Lech Wałęsa, former president of Poland, closed the World Credit Union Conference opening ceremonies on Sunday.
GDAŃSK, Poland — Lech Wałęsa, former head of Poland's Solidarity party and the Nobel Peace Prize winner who led his country to freedom from communist suppression, hopes to be the "last of the big revolutionaries" to carry the world into the 21st century. Wałésa, who closed the opening ceremonies at World Council of Credit Unions' World Credit Union Conference here in Gdańsk, called on the global credit union movement to start its own revolution, working at the local level on behalf of its members.
"In order to lead the world into the 21st century, we need to reach for values," Wałésa told a capacity crowd at the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Hall. "There is great service that you can provide in helping us achieve this revolution, and you have already started it by joining us this year in Gdańsk."
Wałésa was one of three dignitaries to welcome conference participants, a crowd of nearly 1,400 attendees from 50 countries. The capacity crowd caused registration to close a week before the conference began on Sunday, July 15.
The traditional International Parade of Flags unfurled to open Sunday's festivities, with the standards of participating countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe giving way to welcoming comments from World Council Chair Manuel Rabines, general manager of Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito del Perú (FENACREP), the trade association serving Peru's credit unions. A credit union revolution begins and ends in its ability to serve members, he said.
"We hope each of you will make a difference in the lives of your members by offering quality services," Rabines said. "We hope that you never forget that this is your reason for being."
World Council Chair Manuel Rabines emphasized credit unions' reason for being during his opening address.
The conference is co-hosted by the National Association of Co-operative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU), Poland's credit union trade group. World Council First Vice Chair Grzegorz Bierecki, NACSCU president and CEO, offered participants a lesson in Polish credit union history, in which the global credit union movement played an integral part.
"Twenty years ago, six young men dedicated themselves to reviving the Polish credit union movement from nothing," Bierecki said. "This year's conference gives us the opportunity to thank so many of you for the help you have given to our credit unions. It is proof that solidarity will prevail."
World Council First Vice Chair Grzegorz Bierecki, NACSCU president and CEO and former member of the Solidarity Party, thanked participants for the help they have given Polish credit unions, which have become some of the most successful in the world.
Prior to Sunday's opening, the conference hosted several other events, including the fourth annual forum sponsored by the Global Women's Leadership Network on Sunday. A total of 70 women credit union leaders from around the globe gathered to network and hear from various speakers, including branding expert Jiao Zhang, partner with the U.S. firm Attune, and international development professional Gabriela Zapata, consultant with the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.
The Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions' Golf Outing on Saturday raised nearly US$100,000 to support the network and World Council programs that benefit women and their families in emerging countries.
Participants in World Council's Young Credit Union People (WYCUP) program also held its networking and educational session Sunday afternoon, the first of several sessions devoted to meeting the needs of credit union professionals and volunteers age 35 years and under. The 37 participants heard from WYCUP alumnus Grzegorz Buczkowski, now president of the Co-operative Savings and Credit Union Mutual Insurance Society in Poland, on leadership challenges and lessons learned with the credit union movement.
The World Credit Union Conference concludes July 18 with a closing reception at the historic Gdańsk shipyards, where the Solidarity movement won Poland's freedom from communism in 1990.
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, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.