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. 

Later,

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!  http://teammalawi2010.blogspot.com/

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…

Hey!

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…

Later!

Robert Christiansen


 


 


 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

MBC Presentation and a School Visit in Dilonde


Hello Hello!

First of all… I made it back alive and well from the markets yesterday. I think I got some good deals. It takes time to get a good deal, but with time (and patience…) I was able to string together a couple of deals with "my friends".

Paul and I made our presentation to the MBC board this morning. I think it was really well received. The Chairman thanked us for our work and our recommendations, and told us that he thought there were a lot of good recommendations in our report. Paul and I requested to visit a school this afternoon, and informed the MBC staff and board that we would like to make a financial donation to a government school. The government has changed from offering little financial assistance to the education of Malawians to now offering free education for Malawian primary and secondary schooling. While it is free for children to attend school, the resources for these children have declined over the years. We were told by one of the board members that years ago, when the government did not offer financial assistance, parents would pay a small fee for their children to attend school, and they were given a text book, writing tools, etc. Today, the schooling is free, but the student:text book ratio was 5:1. It's difficult to differentiate which system is better for the students…

The school we visited in Dilonde (same area as the orphanage we visited last week) had 5,400 students. There were 62 teachers currently working at the school. That is about 87 students to 1 teacher at the school. Crazy! Paul and I made a financial donation to the school we visited. Abigail converted our cash, asked the school head master what supplies he required and sent her staff out to buy school supplies with our funds. We then presented 40+ text books and a variety of miscellaneous school supplies (pens, pencils, scribblers, pencil sharpeners, etc.) to the headmaster of the school. In the big scheme of things, our donation was not extravagant, but the school staff sure made us feel like it was! There was a very formal reception, in which the a representative of the ministry of education attended, to receive the gifts. The media showed up and interviewed Paul. It was way too much for our simple donation, but everyone we spoke with made sure we understood that great things can come from small donations.

Abigail and the board vice-president took us out for lunch afterwards. We went to a pizza joint close to where we were staying. Yes! Pizza in Malawi! Awesome! The lunch was great. Abigail presented us with some gifts after lunch and we bid her farewell. She has been so great to us and I am really happy we were able to meet her and work with her at her SACCO.

Tomorrow… We will be catching the 7:00am bus to Lilongwe, and get to catch up with Brad, Bruce, Dennis and Nicky. I'm looking forward to meeting up with everyone (and… looking forward to telling them the prices Paul and I were able to negotiate in the markets. I think there is a bit of a competition going amongst all of us to see who can get the best deal… J haha!). The great thing about the markets is that even if you feel like you have gotten a good deal, you haven't… you've been taken for probably 2 to 3 times what the actual price is… but the sellers will never let on that that is actually the case!

Enough blogging for one day! I hope you enjoy the photos! Blog ya in Lilongwe.

Robert Christiansen

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pictures!!!


Good morning,
I felt bad about the last blog post – too many words and not enough pictures! – so I thought I would post some more photos to offset yesterday’s novel.  Enjoy!
Pictures 1 & 2:  There are a lot of potholes in Malawi.  Think of Edmonton in February or March, only 10 times worse!  The potholes are everywhere and some are really deep!  If you hit a pothole, and you have hub caps on your tires, you can kiss those hub cabs goodbye.  I took these photos of Henock’s tires on his Toyota Corolla.  He has his hub cabs tied on to his car with black plastic ties.  As I’ve walked around Malawi, I have seen more vehicles with ties on their hub cabs.  Awesome!  

Picture 3:  I thought I had better post some photos of me working, so you all won’t think I’m slacking off over here.  This is me, working in the boardroom/back office room in the MBC SACCO.  

Picture 4:  On Friday of last week, we had a meeting with Henock, Getrude and the Chairman of the Board of the Sunbird Tourism SACCO.  In this photo, I’m presenting them with a Certificate of Participation.  (Left to Right:  Robert, Chairman, Getrude, Henock)

Picture 5 & 6:  The batteries in my camera died on the way to visit the tea plantations, so I had to grab these photos from Paul’s camera.  On our way to the plantation, we passed through Bvumbwe – a small town and trading centre.  Pictures 5 and 6 are pictures of the markets.  
Picture 7:  This is a great photo!  Some of the locals use bicycles almost as a wheel barrow.  This gentleman is carrying firewood on his bicycle!  


Picture 8:  I blogged earlier about one of MUSCCO’s SACCOs (Bvumbwe Community SACCO) that is currently going online with Bankers Realm – a Kenyan Banking system.  As we passed through Bvumbwe, Paul got a photo of the branch.  According to Henock, this SACCO is a very successful SACCO and, next only to FINCOOP, one of the fastest growing SACCOs in Malawi.  


Picture 9:  Paul brought his camera when we went out for dinner yesterday, and we got a photo taken with the staff.  They are all really great and know us by name now. 

I have to go get mentally prepared for this afternoon...  Blog ya later!

Robert Christiansen 

Day 2 at the MBC SACCO


Heyo!

