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How one CU branch manager started a coop in Nigeria
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (4/24/12)--During a visit to his native Nigeria to pay his final respects to his mother in 2010  Amy O. Ahanotu, branch manager at Redwood CU, Santa Rosa, Calif., helped bring life to a new financial cooperative.

Click to view larger image During a 2010 visit to his native Nigeria, Amy O. Ahanotu, branch manager at Redwood CU, Santa Rosa, Calif., helped start a financial cooperative. Ahanotu, at right, in red hat, teaches Nigerian children about making smart choices with money.
During his visit, women who were aware of Ahanotu's financial services background came to him with stories about the troubles they were having building up their farms and businesses because banks would not lend to them.

"I realized that, instead of just giving them money, I could teach them to help themselves by forming a lending cooperative," Ahanotu wrote in a recent letter that was published in the Napa Valley Register, Marin Independent Journal and the Ukiah Daily Journal. "Similar to the credit union model I know so well, the members of this new cooperative borrow money from a central pool of funds to purchase seed for the upcoming season or provisions for their stores.  Once the harvest has come in or the goods have been sold, they return the money for another member to use. "

Ahanotu worked with members to develop a business plan and discuss ideas for how to put profits back into the business to help the cooperative grow. He also invested $300 of his own money into the project.   When he returned home, he kept in contact with members and maintained his advisory role.

"I returned one year later and saw how well the cooperative was progressing," he wrote in his letter.  "The women had seen a productive harvest, sold their farm products at profit, and had money saved for the next planting season.  The loans had a zero percent default rate, partly because of the social stigma attached to defaulting in the village."

Click to view larger image Redwood CU branch manager Amy Ahanotu (back row, center) makes financial learning fun for children from his home village in Nigeria. (Photos provided by Redwood CU)
Ahanotu describes the cooperative as a work in progress. He has invested additional funds to help the cooperative reach its goals and solidify its foundation.  " My goal is to help them become a respected institution in the village, so that those in neighboring areas will see the results and realize they can do this, too," he said.

Ahanotu said his mentor role would work just as well in the U.S.

"Local business people and community leaders have a great deal to offer the workforce in terms of experience and advice," Ahanotu wrote in his letter . "We should think of ourselves as valuable local resources who can, with a small commitment of time, contribute to the increased economic prosperity of the region.  Whether you decide to mentor someone just starting out or volunteer to teach youth the skills they need to be successful, each effort will build on the next and improve our area's future."


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