Each year, December means three things to me: 1) assessing the year about to end, 2) taking a peek at the year ahead and, most importantly, 3) honoring traditions with those we care about. I’m blessed to be able to do all three at home and at work with the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, especially as 2020 comes to an end.
Looking back, philanthropically, there were few to no comparisons to lean on when trying to assess our ability to reach our aggressive engagement and fundraising goals during the year. Through an extraordinary group of credit unions, CUSOs and individuals (you know who you are), we exceeded our expectations—and that is a testament to the giving spirit of this community, even in the most uncertain of economic climates. We will end the year having made history, and in turn, will have the capacity to extend credit unions even further worldwide. In terms of impact, our programs thrived.
Project Storm Break, our disaster relief initiative, helped deliver over 40,000 masks and nearly $75,000 in grants to 40 international credit union movements in need. Our Global Women’s Leadership Network and World Council Young Credit Union Professionals network programs thrived in an all-virtual environment, growing audiences ten-fold by offering virtual forums and summits designed to connect, inform and inspire, regardless of time zone. It was a tremendous year and building block to move our work forward even further in 2021.
Speaking of 2021, when I peek ahead, we still have many inclusion gaps to bridge. For us at the Worldwide Foundation and World Council by extension, providing inclusion is at the center of our work. We take pride in connecting peers together to overcome common challenges. COVID-19 showed that a serious digital gap exists among credit unions where it is a case of “haves and have-nots,” putting members and staff equally at risk. Inequality and gender gaps tragically have and still exist, with clearly more work needed by our credit unions to include more diverse, equitable and inclusive boards, teams and services in support of members.
Our 2021 annual theme, #BridgeTheGap, will demonstrate through storytelling and tangible impact how international credit union development is bridging these gaps and providing inclusion for millions. Our focus is to show, through our work and the stories we tell, how we’re transforming a billion lives worldwide through credit unions. Stay connected to our blog, website and social media to hear about the rich stories and work to bridge the gap worldwide.
As we move through December, each of us looks to our own special traditions. One of the most exciting traditions I’m blessed to be able to take part in is writing thank you notes to our champions (a.k.a. donors) accompanied with our annual champion gift. It is tradition at the Foundation to send a hand-made gift from one of the countries in which the World Council currently has a credit union development project. More importantly, it is a genuine opportunity to tell a story of the work our donors helped to make happen during the year.
At the center of our 2020 champion gift is Charles Mwangi Nyingi. Charles is an entrepreneur in Laikipia County, Kenya, who operates a curio shop specializing in handcrafted designs. With the help of his local credit union, Siraji SACCO, Charles accumulated enough capital to qualify for his first business loan. This success continued with attending education workshops that aided in his business's growth, allowing him to employ his fellow citizens within the county.
Charles and his employees crafted more than 300 handcrafted designs depicting traditional scenes of women at the center of community life in rural Kenya. The gift is a tangible token of gratitude, as well as an extension of supporting an emerging entrepreneur and credit union member like Charles.
Charles is among 60% of Siraji’s members who have adopted access to the credit union’s financial services and educational platforms since February 2020, at the outbreak of COVID-19. Siraji SACCO was one of several Kenyan credit unions that partnered with World Council’s Technology & Innovation for Financial Inclusion (TIFI) project to successfully identify technological opportunities and resources to help the SACCO understand shifting member needs during and post-pandemic. Via engagement and participation, credit unions like Siraji are bridging both a digital and financial inclusion gap for their communities.
Charles is living proof that “Global Good”—as we like to call it at the Worldwide Foundation—is transforming lives through the power credit unions carry in communities worldwide. But we have work to do and gaps to bridge.
To our donors, our success in 2020 was due to your continued engagement, and we encourage those curious about international development to allow us to take you on a global journey to help bridge inclusion gaps worldwide. Start your journey with us at DoGlobalGood.org
Enjoy a safe holiday season, and seek to bridge the gaps locally and globally through credit unions in 2021.
Mike Reuter is the executive director of the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions.
A special thanks to Susy Cheston, Chief of Party-Financial Inclusion and Mark Matabi, Country Co-coordinator-Kenya of World Council’s TIFI project for contributing content to this blog.