Assistance from the credit union movement has given rise to great hope in Afghanistan for a bright economic future.
Credit unions first took root in northern Afghanistan in 2004 through a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) program.
Today, the country has 27 credit unions, known as Islamic investment and finance cooperatives (IIFC), and seven points of service in 14 provinces.
The IIFCs provide products and services to more than 90,000 men and women. To date, members have received $94 million in financing to start, improve, or expand small businesses and farms through individual loans averaging less than $1,000.
IIFCs attract farmers and small-business owners in rural and urban Afghanistan, as well as in the more religiously conservative South and East. Involvement by local elders on IIFC boards of directors—combined with the use of Shariah-compliant products—helps attract and keep reliable members. About 2,000 new members open accounts each month.
WOCCU completed its eight-year run in Afghanistan in December, but IIFCs continue to grow, mobilize share savings, and distribute and collect loans for productive activities. IIFCs disburse an average of $2.2 million in new loans every month.
Given the IIFCs’ success under very adverse conditions, financial freedom beyond the conflict remains challenging but holds promise in Afghanistan.