CDF’s Unique Approach helps people Build a Better Future

Jo-Anne Ferguson, former acting Executive Director, CDF Canada 

Joanne Ferguson (2017-2018)

First-hand accounts of CDF’s extraordinary work
For 75 years, CDF Canada has been doing remarkable work in many countries. I had the pleasure of working for CDF for 20+ years and witnessed firsthand the value and impact they have on communities. With a base of experience and expertise in Canada’s cooperatives and credit unions, I saw that CDF’s unique approach helps people build a better future.    

Especially in times of crisis
A vivid example of this is the work CDF undertook to help people in Sri Lanka rebuild after the 2004 tsunami devastated so many of their coastal communities. CDF worked with SANASA Cooperatives, their national association, listening carefully to understand conditions and needs, while contributing funds to build a network of small local credit unions – enabling them to respond to member needs, even in times of emergency.   

I visited leaders of one such credit union in the most severely affected areas, which offered savings and loans to its members.  When the Tsunami hit, the vault holding the cash and all members’ records were washed out to sea.   Surviving members needed access to their savings; they needed money to purchase essentials.  CDF, along with several other international cooperative agencies, provided backup funds.  The credit union needed to rebuild accounts and immediately get cash into the hands of their members.   

The President called a members’ meeting on a hill away from the heavily damaged areas.  With all members present, each declared how much they had in savings and the balance of outstanding loans.  I asked, “what if a member gave untrue amounts?” She explained that they had a good sense of a member’s assets and worth in their community and no hesitation to ensure the correct balance.  The records of the primary society were handwritten in children’s notebooks with pictures of animals and cartoon characters on the cover – the only paper available.  

The community trust that was built in this cooperative, that CDF assisted, proved to be the backbone for rebuilding lives and the community.  This is only one example of the many impacts of CDF’s history, and one that I feel blessed to have been a part of. 

Leadership is the secret to success
Leadership is the secret to successful, long-lasting cooperative enterprises. While at CDF, I met many dynamic women leaders. There were more women leaders in grassroots cooperative enterprises than in national or regional enterprises. This was most likely because the activities of local cooperatives so closely aligned with the family-focussed role women were playing in their communities. CDF always highlighted the importance of women in leadership. Training and development within projects included women, and specific training, like the Women’s Mentorship Program, provided a more intense focus. CDF’s development of women expanded the pool of competent, qualified, and confident women to fill leadership positions. I was inspired by the courageous women leaders working with CDF to build their cooperatives.  

Challenges & Successes
Like most organizations, change and adaptation are the norms for CDF Canada. While they have a clearly defined mandate, programs are managed in complex environments. Matching the needs and interests of funding agencies and local partners within a project can be a challenge, as they have a range of needs and priorities that can often shift. CDFs approach to managing partnerships by developing shared ownership, transparency, and joint forums for learning,  help meet project goals. 

The unseen results of CDF initiatives can be surprising. CDF has rigorous measurements to evaluate project results and impact, but it is also good to hear one person’s story:  I met a member of an agricultural cooperative in Uganda. She lived on a small plot of land, was a single parent with a house and several children. Her only asset was a couple of banana trees. Banana trees produce year-round and are a staple in Uganda. She joined a marketing cooperative and got a better price for her bananas. With these profits, she bought a mattress to replace her mat on the ground and then a cow. She sold the milk and yogurt from the cow and with these profits; she paid her children’s school fees. She purchased more cattle, and now her children have completed school. This is impact and this is what matters.  

CDF Canada has worked on many projects in collaboration with the World Council of Credit Unions, Irish Credit Union League Foundation, SOCODEVI, Developpement International Desjardins, and Rooftops International. All share a commitment to cooperatives and help to build the cooperative brand in international networks. Congratulations to CDF for 75 years of making a difference.   


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