“South-South exchange is so enriching”

20 January 2022

Just because no one is travelling doesn’t mean the work stops. This was true in the past year for both BRS and its partner organisations. The collaboration simply continued. For example, BRS organised a series of six webinars on staffing policy for microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Latin America. Mariana Arana, CEO of the Ecuadorian savings and credit cooperative Unión El Ejido, was one of the participants. 

The opportunities of online

“The demand for input on staffing policy came from the Salvadoran MFI AMC. In response, BRS set up a series of webinars and invited all partners from South and Central America to participate. We immediately seized this opportunity to learn online. 

The challenges posed by the pandemic were an additional trigger. We have been doing everything we can for nearly two years not to make anyone redundant. We are paying normal wages, including for those who can’t work or are working less. This is not self-evident, but is part of our commitment to our employees. You sometimes wonder how others are approaching this. 


Of course, this also applies to other staffing policy issues, because there are many challenges. We found it very enriching to hear how other cooperatives deal with this. 

For example, there is great competition in the MFI labour market. Young, recent graduates want to work for us because we offer many opportunities. But employees with experience are harder to find. And hard to keep, because every MFI wants people with practical knowledge, who are immediately involved and profitable. So how we can motivate employees and how we can make their job more attractive are certainly questions we are working on. 

How do you do that? 

In sessions of three hours each, BRS went into more detail on themes such as recruitment, training, corporate culture and evaluations. We were given practical examples and tips. And were especially encouraged to share our own experiences. We exchanged views and knowledge in small groups with MFIs from Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador and Honduras. This South-South exchange is so enriching. Learning from each other makes us more resilient and resistant. 

And so we continue to inspire each other. From now on, we will meet in small groups online every month, and in the spring we will see each other again in a plenary session with BRS. 

We are getting better and better 

In the meantime, we are applying what we have learned. We questioned our staff about their satisfaction and the areas for improvement they can see. The “unambiguity of communication” emerged as an important working point. Because some say this and others that, people sometimes no longer know what’s expected of them. We have immediately appointed an internal communications officer and are now trying to streamline our information. 

This way, we are trying to improve ourselves step by step as a cooperative. And it is paying off. We are growing and getting stronger. Last year, the Ecuadorian classification system for cooperatives rewarded us by granting Unión El Ejido a higher status. 

Where my heart is

That’s important to me. I strongly believe in the power of cooperatives. It’s so rewarding when I see our members develop, start their own business, launch themselves. That’s why I do this work and am pleased to keep doing it. I’ve been working for Unión El Ejido for 27 years now. I recently received an offer to move to the commercial sector, with a higher salary. I said no. I’m staying where my heart is.”