Ohioans return from Bulgarian trip
Kathleen Kanipe, Vice Chair of the OCUL Board of Directors, and OCUL Field Consultant Sara Hanselman are back in Ohio after two weeks in Bulgaria with the World Council of Credit Unions. They assisted the Council in modernizing Bulgaria's mutual kasa system, the eastern European country's equivalent to our credit union movement. Kathy and Sara were a part of the diagnostic team that identified the 15-20 kasas which will be a part of the pilot program. See below for more information on the project.
Because of their extensive legislative experience, the Ohio Credit Union System will play a key role in assisting with the development of a legislative framework that ensures the viability of kasas in Bulgaria, according to World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU). As part of activities that may result in a formalized partnership agreement between Ohio and Bulgaria, volunteers from the Ohio Credit Union League, Kathleen Kanipe, CEO, St. Agnes-St. John Toledo Federal Credit Union and Sara Hanselman, Ohio Credit Union League field consultant recently participated in a People-to-People volunteer assignment with the World Council Bulgaria project in Sofia.
"The Ohio Credit Union League has the expertise to provide valuable legislative technical assistance to kasas," says Paul Mercer, president and CEO of the Ohio Credit Union League. "We look forward to assisting kasas and the WOCCU Bulgaria project office with the challenges it will face in the future."
The WOCCU Bulgaria project began in September 1999 and indeed faces many challenging objectives for the future. Reacting to the numerous pyramid schemes in the mid-90s, which robbed countless Bulgarians of their hard-earned savings, the government passed restrictive legislation that authorized share accounts, but prevented withdrawable deposit accounts. The laws that once meant to protect citizens now limit their choices of financial products and services. Another key objective of the Bulgaria project is to introduce new legislation pertaining to kasa membership, services, regulation and supervision.
The volunteers shared in a crucial part of the Model Credit Union building process. They worked for two weeks with project office staff and one-on-one with kasa management to select participants for "Model Kasa" development in WOCCU's institutional strengthening project.
For kasas interested in participating in the project, WOCCU Bulgaria performs thorough two-day financial and operational diagnostics, which include a review of the past four years of financial statements, loan portfolio analysis and an extensive questionnaire and interview addressing operational policies and procedures. During the internship, Kanipe and Hanselman assisted in performing diagnostics on six different kasas.
Kanipe and Hanselman conclude, "After the two-week internship, we have gained a better understanding of the work required to build a Model Credit Union System in Bulgaria and the challenges faced by the project staff in carrying out that objective. Moreover, we're sincerely appreciative of the WOCCU Bulgaria team and kasas. They welcomed us and made us feel like a valued part of the program. This is an experience we will not forget."
Of the 8.5 million Bulgarians (1997 census), the kasa system serves an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 members and provides credit to approximately 375,000 microenterprises. Even where banks are present, kasas are the primary financial institution for many people. The Bulgaria project is funded by a US$2.5 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development and carried out by World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU).
Bulgarian Development Project (from WOCCU Web site)
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