Paul and I spent our second day with Abigail and her team at the MBC SACCO. I've included some photos with this entry so you can see what the branch looks like (both inside and out). The branch shares the premises with two other organizations: The MUSCCO Regional Office and FINCOOP's Blantyre branch. If you recall, Paul and I worked with FINCOOP, in their main branch in Lilongwe last year – so it was cool to poke our heads into this branch and check things out. FINCOOPs corporate colors are green (similar to Servus!) and similar to the green painted on the outside of this building. The MBC SACCO branch is in the corner of this building. In one of my photos, you can see a brown door in the upper right hand side of the building – that's the main entrance! A single teller (or cashier) station is posted at the entrance, and the members queue up outside of the building waiting to process their withdrawals, deposit or loan applications.

The branch has a cashier station, an area where the accountant works, Abigail's office (which houses the entrance to the cash vault) and a large board room that doubles as a back office room. The branch is a decent size, relatively speaking, but the layout of the branch is a little awkward. Paul and I worked our way through a mountain of documentation today (financial statements, policies, procedures, meeting minutes, etc.) to learn more about how MBC SACCO operates and to try to identify some areas where we could make recommendations to assist them. While there are some similarities between Canadian Credit Unions and Malawian SACCOs, there are some major differences! I think the biggest thing we, as coaches, need to be cognizant of is that the business rules that we follow in Canada are drastically different than the rules in Malawi. Paul and I had to learn how these SACCOs provide banking services to their members before we could make recommendations. I think I have a pretty firm grasp of how business is done now, and I hope that our recommendations to the MBC SACCO Management and Board are well received. We have a good start on our report and I'll finish up the typing either tonight.

In Canada, Credit Unions compete head-to-head with Chartered Banks and offer a very competitive banking solution to members that are being underserved by their Chartered Bank. In Malawi, the SACCO movement started off has a niche-banking system, with a very specific target market – the poor. Chartered Banks were not interested in banking the lower income class of society because it is not a very profitable sector and the risk associated with this sector was deemed excessive. The SACCO target market has changed to some extent and some SACCOs are trying to break this stigma of being the "Banker to the Poor" and operate as a real alternative to the Chartered Banks. The SACCO movement within Malawi truly is alive and well, and it is encouraging to see and hear about growth in SACCOs across the country.

The first Wednesday in March is "Martyr's Day" in Malawi, which happens to be a National holiday. Martyr's Day is a day to celebrate those that fought for Malawi's independence from the United Kingdom. Last year, Martyr's day fell on one of the days Paul and I were in Lilongwe. I recall going to the markets for the first time, and coming back to the hotel mentally and physically exhausted. I read on Brad's blog that the sellers are even more aggressive than ever this year… I hope he means aggressive with their pricing and not their selling techniques (although I have a bad feeling this isn't the case…). Paul and I will probably hit up the markets for round two tomorrow. If I don't get a blog out tomorrow, it's because I'll likely be curled up in the fetal position in my hotel room, repeating "no thank you… no thank you… no thank you…". I've included a couple of quick photos I was able to get off of the markets the last time we were there.

Walking around Blantyre is pretty cool. We haven't been able to do a lot of walking around, because of the rain; but we've made the best of our rainy days! According to Abigail, we are right in the heart of downtown Blantyre. There are people everywhere! People walking on the sidewalks. People walking in the streets. People stepping out into open traffic to cross the streets. Oh man, I just thought of a hilarious story. In our first few days in Blantyre, Paul and I did a little walking around. There is a cross walk very close to our hotel and we decided to use it to cross the street. Being laid back (and perhaps naïve…) Canadians, we waited patiently at the cross walk for traffic to slow so we could cross. 2 or 3 minutes passed, and no one slowed down. Finally, someone else needed to cross the street, and he just started walking in front of oncoming traffic, and they sort of slowed (but didn't stop) and dodged him. Classic! I could see the minibus guys pointing and laughing at us, and I felt like a complete idiot. I have used cross walks to cross the street ever since I received a ticket for my first traffic offense (j-walking… not kidding…) in Red Deer. After 8 days in Blantyre, I doubt I'll use a cross walk again…

I took advantage of our hotel's "1 hour free internet" offer, and surfed around the net this afternoon. I noted a couple of cool things:

  • It looks like the CCA is streaming my blog! Awesome! Thanks John, Kati and whoever else is responsible at the CCA! They are also streaming Charlie Collura's blog (Uganda) and Brad Hopfauf's blog (Malawi). http://www.ccaafrica.blogspot.com
  • I checked out Brad's blog this afternoon, and saw a lot of familiar sights. Paul and I worked with the same SACCOs Brad and Bruce are working with this year. Brad has some great stories and pictures on his blog – you should check it out! www.BankingInMalawi.blogspot.com. I also noticed that Brad posted some pictures of Davison – the General Manager of DWASCO. I miss that guy! He was such a nice guy and took Paul and I all around the Dwangwa Sugar Cane Estate to show us stuff.
  • I also noticed that Anna, one of the CCA employees working in Malawi last year, had commented on one of my entries. As I have no idea how to contact her, I'll try via this blog post… "HI ANNA!". Anna was working with MUSCCO and their SACCOs, assisting them in developing gender and HIV/AIDS policies to incorporate within the SACCOs. All of the SACCOs Paul and I have worked with over the past two years (DWASCO Employee SACCO, FINCOOP, Sunbird SACCO and MBC SACCO) have these policies incorporated into their policies and procedures. Anna also showed us around Lilongwe a little, taking us out for the infamous "loooooong lunch" at Summer Park! Heh heh! (They say you shouldn't drop inside jokes in blogs… Meh, what do "they" know!)
Sorry about the lengthy entry! I guess I had a lot to say today!

