Last month, members of Oikocredit International and Oikocredit support associations gathered in Ghent, Belguim to meet, connect, and share updates on the organization and our partners. Two of our American Oikocredit US board members traveled to Belgium as participants, and below is an account from board member Katelyn Haas-Conrad on her takeaways from the conference.
From left to right: John and Katelyn from Oikocredit US,
Julie from Oikocredit Canada, and Bryant from Oikocredit International
Welcome home, Katelyn! Can you tell us about your experience attending the international meeting?
The winter meeting was the perfect time to meet and reflect on the changes from the last year and learn more about what’s to come in 2019. The annual report from last year just came out and we’ve seen the member capital portfolio surpass the $1 billion dollar mark, which shows a lot of healthy growth, so it was a very exciting time to meet with staff, members, and volunteers from across the Oikocredit cooperative.
What it was like to visit Ghent, Belgium?
The Belgium support association and staff were incredible hosts and exposed us to so much that Ghent has to offer. We stayed in a several-hundred-year-old abbey. The mayor opened the Fair Trade Conference and we were welcomed by the Bishop of Ghent. Local professional musicians played live music for us. Half of the Fair Trade Conference took place in the Groot Vleeshuis and our final dinner took place in renovated church that now houses a nonprofit. We were fed a vegetarian meal catered by RoofFood - an urban farm that grows all of its food on roofs in Ghent.
What are a few main takeaways you learned?
We learned a lot about the process Oikocredit International uses to choose capacity building projects. To put it simply, when the outflow officers are reviewing potential loans, they do an analysis of the entire business. They look for strengths and weaknesses. From this assessment, they approach the capacity building team at OI about possible capacity building projects that would help the business receiving the loan become stronger.
In the future, Oikocredit International both in the Netherlands and throughout the outflow network will concentrate on reducing organizational complexity. This means improving process, operating model, and the optimum number of officers on the ground for our partners. There will be a more specific focus on our partners in 33 countries.
Can you tell us about the special Fair Trade Conference portion?
The Fair Trade conference was full of cutting-edge research on the topic of cocoa production in the Ivory Coast. About two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in West Africa, with 40% of that production being done in the Ivory Coast. Interestingly, Côte d'Ivoire produces the most cocoa of any country in the world, yet most of the farmers live in poverty and need. Experts presented studies about how cocoa farming could allow farmers in Ivory Coast to earn a living wage. Studies examined current wages and how to optimize wages by tweaking different factors such as increased production per farm plot, farm size, and price paid for cocoa. One of the best aspects of the Fair Trade conference was that cooperative leadership and producers from the Ivory Coast were present to add their perspectives. The academic and industry experts represented different points of view on how to tackle the challenge of cocoa farming and it was useful to have them presented side-by-side.
Looking toward the future, what are you most excited about serving on the Oikocredit US board?
Attending the winter meeting was very inspiring and we’re excited to bring that energy back to Oikocredit US. With the updated strategy, the whole organization is committed to better helping our partners, strengthening our social impact, and reaching more communities in need.
Thank you to Katelyn, and the other participants from Oikocredit International and Oikocredit US, for sharing your experiences and insights from the winter meeting.