Lessons learned and changes made at the prompting of the World Councilof Credit Unions' Credit for Agriculture Producers (CAP) Project during the COVID-19 pandemic have helped Ukrainian credit unions adapt to the stress and challenges brought on by the country’s war with Russia.
“I think now that infrastructure is being disrupted, this is where we can support them (credit unions), and this is where we’re helping them reach out to the members. There are areas where the cell phone networks for Ukrainian providers were not working. They were not able to call members because those lines were cut. So, that’s where the technology that we were teaching them to improve their lending business proved very efficient in being responsive and continued in the war,” said Ewa Sierzynska, chief of party for the CAP Project.
Sierzynska made those comments during an October 6 panel discussion on “Cooperatives in Times of Crisis” at NCBA CLUSA’s 2022 Cooperative Impact Conference in Washington, D.C.
World Council has been implementing the USAID-funded CAP Project since 2016 to provide needed lending to smallholder farmers and agribusinesses through its partner credit unions.
Managing the project remotely from Poland since the start of the full-scale war in February, Sierzynska returned to Ukraine with other members of the CAP team in September to work face-to-face with credit unions and their member farmers.
“And it’s really inspiring to see young people, who are well educated, speak all the languages, have opportunities to leave, and they decide in the time of crisis, ‘we’re going to stay and we’re going to farm the land. We cannot farm the land remotely,’” said Sierzynska. “And I think it’s incredibly inspiring, and they need help, and the credit union is there to serve them. There’s nobody else to support them.”
While Sierzynska noted that it is hard to know how many credit unions are still operating in Ukraine’s east, where Russian troops are still occupying entire regions, credit unions in the rest of Ukraine have essentially never stopped lending or supporting their local communities.
“We (CAP Project) support a $1 million liquidity fund, financed by USAID, that was disbursed after the war started. And I think we demonstrated it could be done—this is needed. When banks closed the doors and stopped working with the population,” said Sierzynska. “And I think shutting down and waiting for the war to end is not a solution. We need to adapt and work and continue in that environment, and so our work as a community is to help that process. Because they will lift the economy up. These are the people who will create jobs and build the economy going forward.”
The 2022 Cooperative IMPACT Conference featured two days of programming, 20 technical sessions and over 60 speakers. Under the theme “Forward, Together,” the conference sought to challenge the cooperative community to come together and capture a generational opportunity: applying the lessons learned from the past two exceptional years to cooperative work moving forwards and emerging from crises.