Later,

Robert Christiansen

PS: Today is my little brother's birthday. Happy B-Day Dan!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

First Day at MBC SACCO

The weekend is over!

We spent our first day at the MBC (Malawian Broadcasting Corporation) SACCO today. We were greeted by Abigail – the MBC SACCO General Manager. She welcomed us and we met in the morning and afternoon discussing her SACCO.

Unlike the Sunbird SACCO, the MBC SACCO is a common (or open) bond SACCO, meaning that it welcomes more than just members from a single institution. If you recall, the Sunbird SACCO is a closed bond SACCO, as it only offered membership to Sunbird Hotel employees. The MBC SACCO was originally a closed bond SACCO in 2008. They opened their bond when the merged with another SACCO in August of 2008. They have done very well as a SACCO, considering the size of their membership (about 900 members). Abigail had participated in the CCA Women's Mentorship Program, which gave her an opportunity to visit Canada. She stayed in Manning, Alberta with her host at Horizon Credit Union. She also got to travel to Peace River. I told her that I felt sorry for her, having to travel hours upon hours to get to Northern Alberta! Haha! She did have to travel a very long distance to get there (Blantyre to Lilongwe to London to Ottawa to Calgary to Edmonton to Manning = MANY HOURS!!!) but she said it was worth it! She had a great time and really enjoyed the snow.

Paul and I worked for the day, and walked back to the hotel in sunshine – a rare occurrence in Blantyre during the rainy season. We will work with Abigail and her team tomorrow, take Wednesday off (National Holiday!), present our report to the board on Thursday morning and visit a school on Friday. It's hard to believe that we've been here a week all ready! Time flies when you're having fun!

No pictures today! Sorry! I hope to post some of the Sunbird staff and the MBC staff tomorrow.

Robert Christiansen

PS: Paul and I watch the BBC religiously, hoping that sports highlights will come on. We saw that Sidney Crosby scored the game winner for team Canada yesterday! AWESOME! We also highlights of a drunk guy in a bar getting interviewed. He said "eh" 20+ times and started a "Go Canada Go!" chant midway through the interview. CLASSIC! Hahahahaha! With all of the controversy the Vancouver Olympics has seen thus far (death of the luger, no snow!, etc.) it's nice to see Canada win a THWACK of gold medals!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shopping in Malawi

Paul and I did a little shopping at Shoprite yesterday. Shoprite is a grocery store and its 4 or 5 blocks from our hotel. It was really hot and muggy in the grocery store, and it smelled of the chambo that was likely laid out earlier that morning. I have found that the stores that sell fresh produce (Shoprite, 7-11, etc.) usually smell like fish. Not many of the stores have air conditioning, so it is a struggle to stay in a store for any length of time.

Today… The Markets! Last year, I recall blogging about mentally preparing for the markets. That's no exaggeration – the Markets are a test! I find the markets absolutely fascinating. We foreigners are at a huge disadvantage. First off, we have no idea what the cost of each item is. In Canada, we have an idea of what an item costs, and we are able to base our decision to purchase or pass on such item comparing the value we receive for it relative to the cost. In the markets, each item is priced according to what the buyer is willing to pay. Secondly, the sellers are very good at pricing. They add or subtract "value" to/from a transaction by throwing two or three other items into the transaction and change the price up accordingly. Today, I had finally got the seller down to a price I was ok with, when he took away a few of the items, added a few others, and re-priced it at a higher price. Disaster… I ended up panicking, falling for the new deal, and regretting it later… Finally, there is a group peer pressure associated with each transaction. Five or Six sellers are a part of each negotiation – one leads the negotiation, the others boo or cheer when a poor price or a good price is discussed. It's hilarious after the fact, but incredibly intimidating in the moment! It literally is played out like this:

Bobby: I'll give 1,000 Kwacha

Crowd:    BOO!!!! Bad Price! No! Do not! No way! Boo! You crazy!

Seller: 2,000 Kwacha

Crowd: YAAAAH! OH YES! Great Price! Good Deal!

Paul and I hung out after our hour-long hazing session in the markets and laughed about some of the one-liners we had heard from the salesmen. The cost of the items we bought today is only a mere fraction of what we paid for them. The experience is worth the extra Kwacha we paid. The Blantyre markets are much less intimidating than the Lilongwe markets. We were told that many of the sellers in the markets were not Malawian; rather, they were from other African countries. Some of the sellers from the northern African countries are very aggressive, and follow you around, grab on to you and your bag and shout while you are there. The Malawians, however, ask if you are interested, and usually leave you alone if you say you are "just looking". In Blantyre, there were very few aggressive salesmen. They used the group peer pressure, similar to what we saw last year, but when told "just looking" about four or five times, they left us alone.

Paul did really well today. He found his price, stayed committed, and came out with some awesome deals! Me… well… I would score the transaction like this: The Markets: 1, Robert: 0. I thought I paid a fair price for the stuff I bought today, but I was humbled by the deals Paul was able to strike with his friends! Good job Paul! I plan on winning some more battles next week. I have my eye on a wooden xylophone – if I come home with it, you'll know I've won!

We start our four-day visit with the MBC SACCO tomorrow. I have had a really relaxing weekend and I'm feeling refreshed and ready to start work with the SACCO tomorrow.

