I’ve been finding it difficult to write a whole lot about the work I’m doing. Part of it is because sometimes it seems there is a lot going on, and other times it seems there is nothing. First–That’s my counterpart, Elşən, with me in that picture. He’s the baş mühasib, or head accountant. I think he’s the only accountant.
At my organization, the Araz Kredit İttifaqı, I’ve been introduced to their way of running a credit union at a whirlwind pace. Part of the reason is because I arrived at the end of their fiscal year. That means there’s a lot going on with accounting stuff. Another reason is that I arrived on December 14th, which was one of the last days for collecting loan repayments for the month. At the time, there were representatives from the Credit Implementing Agency in Baku, and this past week there was a new set of reps from there. After the middle of the month, it’s all collections on those late-payers that’s taking place. This isn’t great, since that means there are daily calls that become shouting matches on the phone or in the office. Exciting, really. One time I heard one of the guys say “…I have Aaron here, and he’s from America…” during a shout over the phone. I’m not entirely sure how I was used, but they got their money later that day. I’m hoping whoever that was doesn’t think I’m mean loan repayment enforcer.
Other things are going on, too, at the credit union. The big task for us is really getting them moved from doing their accounting by hand to doing their accounting digitally. Ideally, we could get them to use Microsoft Access, but I’m concerned that they won’t know how to make it work right. I, myself, need a refresher on Access. The alternative is using Excel. This could work, but their spreadsheets will get somewhat unwieldy considering they have about 3-400 members to keep track of. They’re excited to use Excel, but I’d rather take some time and figure out if Access could work better. Hopefully they don’t keep pressuring me to do all of this for them.
There are a few other things going on at the Kredit İttifaqı. First, they want to rewrite their business plan, in both Azerbaijani and English. This is a good project, I think. Looking at what they have, they certainly have good information, so far, but it needs to be expanded. Adding some more bulk to their plan, including projections for the next few years, will be important. Since I am still not fluent in Azerbaijani, evaluating their current document might take some time. The other big issue we’re facing is funding. I’m not entirely clear on what is going on in this area. My counterpart, Elşən, tells me that they will lose their World Bank funding in January. This might be a problem, since the amount of owned capital is really low. Credit unions don’t work here like they do in the US. People don’t have savings accounts or investments with credit unions. It’s really more like a credit-giving organization. Instead of Kredit İttifaqı, I’d rather call it a Kredit Təşkilatı, or organization. They’re business is really just to give out loans and then collect the repayments. The problem, then, is that they have very little of their own capital, besides the membership fees, and they have to be funded from an international source. So when one international source of funding runs out, like our World Bank sponsor, what does an organization do? They get a Peace Corps Volunteer to find funding for them. Awesome.
This is all assuming that the World Bank funding will soon end, which may or may not be true. Elşən seems to think so, but another guy in the office says differently. And the head of the Azerbaijan Credit Union Association, in Baku, made no mention of this issue. Hopefully I’ll get an update soon. Otherwise, I’m going to have to get very good at writing a business plan very fast.