From little things big things grow – John Brown’s visit to Timor Leste

By Angelo Moniz Jong, CUFA Timor Leste Country Program Manager

In November 2013, CUFA invited the CEOs and General Managers of our member organisations to present at the International Seminar for Cooperatives in Dili, Timor Leste, as a representative of the Australian Mutual movement and CUFA.

Mr John Brown, CEO of The Capricornian Credit Union kindly volunteered his time and flew to the Timorese capital, Dili to attend the international seminar. After being put forward by CUFA, Mr Brown received an official invitation from the Timor Leste Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment and arrived in Timor Leste on 17 November 2013. He was welcomed as a “VIP” by the organising committee and accompanied to Hotel Timor. Mr Brown was amongst other delegates visiting from Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand and Indonesia, alongside local Timorese participants.

The Seminar was officially opened on 18 November by the Vice Prime Minister, Mr Fernando Lasama, who gave the opening presentation, followed by invited international guest speakers. Speakers at the event talked about their experience with the cooperative movement in their country, its foundations, history and current situation. Mr Brown had the opportunity to share his experience on the second day of seminar. He spoke about the history of The Capricornian and compared their beginnings 50 years ago to the credit unions starting in Timor Leste today.

Mr Brown shared the story of how The Capricornian started in a very small room of a church and was setup to serve their local community. They have now grown from 125 members in 1954 to 12,000 members in 2013. He shared the challenges and problems that they faced during their development stages, such as delinquency and irregular saving. He concluded his presentation with a proverb saying “from little things big things grow”, inspiring the credit unions of Timor Leste to continue their good work.

The presentation was well received by all participants who appreciated his story and lessons shared. Many came to ask questions and get a picture with him when the seminar wrapped up in the afternoon. Mr Brown also had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with the Vice Minister for Commerce Industry and Environment, the Secretary of State and also the National Director of the National Directorate of Cooperatives and Micro and Small Enterprise.

During his time in Timor Leste, Mr Brown took the opportunity to visit to two Credit Unions CUFA work with; Klibur Uniaun ba Kreditu (KUC) and tau Fini ba Futuru (CTFF). Whilst there, Mr Brown shared information about his credit union and listened to the stories and challenges that the credit unions faced in Timor Leste. A warm friendship was created from the shared discussions of ideas and experiences on how to overcome the challenges they face. One such challenge is the limited resources available to the credit unions – every transaction record and financial statement is made manually. Mr Brown was impressed to see the great job that CUFA are doing to help support these credit unions, providing them with the skills and knowledge to run their credit unions effectively with the limited resources they have.

Mr Brown was also invited to visit a Credit Union in the Domi-huhun in Manatuto district which is located 60 kilometres east of Dili – approximately an hour drive by car. During the trip Mr Brown was able to take in the beautiful scenery which included coastal beaches. During his visit, Mr Brown shared his knowledge and experience with the credit union leader and engaged in conversation regarding the challenges they face. Again, he found similar challenges regarding manual data records and found that this particular credit union had no office space in which to function – it is currently operated out of a volunteer’s house.

Following his visit, Mr Brown has become eager to see CUFA’s Children Financial Literacy program, which educates young children of the merits of saving, commence in Timor Leste. This is a program that has been running with great success in Cambodia, since 2009 and CUFA hopes to get it off the ground in Timor Leste in 2014, through the Timor Leste Leadership Challenge.

CUFA would like to thank Mr Brown for volunteering his time and expertise to represent CUFA at the International Seminar for Cooperatives in Dili, Timor Leste and for taking the time to visit the credit unions we support through our work.

CUFA are proud to be the international development organization for the Australian Mutual movement and to provide our member organizations with the opportunity to network and contribute to the cooperative movement the world over.

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