Catcha later,

Robert Christiansen

PS: GO CANADA GO! We heard on the BBC News today that the Vancouver Olympics has been the most successful Olympics for the host country in the history of the winter Olympics! AWESOME! Hope we can bring home the gold in Hockey tomorrow!


 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Michael’s, Tea Plantations and… Rain…



First thing is first – Thank you for all of the comments and emails! I received a lot of emails about my orphanage photos. Thanks!  I've received a couple of emails, stating that the pictures are too small to view.  If you click on the photos, you will be able to view a much larger version of the photo.  Hope that helps!

The meeting with Henock and the Board Chairman went really well yesterday. Paul and I reviewed last year's recommendations, made our own analysis of the Sunbird Tourism SACCO and made our own recommendations. Working with Henock Chakhaza and his team (Getrude Chiomba, Henrieta Mambiya and Madalitso Benito) was awesome! They were all really welcoming and accommodating, and their SACCO seems to be functioning really well. Our recommendations were very well received by Henock and the Board Chair, and Paul and I both hope that we were able to assist this SACCO in some way with our recommendations.
The hotels we have stayed in thus far are really nice. And, really funny! As soon as word gets out that there are Canadians at the bar, patio or restaurants, the staff put on Canadian music. We've heard Nickelback, Garth Brooks, and everyone's favorite (but my own…) – Celin Dion. As I type this, Beyonce is being pounded over the lounge's sound system, informing all of the single ladies that if their men like it, they should put a ring on it… - not a Canadian artist, but certainly something broadcasting over Canadian radio and television every day. Before that, "All for one" by Bryan Adams was playing. Haha! Anyways… We have heard all sorts of music throughout our stay in Blantyre. From Bing Crosby cover songs played by the piano player in the bar, to traditional folk Malawian tunes being blasted from the minibuses (amidst honking horns and yelling drivers) driving around the city, I've experienced a lot of different music genres thus far.

Paul and I had a funny experience yesterday. We drove around in the rain with Henock (the Sunbird SACCO manager) yesterday, trying to take in some of the tourist attractions Blantyre has to offer. We found out yesterday that Henock really enjoys Christian music, and he showed us the various tapes that he likes to play in his car. In particular, he showed us two Jimmie Swaggart tapes. One was a full length album (10 songs) and the other was a single (1 song). He popped the single into his tape deck, and we listened to the same Jimmie Swaggart song over and over again for about 45 minutes. Henock switched up the tunage throughout our trips yesterday, but every time he put that Jimmie Swaggart single into the tape deck, he cranked the volume from 10 to 11! Classic!

Henock took us to see St. Michaels and All Angels Church yesterday – the First Presbyterian Church established in Malawi, established by Dr. Livingstone in 1888 (I hope I have that right… someone please correct me if I'm wrong!!). It is a huge building, a historical landmark and church services are still held in the church to this day! Check out the pictures! I also took a picture of this ridiculously large tree on the grounds, and had Paul and Henock stand in front of it for emphasis.

Henock picked us up this morning (Saturday) and we travelled to see the tea plantations near Tholyo (prounounced "cho-roh"). It was incredible to see the vast tea orchards. I took some photos, but the battery in my camera died half way through the trip, so I missed out on some.

With the rain, we have decided to spend the weekend in Blantyre instead of travelling anywhere. There is no point in packing everything up and driving for hours, only to be greeted with more rain and spend the weekend in our hotel rooms… We will start with MBC SACCO on Monday morning. Henock took us to the MBC SACCO yesterday, so that we would know where to walk on Monday morning. MBC SACCO, FINCOOP and MUSCCO all share the same building in Blantyre. As such, I was able to meet with Tereza, from MUSCCO. She had travelled to Canada in 2009 through the Canadian Cooperative Association Women's Mentorship Program, and stayed with her host Randy Tate in Okotoks, Alberta. Randy told me about her stay, and Sarah and I drove up to Okotoks to visit with her. Tereza remembered me from her visit, and we had a quick chat before we had to leave. The CCA's Women Mentorship Program is really great, and we have heard from a couple of previous participants that they had really enjoyed their time in Canada.

Ok… Time to put this novel to rest… It's supper time! Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen


 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Click on the pictures!

Hey guys!

Feel free to click on any of the pictures to make them bigger!

Thanks!

Robert Christiansen

The Bad News, the Good News and the Children!





The Bad News:

It has been pouring rain here for the entire day today, which has made travelling around difficult. We went to the conference room at the hotel today to attend a Rotary Club (Blantyre) meeting, and no one was there. We checked at the front desk to see if the location had changed. She told us that the Rotary Club changed locations two weeks ago and that she did not know where. She made a handful of phone calls to find out where the meetings were, but she was unsuccessful. Foiled! I really wanted to attend a meeting. I'm going to ask around and see if anyone else knows, and try to attend next Thursday.

The Good News:

Paul and I finished our report this evening! We're all ready to present our findings with the Chairman of the Board tomorrow.

