MADISON, Wis.—Credit unions' ethical leadership has given them both integrity and strength during the current financial crisis, according to Melvin Edwards, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) chair and representative from the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions to the WOCCU board. But credit unions can gain even greater influence by speaking as a single global body, he adds, supporting credit unions in developing countries and increasing the movement's influence worldwide.
"Credit unions are engines of social and economic development, and too many governments have missed the value of their influence," said Edwards, a native of St. Kitts & Nevis whose two-year term as WOCCU chair concludes in July at WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference in Barcelona, Spain. "Credit unions everywhere need to recognize that we exist as a global movement, and we need to speak in one voice."
Much of the credit unions' strength is based on their financial transparency, not-for-profit cooperative natures and focus on member service, aspects that set them apart from many for-profit financial institutions. Their emphasis on education helps financially strengthen not only the credit unions, but also the members they serve, Edwards said. In the end, credit unions' "people helping people" philosophy enables them to play a vital role in growing the movement in developing countries and in honing individual members' and their own capabilities to weather economic storms like the ongoing global financial crisis.
"We need to invest more, not only in educating ourselves, but also our members, correcting their assumptions about easy credit and refocusing them on increased savings and safe investments," Edwards added. "The more members know about managing their own funds, the easier it will be for them to keep their credit unions safe, accountable and honest."
During Edwards' tenure as chairman, WOCCU has expanded its membership to include 40 systems or institutions representing 69 countries. It has also increased its influence with legislative and regulatory bodies, including the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, International Accounting Standards Board, European Union, Group of 20 (G-20) Nations and others. WOCCU issued a set of International Consumer Protection Principles designed to set member service standards for credit unions around the world last year, and WOCCU's technical development efforts have employed new technology to reach the rural poor in Mexico, a program it hopes to expand to other countries later this year.
In addition to helping WOCCU reach some key milestones, Edwards gained much from a personal standpoint during his 24 months as chair. The lessons learned can benefit all credit union executives who immerse themselves in the global movement.
"I have been very fortunate to see many sides of credit unions worldwide and have kept my ear to the ground in learning to appreciate this beautiful mosaic," he said. "I am now better equipped to appreciate the plurality of many cultures and realize that we all gain strength from the common denominator that is the credit union philosophy."
Edwards also is confident that when he hands the chain of office to his successor at the Barcelona conference, July 26-29, WOCCU will continue gaining speed in its service to credit unions and their members worldwide.
"It's pretty clear that WOCCU has shown its capacity to stand and deliver, giving excellent return for the membership, development and education dollars that credit union organizations, government agencies, credit union participants, donors and private foundations have invested in its efforts," Edwards said. "I know my successor will continue to build on the strengths that were already present when I arrived, and I counsel him to listen closely. The humility of serving in high office will enable him and WOCCU to succeed."
A new WOCCU chairman will be named at the World Credit Union Conference in Barcelona. Learn more about the conference by visiting www.woccu.org/Barcelona09.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.