Pictured above: Heidi Miller (left) with Noemi Tomas (Philippines) and Victoria Abugre (Ghana) in 2014.
Heidi Milller (Manager of Procedures & Privacy Officer at Interior Savings Credit Union) is an incredible and generous volunteer. She's been a mentor and host to five women credit union managers from Ghana, Kenya and the Philippines on the Women’s Mentorship program since 2012, as well as a coach in Ghana in 2011 and 2014 and Malawi in 2012. There, she provided hands-on coaching advice on credit union day-to-day operations. In Canada, Heidi was nominated in her home town for a Volunteer Spotlight article for all her volunteering with several organizations (including Kelowna Sunrise Rotary, Canadian Mental Health Association, CDF Canada, Interior Savings’ Across the Lake Swim Society, and United Way breakfast), which was featured on two radio stations and the Volinspire website. We sat down with Heidi to ask some questions about her volunteer experience with CDF Canada!
Why have you been involved in the Women’s Mentorship Program (WMP)?
Working with these ladies, we discovered that we had many similarities – the most important one being that credit unions care about their community. Whether that be in Africa or Canada we all want to make a difference in the communities in which we serve and the lives of our members. The Women’s Mentorship Program empowers women to become agents of change and I am so proud of them when they return home and put all their new skills and knowledge to work making a real difference in their communities.
What did your credit union and its staff gain from hosting an overseas woman?
Interior Savings has worked with CDF Canada in the past by providing managerial resources to the Coaching Program in Africa and it was a remarkable experience (both Gene Creelman and I have travelled to Africa three times with CDF Canada). We recognize the value and learning opportunity these programs can provide in the lives of others. However, not everyone can volunteer in Africa so the WMP allows our staff to experience the same feelings Gene and I had, of gratitude and honour in being able to give back and help make a difference in the lives of others.
Our staff have gained several new friendships, an understanding of other cultures, a renewed appreciation for what we have, a feeling of contribution and helping others, and it is fulfilling the 6th and 7th Co-operative Principles of Co-operation Among Co-operatives and Concern for Community. I would highly recommend people to participate in the program – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a real difference in the life of another person. It just doesn’t get much better than that!
What was your most memorable moment while volunteering?
When I was in Ghana with CDF Canada, I had the opportunity to revisit a credit union I had worked with on a previous visit. They had only one request – for us to help them realize their goal of providing a water hole for their community. Two years later, I had the chance to return and they had built their water hole! They also went one step further and made it sustainable by selling the water for profit to a commercial company while providing it free for personal use to locals and credit union members. I have never been more proud to know that I was a small part of a project that changed a whole community.
We're recruiting for current volunteer openings! Click here to see the postings.
Pictured above: Roméo Cormier with Emmanuel Usengimana in Rwanda
On Volunteering With CDF Canada
I consider a volunteer posting with CDF Canada as both a challenge and an honour. It’s a challenge because it brings me to reflect on my assumptions, my beliefs, attitudes and values. Reflecting on concepts like development, progress, equality, best practices, and so on. I wonder whether our partners will embrace the offerings of my Canadian organization, once we’re in the field, or in the detail. Will I personally come across as a condescending westerner from a rich country who thinks he has all the answers, or will I seek to integrate with the community to better understand their culture and the dynamics of their organization?
Taking on a volunteer assignment with CDF Canada is an honour because I realize the selection process could have favoured someone else, and so I’m grateful and honoured to have been selected. It raises my awareness level and I feel that I personify the Canadian co-operator, and how he acts and reacts to local issues and challenges related to the project’s successful completion.
One thing I do know for sure is that, as a volunteer, I receive more than I give. Yes, I bring useful knowledge and new approaches. That could mean the introduction of a new by-product of the farmers’ main crops, like biofuel briquettes from corn stalk, or rice straw, for Rwandan farmers. Or, it could mean the introduction of small-scale technologies for sesame seed farmers in Myanmar that allow them to measure moisture levels in their seeds before bringing them to market, at a higher price. No miracle work here, but simply well-focused web searches at key university research websites before leaving Canada.
Where I receive more than I give is from the people I work with every day. In all my volunteer assignments – totaling eight years now – I am impressed by how more happy and sociable people are, compared to citizens of more developed countries. The more open and receptive I am, the more I discover and appreciate facets of their culture, new displays of relationships and, in short, a new perspective on life. I have become a citizen of the world, and this mind-expanding experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Dieppe, New Brunswick, November 2017
Note: Roméo has been to Peru, Myanmar and Rwanda with CDF
We're recruiting for current volunteer openings! Click here to see the postings.
After decades of armed conflict, Colombia’s government has committed to investing in the co-operative model as a tool for peace-building. But for co-ops to sustainably create peace and enable people in rural communities to thrive, gender inequality must be addressed. Women face unique barriers to participating in co-operative development, and these are more than just a lack of opportunity. While our project in Colombia works to give women co-op members training and tools to produce and sell their own products, we also know that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. A woman facing violence may find it more difficult to participate in the project. That’s why we include programming to fight gendered violence.