The Children:

Henock took us to Chifundo Centre 2 Orphanage today. It was in the Dilonde region of Blantyre. According to Henock, the Dilonde region is a very poor area of town. It was raining like crazy this afternoon and many of the roads had been washed out near the orphanage. We had to park blocks away, and walk through the water to get there; but we got there safe and sound! This particular orphanage is supported by the Presbyterian Church. It is run by one paid staff and many volunteers, and currently hosts about 25 children. We were told that the orphans' parents had either passed away or abandoned them. The children used to receive two meals a day (porridge in the morning and n'sima in the afternoon), however they had to cut the meals back to one meal a day because of financial constraints. The orphanage has not received financial support from the Government in the past, but we were told that this year, they would receive some financial assistance, which is very encouraging! Paul had brought toys, footballs, glasses, and various other things. We presented these small gifts, along with footballs (or soccer balls) to the children. We also made a financial contribution to the orphanage earlier in the day by making a deposit into the orphanage's bank account at Standard Bank. We presented the receipt to the coordinator of the orphanage and she thanked us. The children couldn't wait to play with the toys and soccer balls! They were running around, kicking and throwing the balls with each other, laughing and playing. Man, it was really cool to see the little guys so happy! Our financial donation will undoubtedly go a long way with this orphanage. The leader stated they the money will likely be used to reinstate their 2 meal/day program. Hope you like the pics!

Blog ya later!

Bobby

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sunbird Tourism SACCO – Days 1 & 2



Hello!

Paul and I are currently working at the Sunbird Tourism SACCO main branch in Blantyre, Malawi. The SACCO Manager is Mr. Henock Chakhaza. He has three employees, one accountant (Getrude Chiomba) and two clerks. The two employees Paul and I primarily deal with are Henock and Getrude.

The Sunbird Tourism SACCO is a closed-bond SACCO, meaning that there are limitations as to which members of the community can join the SACCO. As the name would suggest, this SACCO is open to employees of the Sunbird Hotel chain. They have two branches: One in the Sunbird Capital Hotel in Lilongwe, and the one we are working at, which is in a tiny office, located in the basement of the Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre. There are seven (7) Sunbird Hotels in Malawi, which makes Sunbird one of the largest hotel chains in the country. All of the employees working at any and all of these hotel locations are able to bank with the Sunbird Tourism SACCO. The hotels have a courier system between their hotel branches, which the members and the SACCO staff are able to use to send documentation (new account, loan, deposit, etc.) and money (for loan payments, loan advances, deposits). So how does this all work? Good question…

So, for example, let's say Paul Innes, an employee of the Sunbird Hotel Mzuzu, works and lives in the Northern region. If he wants a loan, he simply fills out the loan application, sends it in the courier bag from Mzuzu to Blantyre, and waits for Mr. Chakhaza and the Sunbird Tourism SACCO credit committee to review the application and either advance or decline the loan. If the loan is advanced, a cheque will be sent through the courier system from Blantyre to Mzuzu, and Paul will be able to cash the cheque and make his purchase.

Loan payments are made directly off of the staff's pay cheques. So if an employee had 1,250MWK owed to her at the end of the month, and her loan payment was 250MWK/month, she would receive net pay of 1,000MWK. This practice has kept the SACCOs delinquency and loan default rates very low, which is great! Paul and I are in the processes of piecing together our recommendations, as we will be presenting to the board on Friday!

Henock will be showing us around Blantyre tomorrow. The highlight should include the following:


  • Orphanage – where Paul and I will be donating soccer balls, among other items!
  • Presbyterian Church – apparently it is very large and Blantyre is known for this huge church!
  • Anglican Church – Paul is Anglican, so this will be really cool for him!
  • Tour de Blantyre – This isn't a location… rather, a reference that we'll get to drive around and explore this city.
Another highlight – I'll be attending the Blantyre Rotary Club meeting tomorrow at 12:30pm. I forgot everything that associates me with the Rotary club at home (idiot!!!!!) so I hope they take my word for it that I'm a Rotarian!

I have included two photos with this entry.  The first is the view outside of my hotel room!  Beautiful!  The second is a picture of Getrude and the two other clerks we are working with.  Getrude is on the right!
Okay! Back to work!
Later,

Robert Christiansen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bvumbwe SACCO goes online!

Heyo! I found another awesome SACCO-related-article in the local Daily Times today.


 

Bvumbwe SACCO goes online
By Sylvester Namiwa

Bvumbwe community SACCO has finally connected all its 4,300 members in Thyolo, Mulanje and Mwanza, thanks to the K54 million investment by the Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperative (MUSCCO) towards a bankers' realm software. Speaking in an interview this week, Bvumbwe Community SACCO manager Joseph Mayenda said as a result, the association was now offering faster and effective services. Mayenda said, amoung other things, that the SACCO would be offering Point of Sale (POS) automated and internet banking services.

"I am glad to tell the general public that Bvumbwe community SACCO becomes the first in the country to offer computerized services just like those that are offered by commercial banks. Engineers from a Kenyan firm called Craft Silicon have finished installation of SACCO Bankers Realm software," Mayenda said. The manager said that the new software installation marks the beginning of SACCO movement transformation in the country. "This, I believe, marks the beginning of the transformation of the SACCO movement in Malawi," he said. Currently, the Bvumbwe SACCO has a total of 43,000 members ranging from farmers to civil servants.


 

This is terrific (both the SACCO getting public exposure in the Daily Times and news that a successful conversion has taken place!!!)!!!

Robert Christiansen

Monday, February 22, 2010

The need for affordable banking

The following article is from a Malawian business-oriented magazine entitled "The Business Mail" that was left in my room. I found a great article that explains, in general terms, Malawi's banking system, and discusses the need for affordable banking.


