Skilled managers for enterprising farmers

“Being both a customer and manager is not easy.”

Trees Vandenbulcke is part of the Cooperative Entrepreneurship team at Cera. Ivo Schrooten works with a KBC management team on commercial, strategic and organisational planning. He recently took a postgraduate course in Cooperative Entrepreneurship and a trainer course at Cera related to good cooperative governance. In May 2019, Trees and Ivo set off as a complementary duo to Madfa Sacco in Uganda.


Thanks to the cooperative

Ivo: “Madfa Sacco is a savings and credit cooperative with which BRS has been working since 2017, through the NGO Trias. The members are mainly local farmers. They grow maize and manioc and keep cattle and goats. Some of them also have other jobs, such as teaching. Thanks to the help of microcredits, these people are not only self-sufficient; they also have something to sell and can save. It means they can send their children to school or build a better house. A huge step forward.”

Farmers in the driving seat

Trees: “As members of the cooperative, these farmers are both customers and owners of Madfa Sacco. A professional team leads the cooperative, but member representatives form the board of directors. They monitor operations and steer the policy and strategy. The proper functioning of the board is a great challenge for many cooperatives because the board members do not always have the necessary experience.”

Ivo: “That is why, at the request of CEO Bob Muzoora, Trees and I gave a training course to this group of directors to equip them better for their role as supervisors and managers. And to delineate this role as well, because being both a customer and a manager is not easy. For example, now and again a board member will want to have a credit application approved because a neighbour asked him to. While that is actually part of the staff’s job.”

Everyone has his or her own responsibility

Trees: “We clarified the separate responsibilities of the board of directors and the professional team using role play. For example, we acted out a scenario in which a family member urged a board member to obtain a higher credit amount than he had been granted. A familiar situation that they acted out with great gusto. The fact that not everyone reacted in the same way led to an informative discussion. We also talked about their task of promoting member participation and their responsibility to help determine the direction of their cooperative.”


Ivo: “To achieve this, it is important that they follow up on the figures. And that they compare them with the financial targets to see if they are going to meet them. They did not make that connection. So, we ran through it together in detail. And contrary to what they thought, the results are not so good.”

Trees: “Solutions must come from the professional team, but the board must critically evaluate the figures. We practised questioning the financial results with them.”

Back to basics

Ivo: “For me, this first BRS assignment was a return to the fundamentals of banking and insurance. In a very different context from ours, but entirely geared to the basic needs of its members and to their situation. Totally fascinating.”

Trees: “I am especially moved time and time again by the courage of these people. They continue to do business, even in difficult circumstances. I was also struck by their concern for the survival of their savings and credits cooperative. They really want to improve their lives with their community.”