“Self-responsible” financial security | UCNA News

Over the past two decades, Zimbabweans have endured unemployment, food shortages and poverty, among other socio-economic challenges.

Fortunately, “the economy is now on the mend”, says Wilson Wizalamu, but a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic “threatens to devastate gains”.

This does not discourage Wizalamu, who has made it his “labor of love and labor of faith” to help Zimbabweans through the Cent-Cent Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCO), which is the equivalent of a credit union in southern Africa.

If his success to date is any indication, Wizalamu will see his Hundred-Hundred dream to be a “SACCO learning, practice and teaching” that is spurring a broad credit union/SACCO movement in the country of 15 million people.

Wizalamu’s journey to the unpaid position of Cent-Cent’s “head of secretariat”, a title analogous to that of CEO, is a remarkable story of selfless dedication.

It starts in 2006 when Wizalamu, then working for a bank, started an MBA program at Open University of Zimbabwe. Her thesis focused on providing services to the unbanked.

Wizalamu’s role in the bank inspired the subject. One of his tasks was to increase market share through competitive analysis. Because around 80% of the Zimbabwean population was unbanked, Wizalamu saw this group as the logical target.

After discovering that banks were only interested in wealthy individuals, he decided to create a SACCO.

In 2014, he recruited 12 people to serve on a SACCO training committee, as required by Zimbabwean law.

Explaining his concept of a digital-only SACCO posed the biggest challenge in getting Cent-Cent regulatory approval in late 2015. Wizalamu believed that this approach “offered an agile and cost-effective way to reach the financially excluded”.

After gaining approval, Cent-Cent opened an office in Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) in March 2016. Although the goal was to eventually operate digitally, “we were doing a lot of our base manually because we couldn’t afford a digital base banking system,” says Wizalamu.

Recruitment of members relied on messaging via WhatsAppas well as traditional word of mouth.

Regular membership shares were $50 and could be paid for over time. This provided access to “productive” loans for start-up and working capital for members’ small businesses, as well as “angel” loans for school fees or health costs.

Wizalamu has obtained several diplomas in credit union studies and is the first participant from the African continent to join the Filene Research InstituteThe i3 program for credit union professionals.

“My hope is to see the credit union/SACCO movement become the main catalyst for all of Zimbabwe’s aspirations,” he says.

Sarah J. Greer