 

Malawi's Banking Boom
By Kisu Simwaka and Elliott Muchena

With so many commercial banks in town, why are there so few of them in rural areas? And why do most Malawians have no bank accounts?

The banking sector in Malawi has witnessed significant growth over the last few years. One of the factors that opened the floodgates of the banks was the revision of the Banking Act of 1989. The Act provides mandate to the reserve Bank of Malawi, RBM, to supervise banks and financial institutions in what the RBM calls "a robust and offsite and onsite supervisory process" under its mandate set by the ministry of finance, to ensure a safe, sound and stable financial system in Malawi. As a result, the number of banking institutions operating in the country increased from five in 1995 to 15 in 2009. The sector now comprises of eleven commercial banks.

Despite this, Malawi's banking industry is small and concentrated, in comparison to those of neighboring countries. According to some interesting statistics of the World Bank (2008):

  1. Two of the banks account for 75% of market share
  2. Five are foreign-owned, mostly by other banks in Africa
  3. The banks are not heavily exposed to sophisticated foreign financial instruments
  4. They hold considerable volumes of Letters of Credit (LCs)

In addition to this, the banking sector is characterized by low levels of foreign direct and portfolio investment. In terms of annual percentage growth rate, the Government's annual economic report of 2009 says the financial and insurance sector came second after information nand communication. In 2008, the sector achieved a growth rate of 11.7% due to an increase in new products in the financial sector and an upsurge in premiums in the insurance industry thtat was driven mainly by an influx of used cars.

This growth raises important questions regarding the implications of such a 'banking boom' on a relatively small economy. This is because the expansion in the banking sector has the potential to improve access to banking services and enhance competition and efficiency in the financial sector. In other words, this is supposed to improve financial services delivery to the people of Malawi and to bring more of the unbanked population to the banks. But is this happening? If not, why not and what needs to be done?

Service Delivery
What also needs to be noted is that the majority of Malawians cannot afford the current banking charges. They are effectively shut out of the financial system. According to the FinScope survey, 44% of respondents said that they had insufficient funds after their expenses for a bank account. This highlights the need for banks and non-banking financial institutions to consider the majority of Malawians – potential customers at that – when determining the pricing of their products and services. One of the common complaints, judging from samplings taken off the streets of Lilongwe and Blantyre, is that banks need to consider reviewing their charges and explore ways of enhancing efficiency in service delivery. More affordable banking services would surely also draw in a larger number of Malawians to the financial system. This in turn would be beneficial to the development of both the banks and the economy.

Judging from published reports, business in the banks continues to grow from strength to strength. The growth is both in deposits and market share. This point underlines the fact that Malawi has so far remained relatively insulated from the contagion effects of the global financial crisis, thanks to its limited integration with the global financial system. This is comforting thought for those in businesses as well as for potential new investors. But while the rise in the number of banks plays an important part in expanding access, it would be important for the banks to complement this with branch expansion and increased product innovation. The ability to offer a broad range of (affordable) banking products and services is the hallmark of financial sector deepening, as different types of products appeal to a wider range of clients, leading to enhanced access to financial services.


 

Interesting article, hey? The traditional banking model does not work in Malawi, given the fact that the average Malawian can not afford to operate a bank account. There is a need for affordable banking services, and SACCOs are filling that need for the majority of Malawians.

Off to MUSCCO! Blog ya later!

Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen

Blantyre, Malawi









We met briefly this morning at the MUSCCO office for a quick briefing with Dickson on MUSCCOs well-being over the past year and our placements. The Credit Union movement in Malawi is alive and well! Credit Union members have increased from 70,000 to 100,000 in February, 2009 and February, 2010 respectively. The SACCOs affiliated with MUSCCO are currently amidst transferring over to a new banking system from Kenya. Last year at this time, MUSCCO was still evaluating the banking system and had not purchased it. The new system is able to support Debit Cards, Point of Sale transactions, ATM transactions and will even have an add-on for internet banking! By the end of next year, Dickson mentioned that he expects almost all of the MUSCCO affiliated SACCOs to be on the new banking system. Awesome!

Paul and I will be working with two SACCOs, based out of Blantyre: the Sunbird Tourism SACCO and the MBC SACCO. We travelled the 4 hour, 311 Km highway car ride from Lilongwe to Blantyre around noon today, and made it to our hotel (Sunbird – Mount Soche) safe and sound. This Sunbird hotel is very nice, and has a beautiful view of Mount Soche out the back side of the hotel. I arrived too late to take a photo (the sun sets really early here!) but I'll post one tomorrow – it's worth a look! Paul and I both had Chambo this evening! Chambo is this delicious, white-meat fish, unique to Malawi. MMMmmMMMmMmmmMMM!!!

Another cool thing about The Sunbird Mount Soche hotel is that it houses Blantyre Rotary Club Meetings every Thursday afternoon. I joined the Lethbridge Urban Spirits Rotary Club this year and really wanted to make an effort to attend one or two Rotary meetings while I'm in Malawi. Looks like I will be able to attend! Rotarians, stay posted for updates and pictures!

