Neighbors Helping Neighbors for Economic Health

Redwood Credit Union / Rohnert Park, CA – There is an old proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Sharing our knowledge and skills with others often has positive and permanent effects.  Right now, there are many ways each of us in the business community can share our time and expertise with those who need them most and contribute to the increased economic prosperity of our region.  I would like to relay my own story and encourage others to reach out and make some type of personal investment in the economic health of our community.

In 2010, I returned to my native Nigeria for my mother’s funeral.  While I was there, several women who knew I work for Redwood Credit Union came to me with stories about the troubles they were having growing their farms and businesses because banks would not lend to them.  I realized that, instead of just giving them money, I could teach them to help themselves by forming a lending cooperative.  Similar to the credit union model I know so well, the members of this new cooperative borrow money from a central pool of funds to purchase seed for the upcoming season or provisions for their stores.  Once the harvest has come in or the goods have been sold, they return the money for another member to use.

My initial investment was just $300, but I believe the investment of my time was equally important.  I met with members to talk about their business plans and to discuss ideas for how to put profits back into the businesses wisely to help them grow.  After I returned home, I kept in contact with members and acted as an advisor in any way I could. I returned one year later and saw how well the cooperative was progressing.  The women had seen a productive harvest, sold their farm products at profit, and had money saved for the next planting season.  The loans had a zero percent default rate, partly because of the social stigma attached to defaulting in the village.

Their cooperative is still a work in progress and I have invested additional funds over time to help them as they continue to grow and build a solid foundation.  My goal is to help them become a respected institution in the village, so that those in neighboring areas will see the results and realize they can do this, too.  I also work with the young people in the village every time I visit to make sure they have the financial knowledge they need to someday be self-reliant, productive members of the community.

Local business people and community leaders have a great deal to offer the workforce in terms of experience and advice.  We should think of ourselves as valuable local resources who can, with a small commitment of time, contribute to the increased economic prosperity of the region.  Whether you decide to mentor someone just starting out or volunteer to teach youth the skills they need to be successful, each effort will build on the next and improve our area’s future.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, contact the local volunteer center  or Chamber of Commerce. Just like in the cooperative, every time a neighbor helps a neighbor to succeed, the economic health of an entire community can be changed for the better.

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