Program trains visiting female leaders

Martha Maziva at the Envision credit union Willoughby branch on May 26. - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Martha Maziva at the Envision credit union Willoughby branch on May 26.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

First West Credit Union, which has its head office in Langley, is hosting a credit union CEO from Zimbabwe as part of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s women’s mentorship program.

Martha Maziva, a credit union CEO from Zimbabwe, is in Canada for a 10-day visit. She is being hosted by First West vice-president of communications and public relations Leslie Castellani, a  South Surrey resident. She is meeting members of First West and Envision Financial’s leadership team and observing day-to-day branch operations at Envision Financial’s Willoughby branch in Langley as well as SouthPoint branch in South Surrey.

The program matches women credit union leaders from other countries with host credit unions in Canada, to provide training on areas like human resources, corporate governance, risk management, financial reporting and marketing.

Maziva is CEO of Central Mashonaland Credit Union in northern Zimbabwe. Her credit union, Central Mashonaland in Zimbabwe, has 6,000 members (25 per cent are women) and assets of US$441,524, with a focus on microfinance.

In an interview with The Times, she said that most of the loans given by the credit union are to small-scale farmers, usually for a six-month period. Loans are given for inputs, such as chemicals and supplies, and the interest rate is 16 per cent per annum. Through the credit union, members use capital they have raised themselves through deposits to borrow money at a better rate of interest than is available from banks or private lender.

She used as an example a farmer who is growing tobacco on one hectare of land. Over a six-month period, the total loan would be about $850, and would be repaid when the crop is sold.

"Interest rates are determined by members, and we tend to give lower rates than banks," she said.

Other crops grown by her credit union's members include maize, groundnuts and sunflowers.

The credit union also gets involved in business in a more in-depth way than their Canadian equivalents. One project involves chickens.

The credit union loans money to individuals, mostly women and young people, to raise chickens,  but in addition to lending money, it also determines what the demand is for chickens and helps to sell them when they are fully-grown.

The institution also does training, so that people borrowing money to raise chickens know how to take care of them to get them to market.

It also loans money to individuals who travel outside Zimbabwe to buy goods and import them into the country.

"I'm learning a lot," she said of her visit to Canada. "I have learned about governance, and how at First West, the board sets the direction and management implements that direction."

She has also learned about analyzing loan applications, factoring in credit ratings and reducing delinquency of loans.

"I have also observed that leadership here involves coaching m ore than leading," she said.

She has enjoyed the west coast climate, and visiting attractions such as Stanley Park. She has also enjoyed being by the ocean, as Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa.

Maziva is one of 16 women credit union leaders who arrived in Ottawa on May 12 to participate in the program, a unique professional development experience for international female credit union leaders. She is meeting with First West leaders, including CEO Launi Skinner and Envision Financial president Shelley Besse.

This is the tenth time First West has hosted an international female credit union leader. In the past, First West has hosted female leaders from countries like Ghana, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa.

“First West is an enthusiastic supporter of CCA’s international development programs,” says Laurie Tennian, women’s mentorship program manager. “In addition to providing funding, First West employees have been involved in CCA’s coaching program, and in 2013, Launi Skinner was one of six CEOs on the Co-operative Development Foundation Journey Out of Poverty study tour to Cambodia. For nine days, CEOs learned firsthand how co-operatives can alleviate poverty in developing countries. It’s through these shared experiences and mentorships that Canadian credit union leaders and our mentees can exchange excellent insights and experiences for the benefit of all.”

Funding for the program is provided by the Government of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada from funds raised within the Canadian co-operative sector.

This year CDF has a new campaign in collaboration with Aeroplan. The Beyond Miles campaign will use donated Aeroplan travel miles to help cover the cost of participant’s flights to Canada and to credit unions across Canada for their placements.

To donate travel miles, visit

First West Credit Union is B.C.'s third-largest credit union with $7.7 billion in assets under administration, more than 177,000 members and close to 1,300 employees. It operates 39 branches throughout the province under the Envision Financial, Valley First and Enderby & District Financial brands.

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