Today's drive went by relatively quickly. Driving in Malawi is a little chaotic; not unlike the driving in London! Today was an abnormally rainy and FOGGY day and, as you can imagine, it made for a more challenging drive for our driver (Henry). I tried to post a video clip of what we were up against (MAJOR FOG IN THE MOUNTAINS), but it's taking far too long to load, so I won't be able to post it.  Foiled!  Fog, added to potholes, people riding or walking on the side of the road, livestock (cows, goats, chickens, etc.) roaming freely near the road, and driving on the "wrong" side of the road was enough action to keep me over-stimulated and awake for most of the trip! Henry did a tremendous job driving and we arrived safely at our hotel early this afternoon.

The countryside in the south is beautiful! It is filled with rolling hills, lush green grass and trees, and some fairly significantly sized mountains. Here – check it out! Some of the photos might be a little blurry – it's tricky taking photos at 120Km/hr.

Tomorrow, things start early! At 7:30am, we will travel to the MUSCCO Regional office, which is a few blocks from our hotel, meet briefly with some of the MUSCCO staff, and then travel back to our hotel, where our first SACCO is housed. I understand that the Sunbird Tourism SACCO is in the basement of our hotel, but Paul and I couldn't find where to access it tonight. Oh well – we'll find it tomorrow!

Hope you like the pictures and video!

Robert Christiansen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Singin’ in the rain…

Hello!

Quick entry before I head to MUSCCO for a meeting and presentation this morning. I woke up to the sound of a waterfall outside of my window late last night. When it rains in Malawi, IT RAINS! The power flickered on and off a couple of different times last night – a by-product of the Malawian rainy season. I was told last year that most of Malawi's power is generated by a couple of large river dams. During the rainy season (January – March/April) there is so much rain that trees and other debris get washed into the rivers, and clog up the dams.

The main streets in the area we are staying have huge rain gutters on both sides of them. They range from about 1 – 2 feet wide, and 1 – 6 feet deep, and the run the length of the road. When it rains in Malawi, it rains a lot; usually in a short period of time. Without these gutters, the rain would likely wash out all of the roads, and flooding would likely occur. I'll try to get a photo of these gutters on my walk over to MUSCCO this morning.

Ok! Off to work I go! Blog ya later,

Robert Christiansen

London --> Johannesburg --> Lilongwe --> SLEEP!

Last night was a rough one… We flew from London to Johannesburg (South Africa), which took 11 hours; and were held up in the Johannesburg airport for 3 hours waiting for our connecting flight to Malawi. Why was this "rough"? … I wasn't able to sleep a wink on either flight… The Johannesburg airport was cool! There had been some major renovations since the last time I had been in the airport – likely because South Africa is hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup in June 2010!

We arrived into Malawi's capital city, Lilongwe, early this afternoon. Innocent and Henry from MUSCCO (Malawian Union Savings of Credit Cooperatives - the host organization involved with the CCA Coaching Program I'm involved with), were waiting at the airport for us when we arrived. I remembered both of these MUSCCO employees from my time here last year! It was actually nice to see a familiar face in a place so far from home. Innocent and Henry drove us to the Lilongwe Sunbird Hotel and once again, I recognized familiar faces! Paul and I ended up spending over a week in Lilongwe last year. We stayed at the Lilongwe Sunbird Hotel during this time, ate most of our meals here and ended up meeting and dialoging a lot with the hotel staff. It was cool to bump into people we had met last year and catch up on things with each other. We walked to an Italian restaurant called "Mama Mia" for dinner. It was really good!

Tomorrow's game plan:

  • Wake up
  • Go to MUSCCO for a quick briefing with Sylvester and Dickson
  • Paul and I will catch a coach tomorrow afternoon and travel from Malawi's capital city (Lilongwe) to Malawi's largest city, and business hub (Blantyre)
  • We start work with our first SACCO on Tuesday morning

I don't have any pictures worth sharing at this point… sorry!

Catcha later,

Robert Christiansen

Friday, February 19, 2010

London!

Hello, Hello!


Day 1:

We made it to London! Despite El Nino throwing a massive wrench into things (Freezing Fog, Snow, etc. causing Bruce’s flight to be cancelled, and my flight delayed almost two hours!) we made it!

London is really cool! Rainy, but really cool! I navigated my way through the Underground alone, and successfully made it to the hotel! Brad, Bruce and I took the Underground various times throughout the day today and, after riding it a couple of times, I think I have the hang of it. Riding the Underground got me thinking… I’ve used the public transit systems in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Toronto and Vancouver, and can confidently say that London’s public transportation system is far beyond that of Canadian cities. Frankly, it should be! London is a huge city – both in area and population; far larger than any of the aforementioned Canadian cities. London needs (and has!) an efficient public transportation system.
We checked out Buckingham Palace today! It’s huge! Much bigger (and cooler!) than I thought it would be. We didn’t see the changing of the guard though – meh, maybe some other time. We went for dinner at a great Italian restaurant and all crashed pretty hard. Jet lag sucks!

Day 2:

We bought a tour ticket today, and toured around on big red busses (yes… like in the movies…). We saw a variety of the amazing tourist sites London has to offer (Tower of London, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, British Museum, Big Ben, the Parliament Buildings, to name a few) and rode on the London Eye! That was unreal! Here’s a couple of shots of the pods and what it looks like! It’s like a gigantic Ferris Wheel, although we were corrected a couple of different times for referring to it as such (apparently, structurally, it is DRASTICALLY different than a Ferris Wheel… meh…). It was cool checking out the city of London from hundreds of meters above ground level!

