By Kawsu Sillah

The National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions of The Gambia (NACCUG) with support from the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) have successfully organised a Credit Unions Managers' Conference. It was held from 8 to 9 December 2017 at the Regional Education Directorate 1 in Kanifing.

The conference is part of the activities implemented under the framework of YEP and seeks to bring together Credit Union Managers to brainstorm on innovation products and services attractive to young people to enhance youth participation in credit unions. The initiative was also meant to foster a cross breeding of ideas and further strengthen the ties of cooperation among Credit Union Managers for enhanced viability of the credit union movements in The Gambia.

About 45 Credit Union Managers (including the youth) from all regions of the country participated in the conference.

In the opening, the participants had remarks from Raimund Moser, Project Manager, the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), and Baboucarr Jeng, General Manager of NACCUG. They were followed by a presentation on youth and leadership by Lamin Darboe, Executive Director, National Youth Council of The Gambia (NYC). Mr. Darboe deliberations centered on the relevance of youth and the need to involve youth in National Development efforts. The skills and potential of youth in contributing towards the development of credit union movements in the Gambia, and ensuring their effective participation came out clearly from the presentation. Mr. Darboe also highlighted why the need to involve the youth at this present age and time by acknowledging the fact that young people makeup a majority of the Gambia’s population. This number will just keep growing, not only in number but also because youth are productive and energetic and have the ability to move the country to the next level. “Young people when given the maximum attention they deserve and supported to the fullest they can really achieve milestones’’, he said.

The 2-day intensive conference was facilitated by Baboucarr Ousmaila Joof, Director General of The Gambia Teachers' Union Cooperative Credit Union (GTUCCU) and Baboucarr Jeng, General Manager of National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions of The Gambia (NACCUG). According to Mr. Joof, “the Credit Unions Managers Conference was a useful 2 days; we engaged each other on very important discussions. As a lead facilitator, I ensured that we brainstorm on the issues that are holding the credit union movements back in terms of growth. We have recognized that involving youth as key players can give us potential to grow 70 times. Knowing very well that 70% of the populations are youth, we as credit union movements cannot make any meaningful progress without the youth. As a result we have agreed through the discussions that we need to adopt our products and services to suit the youth’’, he said.

Mr. Joof continued “During the conference, we have given youth the opportunity to speak amongst themselves and come up with proposals regarding how we can improve credit unions operations in the Gambia and interestingly they came up with wonderful recommendations. Same thing happens to those of us who are exiting at the senior level, we have recognized a need to engage the younger people for sustainability of the credit union movements. Because if you have only old people in credit unions, imagine what will happen if all the old people retired or they died, then the credit unions dies along. We need to have a succession plan that would ensure that credit unions continue to have members. Credit Unions are about membership and I think the last days were great – a great challenge for us to come up with something that we not only engage the youth but broaden their scope in terms of credit union development in the Gambia. Both Mr. Jeng and I are International credit union developers; we trained credit union managers across the globe from here to the United States and I am satisfied that the participants are going back better than they came here”

Are youth up for the challenges?

YES they are! In fact when we did a quick survey we realized that more than 50% of credit union managers in this country are in the youth bracket which for me is a positive sign. It shows that it is about the youth taking charge of the future that they are going to be in control of. I believe the youth are really up for the challenge and we are still around as elders, they can count on us and as long as we are around we will be very happy to give them the support we can provide them.

Words for YEP?

Yes, YEP need to continue working with institutions like NACCUG. Yes, we have a lot of command over financial resources, which is the problem that Gambians are talking about, but this partnership between YEP and NACCUG I think is long overdue. Those of us who sits in positions and people come in and tell us their views and ideas, I know there are a lot of people out there who are now waking up to the need for wealth creation, the need for income generation and that it cannot happen if you are depending on the salary no matter how much you are paid. So we are trying to change the mindset of our members to realize the significance of wealth creation and that wealth creation can only come through if one is engaged in real practices of business economics and that is the message we are sending across from this conference.

