In the past two decades, Zimbabweans have endured unemployment, food shortages, and poverty among other socioeconomic challenges.
Fortunately, the “economy is now on the mend,” says Wilson Wizalamu, but a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic “is threatening to devastate the gains.”
That doesn’t deter Wizalamu, who has made it his “labor of love and work of faith” to help Zimbabweans via the Cent-Cent Savings & Credit Cooperative Society (SACCO), which is the Southern African nation’s equivalent of a credit union.
If his success to date is any indication, Wizalamu will see his dream of Cent-Cent being a “learning, practicing, and teaching SACCO” that spurs a wide credit union/SACCO movement in the country of 15 million people.
Wizalamu’s path to the unpaid post of Cent-Cent’s “head of secretariat,” a title analogous to CEO, is a remarkable story of selfless dedication.
It starts in 2006 when Wizalamu, then working for a bank, began an MBA program at Zimbabwe Open University. His dissertation focused on bringing services to the unbanked.
Wizalamu’s role at the bank inspired the topic. One of his tasks involved increasing market share through competitive analysis. Because about 80% of the Zimbabwean population was unbanked, Wizalamu considered this group the logical target.
After finding banks were only interested in high-net-worth individuals, he decided to form a SACCO.
In 2014, he recruited 12 people to serve on a SACCO formation committee, as required by Zimbabwean law.
Explaining his concept of a digital-only SACCO posed the biggest challenge to gaining regulatory approval for Cent-Cent in late 2015. Wizalamu believed this approach “provided an agile and cost-effective way to reach the financially excluded.”
After securing approval, Cent-Cent opened an office in Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) in March 2016. Although the aim was to eventually operate digitally, “we were doing much of our core processes manually because we could not afford a digital core banking system,” Wizalamu explains.
Member recruitment relied on messaging through WhatsApp, along with traditional word of mouth.
Regular membership shares were $50 and could be paid over time. This provided access to “productive” loans for startup and working capital for members’ small enterprises, as well as “providential” loans for school fees or health care costs.
Wizalamu has achieved several credit union education credentials and is the first participant from the African continent to join the Filene Research Institute’s i3 program for credit union professionals.
“My hope is to see the credit union/SACCO movement become the key enabler of all the aspirations of Zimbabwe,” he says.