Field Notes: A Blog of the Worldwide Foundation

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Meeting the COVID-19 Challenge on World Health Day

Credit unions have always been there to support the financial health of their members. But amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many are now going above and beyond to protect and support the physical health of their employees, members and communities as well.

That's why we are taking the opportunity on World Health Day, celebrated on April 7 each year, to recognize some of the ways credit unions are stepping up to meet the health challenges presented by COVID-19. We can't list all of those examples, but we hope this list gives you an idea of how the global credit union community is doing its part.

American Heritage Federal Credit Union (Pennsylvania, USA)

American Heritage Federal Credit Union, in response to major community needs, is donating personal protective equipment and organizing blood drives with local partners in the coming weeks.  

Personal Protective Equipment Mask Donations

American Heritage will be donating 50,000 facemasks to local hospitals during the month of April. It counts more than a dozen local hospital networks and healthcare facilities among its 800 Workplace Partners.

American Red Cross Blood Drives 

American Heritage is also opening several of its branch locations to the American Red Cross for urgent blood drives this month. The American Red Cross has implemented several precautions based on CDC guidelines to further ensure the safety of donors and American Red Cross staff.

Credit Union of Southern California (California, USA)

Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal) started developing a Coronavirus response plan on Feb. 26, when the entire United States had just 60 confirmed cases and zero deaths.

Because CU SoCal got an early start on planning, it was able to successfully order N95 masks, hand sanitizer stations for its branches, extra cleaning supplies and gloves.

The credit union also ordered extra laptops and other equipment that would allow its entire headquarters' staff to work from home, including the call center people. That means they were all working remotely before Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) ordered a state lockdown. That foresight gained CU SoCal critical breathing room, allowing employees to make the shift to working from home with very little turbulence.

Helping doctors and nurses

As part of its early COVID-19 response plan, CU SoCal had ordered 250 N95 masks. But after handing them out to branch personnel and staff at headquarters who wanted them, they had 130 leftover. The senior management team decided to donate the extra masks to a local hospital. CU SoCal donated them to San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, Calif., where the wife of the credit union's Senior VP of Lending works as a nurse. All of the doctors and nurses at the hospital immediately started using the masks when they were dropped off, and sent a photo thanking CU SoCal.

Vancity (British Columbia, Canada)

Vancity, Canada's largest community credit union, joined forces with several other community groups in British Columbia to develop a Community Response Fund. The Fund is designed to rapidly deploy essential relief to those who provide frontline services to people and organizations that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and its economic consequences.

Vancity committed more than $1 million to the fund, with three other organizations providing contributions to push the total amount to over $3 million.

The first phase of grant recommendations will prioritize community-based organizations who are addressing:

  • Immediate needs of low-income populations caused by COVID-19 related closures, including access to food, hygiene, housing and other basic needs.
  • The economic impact of reduced and lost work within the non-profit sector.
  • The information needs of vulnerable community members to promote resiliency and mitigate fear and confusion.
  • Mobilizing citizens to assist their vulnerable neighbors with the challenges they are facing from isolation.

You can learn more about the Community Response Fund here.

UNASCU and AUCUA Credit Unions (Ukraine)

The Government of Ukraine forced all credit unions to shutdown in March as part of its COVID-19 emergency response, because the sector there lacks digital financial services that would allow for remote transactions.

But through joining World Council of Credit Unions' Credit for Agriculture Producers Project team, the Ukrainian National Association of Savings and Credit Unions (UNASCU) and All-Ukrainian Credit Union Association worked with the country's credit union regulator to amend the country's emergency provision, allowing credit unions to reopen April 2. 

The credit union sector agreed to operate under the condition that staff members and visitors be provided with personal protective equipment—especially face and eye protection. Namely, credit unions in Ukraine are now supplying respirators or face masks, including self-made ones, and are complying with appropriate sanitary and safety measures.

WOCCU TIFI Project Partners (African and Latin America)

World Council of Credit Unions' partners in the USAID CDP TIFI Project are also doing their part to facilitate social distancing, and going above and beyond to protect people:

  • In Guatemala FENACOAC suspended all activities in the offices and sent all staff to work remotely.
  • In Kenya, KUSCCO CEO George Ototo sent a letter to all member SACCOs (credit unions) with recommendations about promoting good hygiene, such as handwashing, increased cleaning and disinfecting, avoiding contact with objects and surfaces, social distancing, enabling remote work by employees and promoting safe food handling.
  • Felix Ochieng, CEO of Kenya's Siraji SACCO, sent a letter to all of his customers and members, encouraging them to use mobile banking or ATMs and, if they are not yet registered on mobile platforms, to sign up immediately. He announced that loan applications will be discussed by phone only, and that some branch offices are now closed, while others will operate with minimal staff. The letter notes that Siraji SACCO has “taken the above measures to protect our members, customers’ families and the general public.” 
  • In Burkina Faso, CIF (the confederation serving the national associations of credit unions in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Mali and Benin) is closely monitoring the pandemic and undertaking hygiene measures requiring behavior change and budgetary implications. CIF is considering solutions in the event of a containment decision, such as facilitating remote work through high-speed Internet.
  • One of CIF’s member national associations, PAMECAS in Senegal, established a committee to prepare the staff and member credit unions for the pandemic. One of the steps taken by the committee this week focused on working with credit unions in Dakar to ensure they have enough hand sanitizer for members and staff, and instituting safe distancing when conducting transactions to mitigate human contact as much as possible. The CEO of PAMECAS also sent a letter out to credit unions in Senegal promoting public health.
Those are just a few examples of how credit unions are stepping up to ensure the health and well-being of their members. We salute them on this World Health Day and recognize these efforts signify one more way we are indeed one global credit union community.


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