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Belarus plans CU expansion
MINSK, Belarus (10/14/09)--Elena Koleda has turned to the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU), WOCCU's member organization in Poland, for assistance in developing more credit unions in her native Belarus.
Elena Koleda (left), head of Belarus' credit union trade group, stresses the importance of credit union growth to Pawe³ Grzesik of the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
"Our top priorities are staff training, credit union accounting software and credit union legislation," said Koleda, manager of the Republican Association of Consumer Cooperative Societies for Mutual Financial Assistance, the trade association representing credit unions in Belarus. The efforts would help the Eastern European country's existing eight credit unions grow as a movement to a size necessary to become a more formidable influence in serving Belarus' population. "By forming an association, Belarus' credit unions were able to brand their institutions and pool their resources to reach the greater levels of efficiency necessary to grow a credit union movement," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officers. Branch was in Belarus last week to work with the country's credit unions and speak to lawmakers about drafting legislation supporting financial cooperatives. At the urging of the United Nations, WOCCU first looked into developing credit unions in Belarus in 1997. During subsequent years, NACSCU's foundation provided support necessary to develop the country's first financial cooperatives. Belarus' trade association was formed in 2007. Currently, the country's credit unions serve professionals and small business owners in the capital city of Minsk, as well as rural communities across the country. Many of the movement's leaders are self-employed small business owners who felt neglected by the country's banking system. By turning to a cooperative model, they can be assured they will have a voice in the financial activities that affect their enterprises, said Pawe³ Grzesik, plenipotentiary head of NACSCU's Warsaw office. Grzesik joined Branch during his visit. The Belarus movement "is one of the best examples of genuine bottom-up efforts to build a civil society in Europe today," Grzesik said. During their visit, Branch and Grzesik participated in an international financial conference designed to raise the profile of credit unions among the public, lawmakers and the press. They stressed credit unions' role in helping consumers and small business owners gain access to financial services at more affordable rates. Also, Grzesik is helping Belarus National Bank officials develop credit union-specific regulations that will enable the movement to grow. "[National Bank] Deputy Chairman Vasily Matyushevsky believes that the assistance of WOCCU and NACSCU is critical to developing the credit union sector in Belarus," Grzesik said. "He encouraged our further involvement in building the capacities of both the credit unions and their association through training and study tours to neighboring countries, including Lithuania and Poland." Because of geographic proximity, NACSCU will lead the development in Belarus, said Branch. "We have offered NACSCU our support due to its success in assisting other emerging movements throughout the region," he added. "Belarus is one more example of our two organizations' abilities to work together to foster credit union development on a global scale."
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