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July 31, 2014     Shelton Mason County Journal
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July 31, 2014

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..... .,~ ........ ~ ..~ .......... J ..... JJlJl J ........ L ....... Thursday, July 31, 2014 - Mason County Journal - Page A-21 i~ : i :i = .... ; i!; .... #~ ~, ~ ~i!~ )', Joke, a giraffe, attempts to grab food out of President of Peninsula Credit Union Jim Morrell's hand in Nairobi, Kenya. Photos courtesy of Jim Morrell Credit union president travels toAfricafor an education By LLOYD MULLEN IIoyd@masoncounty. com Jim Morrell knew he'd see a few variances between the U.S. credit union industry and Kenya's during a recent trip to Africa. The main difference the Peninsula Credit Union president said he saw while in Nairobi was an emphasis on how credit unions focus on savings, education, financialliteracy and economic development. "The industry is much younger (in Nairobi)," Morrell said. "Consequently, there are a large number of credit unions, some as small as 50 people." He said a position as a credit union development educator opened up with the National Credit Union Foundation three weeks before he was slated to go. He spoke to members of the community who said he would learn a lot traveling to Kenya, and would see issues related to gender equality and economic development. Morrell had declined the invitation to learn about African credit unions once before. "Sometimes you knock on my hard head more than once," he laughed. '%Vhen else am I going to get a chance to go to Africa and relate it here locally?" Three days after his invitation, he said yes. After 22 hours of travel and layovers, Morrell landed in Nairobi. He was greeted at the airport by an escort and taken into town. Inside the credit union industry, there are seven different cooperative operating principles, according to Morrell. "How we are organized as cooperatives, why we do what we do, why we have democratically elected leaders, volunteer participation, and commitment to the communities that are part of the cooperative, are some of the principles," he explained. "All of those passions are very much the same from my experience interacting with people from 14 different countries across the continent." In Zimbabwe, some of Morrelrs small cohort of colleagues ran a 50-person credit union for people in the medical field. "They are very focused on savings," he said. ' hey have a very strong emphasis on helping people save and a second emphasis on lending money." What Morrell saw while in Zimbabwe was much different than what he sees in the United States. In the United States, Morrell said, the credit union industry bases its decisions on credit history and customers' ability to repay. In Zimbabwe, lending is based on multiples of savings. They will lend two, three or four times what someone has saved. That, according to Morrell, causes quite a few issues with regulations across Africa. "Unlike the U.S., credit unions are overseen by different ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Finance, Education, etc.," he said. "Here, we have Jim Morrell poses with tribal Maasai independent regulators that are set up at the federal or state level. The stability of the financial system and helping people understand that credit unions are safe places is important." Outside of the credit industry, Morrell said, the way of life in Africa differs considerably from that in the United States. ' rhe way I've explained it is that we have differences based in the U.S. from East or West Coast - different perspectives or ways of conducting their lives," he said. "That is part of our regional differences, but we have a national culture. In Africa, it turns into differences between countries. Each country has a deep culture (affecting) why they do what they do. That passion translates into very genuine people. Hakuna matata (a Swahili phrase that people in Kenya. translates to "no worries" in English) is a very different way of life," he said. Now that MorreU has been stateside for a few weeks, he said the trip made his world a bit smaller. "It's proven to me that there is more commonality in what we endeavor to do than differences," he said. "We can benefit from learning the cultural differences and perspectives." The time abroad has solidified Morrell's passion for credit unions and his community, he said. "It fulfills my interest for giving back and my interest for making things better. We can't make the entire world better, but we can focus on those aspects of life that we can develop some level of expertise about -- expertise that isn't static. If you're not learning, you're dying." he said.