles here what so ever.  Anything you could want or ask for was in one of these shops or stalls in this area.  They had everything from food stuffs to shoes to luggage.  It was fun to just walk around.

As you drive in traffic, there are vendors that walk the lines of stopped cars and they sell anything and everything.  Water, snacks, newspapers, kleenex, heck I could even by garden hedge clippers or a Dr Ho waist slimming belt.

This would be a very tough way to eke out a living and very hot, dusty, and smoggy way to earn a Cedi or two.  At every choke point on the highway or street there is a market, even set up on the median in some cases.

CUA Training Center

After our arrival, well after midnight at the Accra airport, were were greeted by the Ghanaian CUA representatives and drivers.  Clara and 3 drivers had been waiting at the airport since 7:00 pm for our arrival in Ghana.  That is dedication and commitment to the job.

We loaded the luggage of the 8 of us into the back of two trucks and we, along with Clara climbed into a van and in the dark of the night made our way through the city of Accra to CUA Training Center. After the wait for immigration, luggage and customs, and the 45 minute drive to the training center we arrived a little after 2 am ( now Monday AM).  We left Ottawa Friday at 8:00pm Ghanaian time.  There is a hotel/hostel building, a restaurant and a training/conference center.  By the time we were assigned rooms, I was done and I headed to bed.  The plan was to be at breakfast in the restaurant at 9 and we would start the training sessions at 9:30.

The Irish connections to the coaching mission had been at the CUA training center since their on-time arrival Sat PM.  Fintan and Mary, from Ireland were partnering with a couple of the Canadians and both had been in the Coaching program last year and were returning coaches. Some of the coaches got to the rooms and then headed to the restaurant for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks.  Those that know me well, know that I don’t often pass up a beer, but given the past 30 hours of my journey and the issues at home, I passed on the food and beer and headed to bed.

On Monday, after our breakfast, Oatmeal, with a little condensed milk and brown sugar and a cup of tea (coffee is instant Nescafe) so I went with the tea, we started the day.  The training was intended to be a day and a half (if we had arrived on time).  We were joined by a number of the CUA field staff and their two senior leaders.

Mr Darko and Mr Fidelis along with several of the CUA field staff were attending the day.  We received a very warm welcome and introductions were made around the room.  Like in Canada, the room was full of some very experienced Credit Union professionals.  Someone said among the 25 people in the room, there was 1000 years of experience in the CU system.  His math skills were a little suspect (sorry Derek), but there was easily 500 years of CU system service.

The working part of the day was to review the 6 modules that had been developed by CCA for the use by the coaches.  This was the first year that the coaches had been supplied with these types of tools for use in the field.  Based on feedback and an extensive review of the coaching reports over the past years, the CCA staff and some volunteers had worked to identify the most common problem areas.  So we worked at a very fast pace to cover the areas of Governance, Human Resource Development, Lending and Loan Management, Capital Management, Strategic Planning and Savings Mobilization.  Working in groups with the Ghanaian partners throughout the day we were able to gain considerable insight into the CU operations at present.  There are certainly differences in the manner of operation and this gave us a great opportunity to ask questions about the nature of the operations and challenges faced by the CUs in Ghana. It was a day well spent.

Supper was bbq chicken with french fries coleslaw.  Beer was a brand called Ghanaian brand called Club and was pretty good.  I like that they bottle it in 750 ml bottles so you only need to order one.  My partner Gene and I took a walk out of the center down the dirt road before it got too dark and to get a little fresh air.  We were away from the main road that lead into to the training center and we only saw a number of residences and empty lots.  A few dogs, chickens and goats wandering the streets.

We didn’t go far and turned around as there really wasn’t much to see.

Tuesday is the travel day for the coaching teams. For Gene and I, that means a 30km drive back into Accra and to our accommodation for the next two weeks at the Paloma Hotel.

For one of the teams, that means a really early start.  4:00 am to catch a flight and then a several hour drive to reach their destination.  We have a very different day back to Accra and likely time for some exploring.   That was Monday.

Getting to Ghana – Hurry up and wait – part 2

This post is a day late as the availability to the internet was limited for our first night in Ghana and was written on the plane from Heathrow to Accra, Ghana

It is now Sunday evening and we are finally on the flight from London Heathrow to Accra, Ghana.  It has been a lot of the hurry up and wait referenced in the title.   Since arriving to Toronto and the cancellation of the Toronto to Heathrow flight at about 630 pm on Friday, an overnight stay at the Airport Sheraton, we were rebooked onto a late Sat evening flight departing Toronto at about 11:00 PM.  British Airways ended up having an extra plane in Toronto as they scheduled an extra flight to bring the passengers that were scheduled on the Fri flight that was cancelled leaving Heathrow.  The benefit to that was that the outbound flight they booked our group on was the 3rd flight on Saturday from Toronto to Heathrow.  We were on the 3rd one as we had lots of time to connect with the British Airways flight to Accra.  That gave us lots of room on the plane with full rows of seats to ourselves.  Some of the group were able to get more sleep than others; I was on the lesser end of the sleep.  At 6 feet I was a little too tall to be able to sleep across the row.  I managed a bit of sleep. 

With the 5 hour time change from Eastern Time and 6 hours for home time, it was noon in London when we landed.  The connecting flight was departing at 14:30 local time.  Lots of time for a snack and a juice. 

That done, the flight boarded at about 14:00 – pretty full Boeing 777 aircraft, full in the World Traveler class cabin.  Sounds nice but we would call it economy at home.  There are 4 classes of seating on the BA international flights.  A World Traveler doesn’t even see the 1st class cabin and then walk through the seating cabins for the 2nd and 3rd class seats to find your seat in Economy. 

So seated, doors closed and the captain comes on to welcome the passengers to British Airways and tells us the due to the snow falling there would be a need to deice the plane before departure.  Pretty standard practice and many Canadian airports so no big deal.  Except this is Heathrow and there are a lot of airplanes departing from Terminal 5.  The message is that they can’t push back and get into the queue for deicing just yet as there are planes already sitting and waiting for that service.  After an hour, we push back and head to the queue.  Taxi a little way and then engines shut down and we are informed that there are 6 planes ahead of us in the queue and they take about 25 to 30 minutes each. 

At least the message was clear and accurate and the expectation level of their customers was managed well. No sugar coating here, 2 more hours was going to pass before we moved again.  At 18:00 decing is done and we are headed to the runway.  That will put us ino Accra a little after midnight approx. 30 hours after the originally schedule arrival.

Again, patience, adaptability, and calm are traits of the whole group of the 8 Canadian travelers.