First West Credit Union

First West Credit Union

March 05, 2014 12:00 ET

First West Credit Union Leader Travels to Africa, Shares How Ghanaian Women Are Inspiring Change

LANGLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - March 5, 2014) - Recently, a First West Credit Union leader embarked on a three-week journey to Ghana, Africa to volunteer in the Canadian Cooperative Association's (CCA) credit union coaching program. As the world will soon be celebrating International Women's Day on March 8, Loree Gray, senior vice-president of operations at First West Credit Union shares her experience on how women in Ghana are inspiring change in each other and in their communities.

"During my time in Ghana, the one thing that stood out to me the most was how hard women there work, both physically and mentally," says Gray. "They do it all, and usually all at the same time. They mind their children, often carrying them on their backs while working in a small space on the side of the road selling their goods, handling not only the sales, but negotiations and distribution. It was truly an awe-inspiring thing to see."

Gray observed that in the lower income population, women primarily stayed local in order to raise their children and run subsistence type businesses, while the men travelled to find work. In the emerging middle income population in the larger urban centers, it was the men that generally pursued an education while the women continued to conduct local trade and commerce.

However, as Gray realized, this was not always the case. "In one of the credit unions that I visited, I met and learned about the many women who have benefitted from the savings and loans support they received from their local credit union. In fact, many would say that it's the women who are borrowing money for business purposes, not the men."

"One such story is of a member who was recognized at their credit union's AGM for being the 'highest saver' in 2013. She's currently paying down her fourth loan. Each loan has helped her advance herself as a woman in business - the first loan helped her buy a truck to help increase her business by enabling her to easily transport her goods to the market, the second loan was used to buy another truck that she rented out to someone to provide her with a second stream of revenue. Her third loan was used to improve her 'store' in the market and the current loan is helping her to do even more improvements to her store. She's already talking about her next borrowing to build a home. What a great success story and a truly remarkable way to show how one woman is inspiring change in her community."

Gray concludes, "I had an amazing experience in Ghana and my time there has made me much more appreciative of the everyday conveniences we have in Canada. The work international credit unions and cooperatives undertake in places like Ghana is literally life-changing. There are so many ways we can get involved and make a difference, whether it's time, expertise or money, and to be able to be part of that life-change is truly a privilege."

First West has supported the CCA for over a decade, contributing more than $305,000 to international development efforts. Complementing this financial support is First West's commitment to other CCA initiatives including its Women's Mentorship Program, and its credit union coaching program.

In past years, First West leaders have travelled to Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Botswana to participate in the credit union coaching program and women's leadership forum, sharing information and learning from co-operatives overseas. Additionally, Launi Skinner, CEO of First West Credit Union participated in the CDF's Journey Out of Poverty tour to Cambodia in 2013, where she spent nine days learning first-hand about poverty alleviation through cooperatives in developing countries.

About First West Credit Union

First West Credit Union offers members the financial strength, comprehensive product selection and extended branch network of a large financial institution while maintaining local brand identities and a unique grassroots approach to service. Led by Launi Skinner, First West is British Columbia's third-largest credit union with $7.1 billion in assets under administration, more than 171,000 members and close to 1,300 employees. It operates 40 branches throughout the province under the Envision Financial, Valley First and Enderby & District Financial brands. For more information on First West Credit Union, visit

Follow First West Credit Union on Twitter: @firstwestcu.

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