One woman travelled a great distance recently to spend some time on the West Shore.
Esther Kafui Akumani – she likes to be called Miss K – is from Ghana and spent roughly 10 days in Greater Victoria as part of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s Women’s Mentorship Program.
During her time on the Island, she stayed with Langford resident Lisa Verwolf, who is Island Savings’ director of credit process and compliance. The two spent countless hours in different branches, sharing more than just banking procedures.
“We’ve kept her busy,” Verwolf said, laughing.
Akumani spent the week learning about the credit union’s human resource policies, lending policies, marketing strategies, leadership and many other skills employees use in the work place every day.
She was especially blown away with the different ways Canadians can deposit cheques. Verwolf demonstrated how, using some of the different technologies. The next day, Akumani spent some time on the inside to see how they are processed. “Their credit union doesn’t even have an ATM,” Verwolf said. “For us in Canada, we have specific risk management strategies. That was a new thing for her.”
Verwolf noted a recent flood at the West Shore branch caused some superficial damage to the building, but no data was lost. At the credit union where Akumani works, data is stored on site in each computer, so if something such as a fire were to happen, all that data would be lost. Seeing the way it is stored here was a big eye-opener for her.
She was also surprised by how personally employees interact with clients. In Ghana, she noted, you don’t have those meaningful conversations.
“I just love the welcoming attitude of everyone everywhere I go,” Akumani said. “It makes you feel at home.”
In Ghana, she added, there is always a level of authority surrounding superiors that can make them unaccessible. Often, employees have to book appointments just to speak with their bosses.
“I’ve not seen anyone called ‘mister’ or ‘boss.’ It makes you relate.” In her country, she noted, high-ranking company officials always have a title and it is not customary to call someone above you by their first name. She noted it goes a long way in helping employees feel comfortable here in Canada.
After sitting in on a senior leadership meeting her first day here, Akumani noted the personal level of interaction among the group. “After every meeting they talk about who needs help … It makes it one of the skills and tools I will carry back.”
She was often the recipient of hugs when meeting new people, including those higher up in the chain of command. “It makes you feel comfortable to deal with a person.” She said she would be trying to take that approach home with her.
Miss K’s ultimate goal is to take the information she has learned home to help make herself and others around her more successful.
For Verwolf, the exchange has been an opportunity to provide some insight and examples of different ways things can be done. But she noted, “the mentorship is about many different layers, not just work.”
It was also an opportunity for her to “provide Esther with some understanding how we in Canada have that balance of work and family life they are trying to realize in Ghana.” Verwolf pointed to her own home as an example. Her husband often cooks dinner, a fact that surprised Akumani. In Ghana, she said, women traditionally cook the meals and do all of the work inside the home.
She was also surprised to see animals inside Verwolf’s home. “You hardly see that … Normally, we don’t allow them in our room.” Often dogs are only kept as security and cats as a way to control unwanted pests.
Akumani also got a bit of a surprise when out shopping with her mentor. In Ghana, taxes are included in the display price, not afterwards at the till. You also don’t have to pay for bags. Verwolf took the opportunity to explain some of Canada’s recycling policies.
The plan is for Akumani to spend about a month in Canada, spending a little time in different areas before reconvening in Ottawa with 10 other participants in the program. Once there, she and the others will talk about their experiences and develop strategies to implement some of what they have learned back home.
Verwolf’s advice for that part of the exchange was simple: “Make your list and then rank your priorities, because you can’t do it all.”
The experience has given Akumani much.
”They opened my eyes to many things I wouldn’t have dreamed of … I’ve really learned a lot in terms of business and family,” she said. “This has influenced my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”
Verwolf echoed those sentiments.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” she said, adding the staff at Island Savings has really gained some valuable insight from “Miss K.”