World Bank's Center of Excellence on Cooperative Financial Institutions (CoE-CFI)

Blog » Takeaways from Week One - "Cooperative Financial Institutions in Rural Development: Promise and Challenges"

Takeaways from Week One - "Cooperative Financial Institutions in Rural Development: Promise and Challenges"

Created Nov 09 2021, 2:44 PM by Aditya Ashok Balu

Takeaways from Week One
"Cooperative Financial Institutions in Rural Development: Promise and Challenges"

By Anne M. Sivley and Carlos E. Cuevas

What role can cooperative financial institutions play in rural development?
The first week of the CFI International Symposium examined this question through the experiences of practitioners, regulators, and experts from around the world. 

In the opening session, we heard from leaders at the World Bank, Rabo Partnerships, Kenya's SACCO Societies Regulatory Authority (SASRA), and West Africa's Confédération des Institutions Financières (CIF) who spoke of the substantial role CFIs are positioned to play in rural development, and especially in financing agriculture. As Rabo’s Marianne Schoemaker put it “Cooperative financing has historically been at the core of agricultural and rural development.” Panelists highlighted the resilience CFIs have shown with important growth even in Covid-19 times (Peter Njuguna: “SACCOs retained sustained growth double digit … , showing the resilience of CFIs even in the face of pandemic,”)  as well as the  interplay of innovation with CFI principles and structure (Mathieu Soglonou: “Today, thanks to technology, there is a world that is more and more isolated sometimes and cooperatives must strengthen the solidarity aspect.” Jean Pesme of the World Bank summed up the motivating drive of this symposium, “CFIs have played and must continue to play a very significant role in terms of financial inclusion and access to financial services for part of the population which otherwise would be unbanked in particular in rural areas.”

The first technical panel explored the role of CFIs in promoting rural financial inclusion, the challenges they face, and their path forward through examples from three countries: Albania, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Albania experienced a transformative merger of CFIs in the country, and we learned how it impacted their ability to deliver services in rural areas. In Colombia, CFIs play a crucial role in providing financial services to remote rural areas where traditional banks do not go. As President of Fecolfin Enrique Valderrama described, “Whenever there have been crises [in Colombia], cooperatives have been present. Other banking institutions have left quickly whenever there is a grave development in our country and cooperatives have been left as the solo financial institution for small towns and medium sized cities.” Finally, we heard about the challenges presented by the structure of the CFI sector in Ethiopia and current efforts underway to build capacity and update regulatory frameworks. 

Développement International Desjardins (DID) organized the second technical panel, which explored keys to promoting successful and contributive CFIs in rural areas through the examples of Peru, Colombia, and members of the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (ACCU). Across contexts, CFIs are helping their members strengthen capacity and build resilience, especially in the current context of the pandemic. As CEO of the Comultrasan Cooperative Isabel Pinto explained, “Cooperatives have played a fundamental role in helping people survive and thrive during the pandemic. Without these cooperatives, this development would not be present.” The discussion also explored access to capital for CFIs and the tradeoffs of bringing in external investors and financing.


Across the first three sessions, some common themes have emerged: 

  • Role of digital tools in CFIs
  • CFIs and women’s financial inclusion 
  • Prudent regulation and supervision of cooperatives
  • Access to capital for CFIs


The second week of the symposium will explore these themes in more detail through three panel session. Follow the links to register (free) and participate!