Closing the conference, Mrs. Fatou Mbenga Jallow, Project Coordinator and Senior Technical Advisor at YEP said, “I was really inspired to hear some of the discussions, particularly the presentation made by the young lady on behalf of the youth group. This partnership with NACCUG is one of the many I am sure we are going to do together. Our expectation as YEP from this conference is to really see some concrete actions you will set for yourselves to achieve within a set period of time. I am glad that you are coming up with managers association as a platform to leverage other opportunities that are out there. This is very important to YEP in bringing credit unions and youth together not only to participate or have a say in governance but also in terms of actively contributing to the product and services development of credit unions in the Gambia. I am pleased to see the youth group brought it in as a challenge but the senior team supports it as well for youth to be part of it. What we are looking for is really you using this platform in terms of networking as well. For YEP our work is not only in Greater Banjul Area, our focus is mainly looking into reaching rural Gambia, because there are a lot of youth out there that do not have the facilities that we have in Greater Banjul Area, that need the support not only in terms of access to finance but also in terms of facilities, products, trainings and awareness because there a lot of things that do happen in this country but people are not aware that the opportunities are there. The communication element and visibility is very important and I think for NACCUG is already being highlighted in terms of the need to communicate more, for people to know more in terms of what is happening out there. Really we are looking forward to collaborating more with NACCUG in terms of the outreach to the young people but also really taking on board and being guided by the seniors in terms of what you have gone through but also in terms of what is good, what is bad and what can we learn from it.

“As young people, you have to also be open minded, I am happy to see it mentioned in one of your group presentations that you have to be innovative, you have to be creative in terms of how you think and act. Always think outside the box on what are the things that you need, what do you think are the solutions and how can you make some of these things happen individually or collectively as a team.

“We hope that whatever engagements you have to do in future, you will also reach out to more young people not only in terms of youth focused and targeted product and services but also working together to develop your communities”

For his part, Mr. Baboucarr Jeng, General Manager of National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions of The Gambia (NACCUG), said “the Managers Conference has been an interesting 2 days, thanks to the support of the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) we are able to bring all the Credit Union Managers under one platform to discuss issues affecting us and issues about how we can involve the youth in credit union systems. There were couple of lessons we learned, I know the 2-day was very interactive. We did couple of presentations; one of them was understanding the uniqueness of cooperative movements through the cooperative principles. We also dealt with governance, youth and leadership, the role of managers and youth in credit unions administrations and the board, youth access to finance, designing and developing youth friendly microfinance products and services as well as team building with emphasis on the need to work together as a movement. The positive side of the conference is, we as a movement can boast of having over 70% of our managers as youth and that was one interesting learnings for us when we talked about youth.

“We also did a couple of group works, it was interesting to note the age variations, the first group which was between 15 and 30 years old, we have a quite number of our managers who are in that category and they were tasked of looking at the products and services that credit unions can come up with to entice youth to join the credit unions. In addition, they were also tasked to identify the challenges and opportunities for involving the youth in the movement. The second group was focused on those who are above 30 but below 40 years old, identify issues affecting credit unions and specifically worked on the falling rates of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), what is that the challenges and opportunities brought by those falling rates and what are the other investment opportunities for credit unions in the Gambia. The third which we called the senior group are the ones above the 40 years of old, the group looked at governance challenges facing the credit unions and also propose solutions for improving governance at movement levels. NACCUG also use the opportunity to introduce the YEP mini grant which is specifically targeting youth and building on the achievements of the YEP. One of the bottlenecks we have always identified is access to finance particularly when you talked about the youth and we are proud that the credit union movement is contracted by International Trade Centre (ITC) to administer and manage the mini grant to support youth interventions. In this regards, we took the opportunity to introduce how the youth can access this grant and what are the criteria for accessing it. It was interesting and we hope to continue working with YEP to advance the objectives particularly when you talk about involving the youth in the movement. One of the key resolutions which emanated from the conference is setting up an interim committee for management association; we have always talked about this for years to form a managers association but through this conference and for the first time we have realized that dream”

Are youth ready for the challenge?

Yes, particularly those we have nominated to coordinate the affairs of the managers association are indeed prepared and committed to ensuring that we meet the challenges ahead particularly when it comes to involving and working with the youth. The first task will certainly be clean up our database to ensure we are able to tease out the youth and what are their needs. Yes, our youth is ready to work and to improve our operations for the benefit of all youth across the country.

Advise to young people?

“As young people, let’s take up leadership roles in Credit Unions in the Gambia, participate in development of Credit Union movements, inform our younger generation that there are exciting opportunities in Credit Unions too and inspire to give back to our communities and lead the change we want to see in New Gambia” said Ms. Florence Mendy, a youth participant.

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