Saturday, May 1, 2010

2010 Canadian Conference for Credit Union Leaders

Going to Winnipeg!

In early 2010, I wrote a paper discussing Leadership and Innovation; in particular, how my leadership has inspired innovation within my Credit Union. This March, I was selected as one of five winners of the National Credit Union Young Leaders Award. I found out about this exciting news via email, as I happened to be in Malawi at the time; a cumbersome time where Paul and I were scouring the city of Blantyre trying to track down a SIM card for our cell phone. Ahhh, memories… J

I am absolutely thrilled about being selected for this award. As a byproduct of being selected, I get to travel to Winnipeg and attend the 2010 Canadian Conference for Credit Union Leaders. That is where I'm headed today! In fact, I'm typing up this blog entry on the 2 hour Calgary à Winnipeg flight. In addition to getting to attend the conference, I get to compete with four other Young Credit Union Leaders for a scholarship to be used towards further education. The five of us have created a workshop that we will facilitate on Tuesday, May 4th. Our workshop topic is focused on Relationships – specifically looking at what Credit Unions can do to strengthen their relationships with four key stakeholders. Our presentation has really come together and I think it's going to come across great! As part of the competition, we will be evaluated on our workshop and on our responses to three questions that we will be asked in front of a panel of Credit Union Leaders.

I referenced my experience working with SACCOs in Malawi both in my paper and my piece of our workshop. I am looking at how Credit Unions can strengthen their relationships with Members, and speaking directly to looking at ways we as Credit Unions can communicate a differently with our members by:

  • Defining, educating and selling the "Credit Union Advantage"
  • Using appropriate methods or communication channels to get our message out to different target markets and demographics
  • Actively listening to, which will serve to engage, our members
I specifically reference DWASCO SACCO in my presentation and speak to how Davison, the General Manager of DWASCO, worked to define and educate his community about the benefits associated with being a member of his SACCO before selling products or services to the members. I learned so much having travelled to Malawi and worked with Malawian SACCOs, and I am extremely grateful for the experience I had in the two years I participated in the Canadian Cooperative Association Coaching Program.

That's all for now!

Robert Christiansen

Davison and I
Livingstonia Beach Hotel in Salima, Malawi (2009)

Updates from Malawi!

Exciting News!

I heard from Paul the other day with some updates from Malawi. He had received a letter from Chifundo Centre 2 Orphanage thanking us for our visit and our financial donation to their Orphanage. I wanted to post this on my blog and once again thank all of my friends, family, members and staff for their financial donations and support.

I also received some very exciting news from Abigail – the MBC SACCO Manager Paul and I worked with this year. MBC SACCO had merged with another SACCO a couple of years ago and opened their bond from only Malawian Broadcasting Corporation employees to all members working at a company that get paid via payroll deposits. Since the merger, however, the SACCO name remained the same (MBC SACCO). This made it difficult to attract new members from other organizations, because the name of the SACCO made it seem that it was only there to serve MBC employees. Abigail informed me through an email that the member's officially voted to change the name of their SACCO from "MBC SACCO" to "Future SACCO". What a great name!

It sounds like my Malawian friends are doing really well, which is awesome!

That's all for now! Blog ya later,

Robert Christiansen

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CCA Debrief

We day 1 of our 2 day CCA debrief sessions yesterday.  The session was facilitated by David, Colleen and Kati from the CCA.  We didn’t talk about reverse culture shock; rather, we discussed some logistics and shared stories with each other.  I am really pleased with yesterday’s session for a couple of reasons.  When I came back from my trip last year, I ended up going to work the next day and didn’t have time to digest the things that I had experienced on my trip.  I had so many stories I wanted to tell, yet I couldn’t seem to piece them together in a meaningful way to share them with friends and family.  Yesterday, we shared our stories and pictures with each other, and David (who is the Manager of Publications and Media Relations with the CCA) helped us piece our stories together.  Again, I’m really pleased with yesterday’s session and I hope I’ll be able to communicate some clear stories to people upon my return. 

