I was 58 when I applied for the WMP 2016; I was a bit worried that my age would matter. We were 11 lucky applicants – Obee, Esther, and Rhoda from Ghana, Violet and Emily from Kenya, Memory and Chiso from Malawi, Zin from Myanmar, Madhu from Nepal, and Flordeliz and I from the Philippines. I was the most senior (oldest) among the participants, and some fondly called me Momma Maria.
Maria Corazon Echano-Vispo, a participant in the 2016 Women Mentorship Program, shares her experience and learnings from the program.
During the closing ceremony, I felt esteemed to deliver a speech on behalf of the group. I think it was a reward to me that I remember jokingly saying that maybe my co-participants chose me because of my seniority age but the youngest in the co-op experience. I believe that learning has to be a continuous and life-long process, and therefore, age doesn’t matter.
One of the many memories that have lingered with me was my stay with my host in Alberta, Alison Archaumbalt of the Connect First Credit Union.
The traditional “White Hat Ceremony,” with an oathtaking officiated by Paul Kelly, CEO, of Connect First Credit Union, was unforgettable, too. I will forever treasure the white Smithbilt cowboy hat that would remind me constantly of the warmth, kindness and hospitality of the Calgarians and the people of Canada.
In 2014, I became the General Manager of Basud Development Cooperative (BADEVCO) with an appointment by the Board of Directors. It was such a great honour, but more of a challenge for me to be entrusted with the tough responsibility considering that I did not come from the rank of Management and was inexperienced in cooperative operations. I was just one of the regular members of our cooperative for more than two decades. Although I have a business course and banking experience, I have been unemployed for twenty-five years to be a housewife and hands-on mother to my four kids. Having the managerial job to direct seventy-three (73) employees had given me apprehension, but the desire to serve our 16,270 co-op members, colleagues and the community was my utmost motivation. Aware of my limitations, I seized the opportunity for learning and development through the Women’s Mentorship Program 2016 of the Canadian Co-operative Association.
The month-long mentoring was very enriching, from the classroom training and the practical work exposure in our Credit Union placements to the memorable experiences with our hosts. The training has given me both personal and professional gains. It has built and developed my confidence and improved my self-esteem. I had always thought I was not naturally blessed and ingrained with leadership skills, and the Women’s Mentorship Program helped me work on these.
Today, I lead 98 employees and serve more than 28,000 members; the majority are women. Our co-op became empowered through gender and development. After two years, we had our first woman Board Chairperson, and officer positions have been led by women.
My participation in the program has increased our membership due to its enhanced reputation. We earned respect and distinction in the community and the cooperative sector.