1. Create safe spaces for women
Women-only events are a crucial step towards enabling women to participate. When women attend women-only training workshops, not only do they learn valuable skills, but they’re also able to discuss their experiences as women and share strategies to cope. Sometimes this includes stories of violence. It creates a safe, intimate environment in which women can begin to heal within a community of supportive peers. They find solidarity and a strong network of women leaders.
2. Engage men to challenge dominant models of masculinity
The project identifies Gender Leaders – people committed to improving gender equality in their communities. Male Gender Leaders attend masculinities workshops. Together, the men examine how masculinity is constructed in their communities and discuss men’s role in violence and domination, as well as how their role can change to build a non-violent society. Afterwards, the Gender Leaders recreate the workshop in their own organizations.
3. Work with co-ops to enable women’s success
Co-ops also review their governance by-laws to ensure they don’t discriminate against women, particularly through membership requirements and access to leadership positions. Co-ops attempt to reach a 30% target for women in leadership positions, and a 50% target for women’s participation in project activities.
4. Supporting women in addressing violence directly
While the activities above reduce gendered violence in the long-term, we know that women may need more immediate solutions when violence is part of their lives. That’s why we offer training to inform participants, both men and women, of the existing laws that protect women and girls’ right to a life free from violence. They’re also trained on the national protocol for supporting women victims of violence. For rural women in particular, laws upholding women’s right to land ownership and recognition of women as farmers in their own right, are important. Gender Leaders learn to map out and form relationships with women’s rights organizations that already exist in their communities, and to help women access psychological and legal support, so that resources are already in place when women come forward.
Gender equality is a basic human right, and a necessity for sustainable development. For those reasons, all our programs address the gender gap. A life free from violence is also a requirement for women to be able to reach economic equality.
This Co-op Week, we are excited to bring you news of our plan to take CDF Canada's co-operative programs to even more families around the world. It's called Breaking New Ground, and it gives all of us an opportunity to strengthen the economic and social well-being of 500,000 men, women and children over the next three years.
Breaking New Ground closes the gap on gender inequality, promotes financial inclusion and strengthens resiliency and sustainability to create enduring benefits for families through their co-operatives.
Donate today and make an impact.
CDF leverages every dollar you donate up to 10x from our funders. This means that your support can break new ground and lay the foundation for innovative and sustainable food security and co-operative development projects.
Help us Break New Ground!
In July, after extensive consultations with supporters and stakeholders, we officially amalgamated with our partner of over 70 years, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). We're delighted to announce that we'll be revealing our new shared brand under the CDF name during National Co-op Week, on International Credit Union Day (October 19th)!
What to Expect on October 19th:
We want to thank you - our valued funders, donors and partners - for your investment in CDF and CCA. With your help, our two long-serving Canadian institutions have worked together for over 70 years in bringing co-operative tools and knowledge to communities around the globe.
While we move forward with a new look and a single organizational name, our shared mission remains the same. We value your continued support and look forward to a successful launch!
Please join us on social media as we celebrate CDF's next era of development!
Ottawa, August 29, 2017 - The Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) is pleased to introduce its new Board of Directors, led by Chairperson Michele Aasgard.
"Building on a 70-year legacy of global co-operative achievement, we are pleased to be ushering in the next chapter in the evolution of CDF," says Aasgard. "We have listened to Canadian co-operators and are ready and committed to help them help more and more communities around the globe build lasting prosperity through co-operative action."
This evolution includes the amalgamation of CDF and the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) under the umbrella of CDF as approved by their members at their annual general meetings on June 27, 2017. With representation from co-operatives, credit unions, mutuals, and the national co-operative apex organization Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC), the new CDF Board is deeply rooted in the Canadian co-operative movement.
Above: The new CDF Board held its inaugural meeting last week in Ottawa. Rear row (L to R) - Jeanette Wakelin, Kelly McGiffin, Normand Lafrenière, Neil Cooper, Marc-André Pigeon, Tracey Kliesch, Erin Hancock. Front row - Mark Needham, Mark Hamel, Michele Aasgard, Bruno Dragani.
"This Board brings a diverse range of expertise and insight from across Canada's co-operative sector," says CDF Executive Director Michael Casey. "I am excited to be working with such dynamic co-operators as we begin this next chapter in the CDF story."
CDF is active in fourteen countries, working with local partners to develop and strengthen co-operative enterprises that are creating jobs and opportunities, mobilizing savings and loans, reducing vulnerability, improving nutrition and livelihoods, and helping women and men to equally access the opportunities and resources they need.
"CDF and its growing individual and corporate supporters are poised to accomplish really great things," says Aasgard. "Co-operatives and credit unions are potent tools in the hands of communities seeking sustainable long-term growth and prosperity. We know this from our own history in Canada, and from 70 years of bringing co-operative solutions to communities in over 40 countries around the world."
"As the world gets smaller we see a growing need and opportunity to share out our co-operative skills and resources. We call on Canadians and their co-operatives and credit unions to join us as we extend the benefits of co-operation to ever more families and communities."
Watch this space for some exciting announcements about the new CDF, our refreshed look and a compelling new campaign to kick off a new era in the history of CDF!