I presented three pictures yesterday; two of which I took of the children playing with their soccer balls and toys in the Dilonde orphanage.  I find myself coming back to these photos almost every day – this one, in particular. 

Shortly after I took the picture, I set my camera down and motioned to him to throw the football to me.  After a while, he threw it, and I tossed it back to him.  He caught it in a fit of giggles and ran to a group of his buddies cheering and laughing.  It really was a cool experience.  I keep coming back to this photo and questioning how this child could possibly be so happy playing with a simple football.  I wish I knew more about this child.  I wish I knew his name.  I wish I knew his family.  I wish I knew his story.  With the information that was communicated to us at the orphanage, I can speculate as to what his story might look like.  As he is in an orphanage, his parents are likely deceased or have abandoned him.  He receives one meal a day from the orphanage; clearly not a healthy portion of food, but enough to get by.  So how is it that he could be so happy? 

I brought this up last night with Brad, Bruce, Charlie, Dennis and Paul.  I asked them all how they thought the Malawian people can be so genuinely happy, given various factors that would seem to challenge such happiness (ie: living conditions, poverty, disease, etc.).  There seemed to be two or three common themes that arose:  Faith and Family being the top two.  There really is a sense of family in Malawi, which I absolutely love!  I recall asking Davison (from Dwangwa) about his family last year.  He listed off his immediate family and moved on to list off his extended family and friends.  While my definition of family likely ends at my grandparents, Davison’s definition went far beyond that!  In Canada, we have so many things to distract us from interacting with each other at a personal level (ie: TV, internet, movies, blogs, etc.) that many of us have abandoned that method altogether.   Technology has evolved to the extent that when we do decide to communicate and interact with each other, we more often than not settle for sending a Facebook message, email or a text message which at the best of times comes across directly and to the point, lacking emotion and meaning.  

Dennis told us a story yesterday about one of the hotel staff he grew close to over his time in Mzimba.  The staff member had invited him over to his house to meet his family.  Dennis met the staff member’s family.  The employee was taking care of his 13 year old brother, two of his own children and three of his cousins.  Incredible!  Dennis went on to explain how odd the situation was.  The sun had set and Dennis explained that he was sitting in complete darkness in the house, talking with the employee and his family.  Without electricity or windows, you can imagine as to how dark some of the houses get at night time.  As Dennis was telling the story, he commented “I wonder what they do for fun?”  I think I know.  I think they talk to each other.  I think the kids play with each other.  They eat, share stories of the day and probably really enjoy it!  There is no TV, internet, videogames, etc. to distract them.  That’s really refreshing to see. 

We have another debrief session this morning, and then I’m homeward bound back to Lethbridge.  As much fun as I have had over the past three weeks, I really am looking forward to getting back home. 


Robert Christiansen

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In tha T-Dot!

So…  We arrived in Toronto yesterday, after a 7 hour flight from London.  I couldn’t sleep and ended up watching a thwack of action movies to pass the time.  Bruce and I made it through customs OK and took a cab to our hotel.  I think our hotel is pretty central – we’re within walking distance of a lot of attractions and what seems like the downtown core.  The weather is great in Toronto!  There is no snow and it was +13C yesterday afternoon.  Awesome! 

It was so interesting driving from the airport to the hotel yesterday.  I have to say…  it was comforting to see pedestrians have the right away when crossing the streets!  The drive was also sort of weird.  It was weird to not see people everywhere.  In Malawi, it feels like there are people EVERYWHERE!  People walking in the middle of the roads with large objects on their heads; little kids herding goats and playing in the red dirt on the side of the road; people walking alongside their bicycles with firewood stacked 6 feet high.  Even in Canada’s largest city, in the most central point of the city, the amount of people walking in the streets doesn’t even come close to the amount of people walking around in Lilongwe and Blantyre.  It is odd to come back and see things so… so… organized and structured.  Perhaps I’m experiencing a sort-of culture shock (or perhaps REVERSE culture shock) coming back from Malawi.  I remember going through this same sort of thing last year.  While two-weeks in Malawi is a very short period of time, I think it is long enough period of time to learn and apply the societal rules.  I think culture shock sets in when those rules change.  I see “reverse culture shock” is on our agenda for today’s meetings!  I’ll be sure to share what I learn… 

