This fall, I attended the 22nd Savings and Credit Cooperatives Associations Congress in the Kingdom of Eswatini in southern Africa. I represented CUNA at the invitation of the African Confederation of Co-operative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA).
ACCOSCA is a Pan-African confederation of national associations of savings and credit cooperative societies known as SACCOS. Their vision is to promote financial inclusion across Africa, and they function much like CUNA does in the U.S., uniting and empowering credit union associations, leagues, employees, and board members.
ACCOSCA’s mission of sustainably empowering SACCOs in Africa through technical programs reaches more than 5,000 credit unions across the continent, representing more than 750 million consumers.
The congress was a gathering of more than 500 people representing 22 African nations. There, I shared my viewpoints on cooperative leadership, forged lasting relationships, and learned about the issues facing African credit unions—many of which are similar to those we face in the U.S.
ACCOSCA Executive Director George Ombado personifies credit union leaders throughout Africa. His soft-spoken and warm leadership style, coupled with his extensive education and experience, set a tone of gentle persistence in advancing the continent through cooperatives.
George emphasized ACCOSCA’s role in supporting SACCOs with the education, systems, and resources they need to operate efficient and professionally mature organizations. He discussed leveraging inclusivity as a catalyst for growth and development, adopting technology, and enhancing professionalism through better governance and performance. Sound familiar?
A primary focus of the congress was the new ACCOSCA Academy, a state-of-the-art facility in Kenya (learn more at accosca.org). The academy will enable employees, board members, regulators, and community members to participate in education and training on leadership, governance, and technology.
I was thrilled to present George with two gifts on stage during the opening program: a highly coveted cowboy hat from his namesake, George Strait, and a contribution from UFCU to the academy.
In addition to a groundswell of support from African SACCOs, several U.S. credit unions and their partners helped us come closer to our goal of raising $1.2 million for the ACCOSCA Academy.
We spent the remainder of our time in Eswatini in excellent company, learning from and socializing with leaders of the cooperative movement from across the continent. We enjoyed stimulating speakers ranging from Eswatini’s deputy prime minister to the commissioner for cooperative development. My keynote speech addressed the importance of authentic leadership to bring about transformation in people and organizations.
It was an enlightening and gratifying visit that reinforced the creative power of cooperative principles and the movement to better people’s lives at the community—and even continental—level.
I’ll always remember the call-and-response refrain that reverberated through the event hall each morning and evening. The emcee would call out, “Credit unions!” Then 500 unified voices would reply, “Happy family!” And then, “Happy family! … Credit unions!”
I’m grateful for the inspiration, and it’s my great hope that all credit union leaders feel cooperative principle No. 6, cooperation among cooperatives, no matter where we find ourselves in the world.
TONY BUDET is CUNA Board chair and CEO at UFCU, Austin, Texas.