Monday, 10 September 2012

Hope through cooperatives

Day 1 and 2 in Mongolia

Hope through Cooperatives

 Arrived late last night (Sunday night), after approximately 32 hours in transit.  Our hosts in Mongolia were at the airport to pick us up.  As we drove from the airport it was already evident to see the disparity between the have and have not.  In the city there are more Hummers, G wagons (Mercedes SUV), and Range Rovers than there are gophers in Saskatchewan.  Around the city, ger districts.  There is a risk of this proportion and disparity widening as the Mongolian economy emerges.  As a finance professional we learn and read about emerging economies but to see and experience it first hand breaths life into the meaning.  The GDP at about 7% is set to accelerate to over 20% as a major copper mine comes on line.  Production of this single mine is projected to contribute to a third of the countries GDP.

In one picture you can visualize the growth, environmental impact, and social and economic inequities.  But the feeling is indescribable.  There are 3 million people in Mongolia; nearly one third living below the poverty line, many surviving on a $1 a day - not to mention the added hardship of "Saskatchewan-like" winters.  The last few winters have been particularly hard, wiping out many producers livestock.  As a consequence these herder nomads are literally setting up camp outside Ulanbataar, forced to give up their herder heritage in hope of finding work.

Some hope is being found through cooperatives.  In fact, the Mongolian Government has began a three year campaign on cooperatives as a means to help rural communities and close the growing economic disparity.

There are now nearly 2,500 coops in Mongolia, employing 59,000 people and involving 210,000 members.  That said, only 8% of these coops are credit unions.  Access to credit and financial services remains a significant barrier for many of these coops, agriculture produces, and individuals: "building dreams" is tough without money.  Not unlike other financial systems, the Mongolian financial sector nearly came to a collapse during the financial crisis.  What emerged was a banking environment not willing to lend to cooperatives and the "unbankable".  The credit union system hopes to fill this need.  But the challenges to establishing a viable and strong credit union system are daunting particularly in light of a precarious beginning and a financial crisis that left mistrust in any financial service provider.  The first credit union in Mongolia was established in 1996, and legislation was introduced in 1998 (with the help of Canadians).

It took us over 100 years to get us where we are today.  It is with the benefit of this history and the work of those who came before us [in building our system] that we can help the Mongolian cooperative movement.  As a person routed in a cooperative culture and movement, I feel privileged to share Conexus' experience.

First thing Monday morning we met with our hosts MCTIC (Mongolian Cooperative Training and Information Center), along with others involved in their cooperative movement: head of savings and CU department of FRC (federal regulator), executive director of MOCCU (Mongolian confederation of savings and credit cooperatives), and representatives from local credit unions.  Mr. Purev from the FRC asked us to consider two things during our work with credit unions:

Solidify the common goal of credit unions - support and improve the economic and social situation of its members, through enhancing member services.

Help in establishing internal controls, audit processes, and governance to ensure the safety of members money.

It is my assertion that once the credit unions have adequate internal controls and governance, new legislation will emerge, most notability a deposit guarantee giving confidence to the system, and propel the system in its goal to support the social and economic situation of its members and communities.

From 2,000 feet over Mongolia

On Tuesday morning bright and early (4:30 a.m.), I am off to the credit unions with which I will work. As I fly over while typing this, the landscape formidable but beautiful, I excitedly look forward to departing our credit union knowledge with the people of Mongolia.  I understand there is no Internet connection where I will be staying.  To be honest just hoping for a warm bed as I didn't bring my big sleeping bag - our guide was carrying one.  So, the next time I will post (unless I can connect with communications via phone) will be in about 8 days when I return to Ulanbataar.

Enjoy the week ahead.



  1. Your post is very humbling and it makes me proud to work for a cooperative organization. Keep up the good work Neil. Will be watching for your next post.

  2. Thanks for sharing Neil. We are wishing you a safe journey and we are proud of your commitment to sharing your skills with the broader credit union system. Well done my friend.