Last night, Team Malawi and Team Uganda met up for dinner and some drinks at an Irish pub near the hotel.  We shared stories, ate and called it a night.  Airplane rides and jet lag really is exhausting! 

This morning we will be meeting up with a couple of CCA staff for day 1 of our 2 day final briefing sessions.  We will likely share stories with each other, laugh, cry and hug-it-out…  probably not…  regardless, it should be a couple of good days with everyone.  It’s sad to see this program come to an end for me.  I’ve really come to enjoy the company of Brad, Bruce, Dennis and Nicky over the past two years.  Anyways…  the meeting starts in an hour!  Time for a coffee!

Robert Christiansen

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Transit

Greetings, from the London Servisair Lounge at the London Heathrow airport.  We (Team Malawi) arrived at 6:00am local time, cleared security (some of us more quickly than others…  Bruce…) and said goodbye to each other.  Paul, Brad, Nicky, Dennis and Kati ditched Bruce and I with an early flight to Toronto.  J  So, Bruce and I decided to make the best of this layover, and hit up a pay-lounge with free food, free drinks and most importantly of all – FREE INTERNET!  Throughout this trip, I’ve realized just how addicted I am to the internet.  Our hotels carried one news channel in English – BBC News.  They have this great program called Super Power, which discusses the history, importance and power of the internet.  You should check it out!  Super Power

Here’s a photo of Bruce, working hard on his blog.  Check it out!

I really don’t have much else to say.  I’m working on a sort of wrap-up blog entry to tie these two years together, which I’ll post later.  Stay tuned! 
Robert Christiansen

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Goodbye Dinner with MUSCCO! And… Last Day in Malawi

Last night, Sylvester, Dickson, Fumbani (sp?) and Kingsley took us out for dinner at a golf course near our hotel. We had chicken gizzards for a starter and I had what will likely be my last Malawian Chambo meal for a while. The whole MUSCCO executive is an awesome bunch of guys!

Well… Today has finally come. I can't believe today is my last day in the "Warm Heart of Africa". I think I'm going to go walking around, take some photos and take in the last of the 25C weather.

Our almost-2-days-worth-of-flights start at 1:15pm this afternoon.

Blog ya in Toronto!

Robert Christiansen

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bus Trip to Lilongwe…


Paul and I made it back to Lilongwe. We took an AXA Coach from Blantyre to Lilongwe, and the bus ride took about 4.5 hours. The distance between Lilongwe and Blantyre can't be greater than 350Km, but because of the road conditions (POT HOLES!!!) and road side police and immigration stops, it takes a very long time to travel on the highways. At the one immigration stop we encountered, two officers came onto the bus and demanded to see the passports of all foreign visitors. We showed our passports and I explained we were down here volunteering with MUSCCO and visiting SACCOs. I was asked to provide some piece of documentation I had never heard of, and got a little concerned… The officer told me to get the document in Lilongwe. A girl sitting behind us was questioning the officer's decision to see passport's for foreigners. I have to say, it is pretty odd to have to produce a passport to ride on a bus… The only thing I can think of is that the country may have an issue with immigration (ie: illegal immigrants).

We met up with Bruce, Brad, Dennis and Nicky at the hotel restaurant last night and shared stories with each other. It was nice to see everyone again and it sounded like everyone had a good time once again this year.

We're meeting with MUSCCO this morning to review our findings, have the afternoon off and going out for our final dinner with MUSCCO later this evening! It's hard to believe my time in Malawi has almost come to an end…


Robert Christiansen