Julie Monaghan Q&A - International Women's Day 2024

Empowering women, defying limits

Julie Monaghan's journey from financial inclusion to Ironman triumphs

Julie Monaghan Q&A - International Women's Day 2024

This month, we are celebrating the extraordinary women who contribute to the heartbeat of Crowe Ireland, highlighting their phenomenal achievements and recognising their contribution to their community.

In this interview, we discover where Julie's passion for financial inclusion is driven from, what inspires her to continue performing at the highest level inside and outside the office, and how she encourages and supports financial inclusion in her role at Crowe.

Tell us about yourself.

Julie Monaghan, Waterford blaa! Loves to travel, runner when not injured, owner of not one but two crazy boxer dogs and just recently rediscovered my love for Sunday hikes in the Comeragh Mountains. Worked for 15 years in the financial services sector in both first and second line of defence and now with Crowe working in the areas of risk management and audit. Recently began my study towards the Certified Internal Auditor qualification.

Why have you been put forward by your colleagues today?

Following the request by colleagues to upload a picture you were proud of for International Women's Day, I uploaded a picture from 2019 of the Ironman Copenhagen finish line and from there I was asked to give some detail about myself.

The initial request also asked for information on something you worked on that involved inclusion and that you were proud of – this led me to think of my trip to Sierra Leone in 2020 where I participated in the ILCU Foundation Volunteer Coaching Programme.

Tell us why you think financial inclusion is so important for women.

1.7 billion adults are unbanked, 56% of all unbanked adults are women and two thirds of unbanked adults have primary education or less. Financial inclusion is for all, but for women it is so important on many levels: it helps grow household savings, promotes investment in education, facilitates business start-up, allows planning for life events and increases agricultural productivity.

Of the 115 Savings and Credit Co-operatives in Ethiopia with over 90,000 members, 51% are female. In Sierra Leone there are 23 credit unions with 14,000 members – 64% are female. An amazing example of work by women is through Jambanjelly Credit Union, Gambia. The community garden here is a collective of 145 women who maintain five hectares of land to grow vegetables. When animals nearly destroyed their community garden, they took a loan from the credit union to regenerate it and to build a fence to protect it. With the vegetables from the garden they support their community, sell extra vegetables to the market, and use the profit to pay their children's school fees. Their next goal is to use a credit union loan to purchase solar panels, allowing them to build a water pump to expand the garden and increase the variety of vegetables they grow.

Through your volunteering work with ILCU Foundation Volunteer Coaching Program, you actively supported financial inclusion for women. Could you tell us about this experience?

Sierra Leone, located in West Africa, is roughly the same size of the island of Ireland. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of over 7 million people and life expectancy of 52 years. During the 1990s it experienced a civil war and in recent years it suffered badly from an outbreak of Ebola. There are 23 credit unions with over 14,000 credit union members in Sierra Leone. The ILCU Foundation provides financial and technical support to ILCUF Ltd who are helping to build up a strong credit union movement and support NACCUA, the representative body for credit unions in Sierra Leone.

I, along with other volunteers from Ireland, spent my first day in Freetown at the ILCUF Ltd office, where we met the local staff and received an overview of the movement and the challenges facing it. Then along with Istau, a credit union development officer with ILCUF Ltd, we travelled to Bo, almost four hours from Freetown, where we undertook a number of visits to rural credit unions. First up was Bo District Teachers' Cooperative Credit Union where we met with staff and credit union members. I spent time with the book-keeper, Daniel Allie, to review the credit union accounts and financials and also met with some of the Board members to discuss suggestions for improving the credit union's operations.

Next was a two-day visit to Pujehun Teachers' Cooperative Credit Union, the journey to which was all on unpaved roads. In Pujehun we provided support to staff and directors and following a review of their operations we made a presentation to the Board highlighting recommendations to implement to help further strengthen the credit union. We also visited the nearby primary school in Pujehun to meet the teachers and the students. Many of the teachers are members of the credit union and they explained how being a credit union member has improved their lives. After four days down-country it was back to Freetown to provide support to urban credit unions, many of which are based around market areas where many of the traders are credit union members. The first visit was to Tawopenah Traders' Cooperative Credit Union. This is the biggest credit union in Sierra Leone and I got to visit their new office. I also visited the UPS Cooperative Credit Union who are also building a new office. No words can describe the sounds, colour, smells and chaos of such a busy bustling market, an unforgettable experience.

All the credit unions are using manual systems, so we reviewed all the operations manually to identify any challenges and make suggestions for improvements. Following the various visits, the next task was to plan a two-day training workshop for credit union staff on the key areas identified from the visits. Fellow volunteers and I facilitated the workshop to provide training on key areas of credit union operations.

The programme came to a close with a visit to the Embassy of Ireland in Freetown where we met with the Ambassador at the time to discuss Ireland's support to the country and the important role of credit unions in addressing financial inclusion.

In your current role with Crowe, how do you encourage and support financial inclusion?

For me today it's highlighting the work of the ILCU Foundation and the supports they provide. However, I will say through consultancy you never know who or when a topic may arise and having completed a Certificate in Fintech Risk and Compliance in 2021 this may be used in the financial services space in the coming years.

You also completed an Ironman last year; how did that feel?

In 2014 I borrowed a wetsuit and a bike and completed a triathlon; I backstroked the swim. This was a day out that spiraled into lifelong friendships, goal-setting, daily training, holidays and so much more. In 2015 Ironman held their first half ironman event in Dublin and I stepped up to this distance. The swim was such a challenge for me and on the day I was one of the last getting out of the water, as close as one could be to the cut-off time. Safe to say I simply survived the day! In 2017 I returned to Dublin to take on the new course at the half distance and with an improved swim I can say I enjoyed my day. With the support of family and friends it was time to move on to the full distance, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. "Train hard, race easy" is true for me and after months of juggling life I'm happy to say this goal was achieved on a rainy day in Copenhagen in August 2019.

As a woman, what would you tell your younger self?

When in doubt, trust your gut!

Finally, who is a woman who inspires you?

Here I have to highlight a great Waterford woman, Dervla Murphy who was gifted a bike and an atlas on her tenth birthday and a few days later decided she would cycle to India. In 1963, at 31, she left her home in Lismore, Co. Waterford and cycled across Europe and Asia to India, armed with her pistol and compass. She wrote her first book, Full Tilt, Ireland to India with a Bicycle following this. A travel writer most certainly worth a read.

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