I must admit, I was a little apprehensive.
Not having been a world traveler prior to my new role at the World Council, the only thing I knew about Kenya was what I read in books and saw on National Geographic. Less than two months in the job and I was about to step off tIhe plane, embarking on my first Field Engagement experience. While I knew it would be impactful, I had no idea it would change my life and reinforce how special the cooperative movement is. The words of Cameron Dickey, President/CEO of Cy-Fair Federal Credit Union summed it up perfectly:
“We are the torch bearers of the CU movement…we all bear that responsibility, just as Desjardin and Filene did before us. Going on a field engagement, supporting World Council, it’s not charity. We will learn more than we give, from the international models of our cooperative peers, and this work reflects the BEST qualities of our movement, our legacy, and what makes us different from for-profit institutions.”
Field Engagements are pre-planned trips, offered by the World Council of Credit Unions to individuals looking to take a deeper, close-up look at the international credit union movement. They are meant to study, serve, and support the work of our international peers, exchanging knowledge, providing solutions, and forging relationships that provide dual benefit, to the visitor and host alike. Like many other immersive programs, a special bond is forged among U.S. and international colleagues and participants.
The World Council offers these engagements annually, inviting professionals to join us and see our projects in person, to study the evolution of a credit union movement in a different country and gain a new perspective, a new approach. Quite often, a field engagement is offered as a result in response to a natural disaster that has affected a credit union system. In September, the Dominica system hosted an impromptu field engagement to assess rebuilding credit unions branches and to provide strategic direction with consolidation and ag. lending. The field engagement model can be both structured and nimble to respond to respective credit union system needs.
The next evolutionary step in the Field Engagement model is customization. Several credit unions seek to leverage the field engagement experience to give their employees, at all levels of the credit union, a broader, global perspective. Rolling up their sleeves and working side by side with their international peers toward solving a challenge is a priceless exercise, one that cannot be taught by other digital channels. World Council, with its relationships and expertise, can provide this learning experience.
From Kenya, I was able to understand how the entire SACCO (a Kenyan credit union) ecosystem works, its unique challenges and the creative strategies to overcome them. I saw a proud, dedicated group of professionals, with integrated diversity at all levels, inclusive of women and youth, and always, putting the member’s needs first. I got a balanced blend of using my mind and body, engaged in strategic discussions one day, rolling up my sleeves to dig a hole to plant a banana tree the next. As a newbie to the credit union movement, the World Council’s field engagement trip gave me the global perspective I needed to compare challenges and solutions created between the U.S. and international movements, and to derive a deeper sense of the World Council’s place and purpose between it all.
For a deeper dive into how to get started on creating a customized field engagement to grow your credit union’s perspective, please reach out to the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions staff and visit our field engagement page at DoGlobalGood.org/volunteer.