Internet! Oh sweet, sweet internet access! I now realize how dependent I really am on internet access. It’s frightening, actually! Our hotel’s internet a) sucks b) is very expensive c) “didn’t work” yesterday and d) sucks! It’s like dial-up, but worse… because dial-up works most of the time; and this… well… it doesn’t! I digress…

The other cool thing I’m really enjoying about London is the lifestyle. Using public transportation is a challenge, but incredibly efficient. There must have been 80 – 100 people in one of the Underground train cars we rode back from Picadilly Circus. The clothing everyone wears is classic too! I felt like the only male in London not wearing a suit, million dollar dress shoes and/or cool messenger bags! Even those that aren’t wearing suits or fancy dresses are dressed far fancier than we were. The way people interact with friends and family in London is drastically different than what I’m used to. Going for lunch, for example, is near impossible, unless you’re looking for a restaurant or pub at an odd hour. Every pub or restaurant we passed by was PACKED with people, dressed in suits or business attire, and all leaving 1 or 2 hours later to go back to work after having enjoyed a meal, a couple of pints and some out-of-office, social interaction with co-workers. That’s one of many examples I’ve come across. It’s cool though! People are connected with the city - they travel through the city's roots, use the city’s payphones to communicate and actually spend time with friends, family and complete strangers at local establishments.  I'm not explaining this as well as I have it made out in my head - perhaps a sign I really do need some sleep! 
All in all, I’ve had a really great time in London and will definitely be visiting again some time!

Tomorrow’s game plan: Wake up early. Tour around London some more. Take a cab to Heathrow Airport and fly to Malawi!

Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snow! Fog! Cancelled Flights… ugh!


El Niño has struck again!

Bruce dropped me an email this morning letting me know that his flights have been cancelled (Regina) and he will be re-routed through to Toronto. Foiled! I was looking forward to catching up with Bruce on the flight over to London. Blasted El Niño-Southern Oscillation! Here's a picture of Bruce making his way to the airport……………………..



Ok… so that's not really Bruce. But I hear Saskatchewan winters can be pretty awful! My flights look unaffected right now. Cross your fingers!

On a more positive note: How about that hockey game last night!?!?! Great game! … except for the "Boos" for Luongo. Or should I say the "Lous" for Luongo! I couldn't figure out why Canada was boo'ing our goaltender, but now I totally understand. Boo'ing and Lou'ing are two drastically different things!

Thanks for reading!

Robert


 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

To Those That Donated...


To those that donated to my "Netting Funds for Malawi" fundraiser:
THANK YOU!!! 

To my branch staff, whom created a display that, in 2 short weeks, has raised $865.00:
THANK YOU!!!  



THANK YOU!!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

'Netting' Funds for Malawi

My branch staff have to be the brightest bunch of people I know!  When faced with the challenge of raising funds for soccer balls and mosquito nets, I was at a loss...  until my staff suggested that we set up a larger-than-life display in the foyer of the branch featuring a mosquito net, soccer balls, and a photo album displaying photos of my trip to Malawi from last year.  This visual aid has prompted over $500 in donations last week alone!  

Check it out!  

Robert Christiansen

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The conversation we probably should have...

The following is a conversation we probably should have............  

You:  Why are you going to Malawi?  
Me:    I'm going to Malawi to offer support, technical advice and assistance to local SACCOs by working with their boards, general managers, staff and members.


You:  Woah!  What a mouthful...  Who are you going with?  
Me:   Same gang as last year!  These guys!




Team Malawi:  2009 - 2010
Outside of FINCOOP - Malawi's Largest SACCO
Brad Hopfauf (VP of Branch Services of Wainwright Credit Union) 
Bruce Anderson (General Manager of Lafleche Credit Union Ltd) 
Nicki Anderton (Credential)  
Dennis Matthies (General Manager of Lowe Farm Credit Union Ltd)  
Paul Innes (Administration Manager of OMISTA Credit Union) 
Robert Christiansen (Branch Manager - Servus Credit Union)

You:  Who's that bearded, funny-looking guy in the front row?  
Me:   Err...  that's me...  
        
You:  Awkward...  Uhh...  What's a SACCO anyway?




Me:   SACCO stands for Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization. It is a form of cooperative organization that provides financial services to its members. It is a democratic, member driven, self-help cooperative owned, governed and managed by its members.” 

Members of the SACCO agree to save their money together at the SACCO and make loans to each other at reasonable rates of interest. The banks in Malawi have a reputation for charging exorbitant interest rates and are infamous for hidden service charges and fees. As such, the middle and poor classes in Malawi look to SACCOs for assistance with their financing and personal banking needs.  


You:  What purpose do SACCOs serve?
Me:    Well... SACCO(s):
- allow savings to be mobilized locally and returned to members in the form of loans. The loan money stays and works within the membership and the community.  They mobilize significant volumes of personal savings and channel them into small loans for productive and provident purposes at the community level.
- interest rates on both savings and loans are generally better than rates given by banks. (partially due to lower overhead costs than banks) 
- encourage members to save, which is essential for economic empowerment 
- educate their members in financial matters by teaching prudent handling of money, budgeting tips and prudent financial management techniques. 
- pay dividends on shares to their members once the SACCO is established and profitable. Members therefore take pride in owning their own SACCO.


DWASCO Employees SACCO
Dwangwa Sugar Cane Estate

You:  Cool!  
Me:   Cool!  

Robert Christiansen