The mentor and Miss K

July 28, 2016
in People

First West’s Lisa Verwolf reflects on hosting credit union leader from Ghana

Every year, they come to Canada from countries like Kenya, Myanmar, the Philippines and Nepal with determination to ma

ke their credit unions back home better for those they serve, employees and members alike. These credit union leaders are participating in the Women’s Mentorship Program developed by the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF).

First West Credit Union’s participation this year saw our Island Savings division hosting Esther Kafui Akumani of Ghana. Esther’s home away from home was the house of First West’s Lisa Verwolf, director of credit process and compliance. We interviewed Lisa about her experience as a host.

Esther Kafui Akumani

- Esther Kafui Akumani -


First West: How did you come to host Esther—or Miss K, as she prefers to be called?

Lisa: I participated in the CCA Women’s Mentorship Program last year, when Island Savings hosted a guest from Uganda. I spent a couple of hours with her—not near enough to get to know someone, but it sparked something in me. I’ve been so blessed to work in the credit union system, I felt I had so much to give back. When the opportunity to host came up, I was in.

FW: What has this experience impressed upon you?

Lisa: A couple of things. It’s reminded me to be intentionally thankful for what we have in this country. And second, that we need a deeper appreciation for having goals, dreams, and aspirations—we underestimate their power. In getting to know Esther and what her life is like, I realized that her goals and dreams motivate her and have helped her to achieve so much. I’m in awe of her dedication to her goals and how she perseveres regardless of any situation. People like Esther are influencing positive change to the culture and its norms, which make progress difficult.

I was also reminded of what a great organization we are. One of my biggest concerns as host was, could we provide real value for Esther? Could we make the most of every opportunity to benefit her, and to learn from her as well? The team at Island Savings stepped up in every way. Everyone from the pres

ident to our receptionist were really co-hosting with me and made Esther feel welcome. They completely embraced her, providing valuable experience for her time after time. It just reaffirmed for me that, as a team, we’re strong and trustworthy and take our responsibilities seriously.

FW: You mentioned that Esther has achieved much. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Lisa: Sure—Esther is the operations manager at Ghana Ports and Harbours Co-operative Credit Union in the city of Takoradi. But what most won’t know is that she has two other jobs. She’s owner-operator of a full-time catering business staffed by 20 people and she owns a taxi service. It’s a one-car operation with one driver, but nonetheless, it’s her business. She’s an amazing person, a true entrepreneurial spirit. And she’s determined. I remember commenting to her that she goes to bed quite early, because she was going to her bedroom at eight or eight-thirty every night. She laughed and told me she wasn’t going to sleep, she was going over her notes from the day, re-writing them, making sure they were clear and flagging anything she needed clarity on—and making action plans to carry out back in Ghana.

FW: What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

Lisa: To be honest, it was humbling. After nine days with Esther and learning about her life, as well as hearing about life in Ghana, I gained a profound respect for Esther and what she has accomplished in her life in spite of the adversity she has faced.

FW: Are there one or two things you feel First West—or Canadian credit unions in general—can take away from your experience with Esther?

Lisa: One thing that stood out is how important our policies, processes and regulations are—we need a greater appreciation for that. We often wish for faster ways to move things along and we sometimes moan about having to “dot our i’s and cross our t’s” on everything, but in many cases, that’s for a very good reason. For example, Esther described some scenarios she’s experienced in Ghana that have huge adjudication and risk implications. It was a great reminder to me of how vital our risk management and regulatory structure is, and how we need to appreciate it.

At the same time, we need to be humble. By comparison to others, we may consider ourselves more advanced or progressive, but there’s room for improvement in everything we do.

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