LAS VEGAS — The flags of 60 nations brought participants to their feet during the opening ceremonies of The 1 Credit Union Conference which convened here Sunday. More than 2,800 attendees from those nations gathered at the MGM Grand Hotel for the conference, cosponsored by Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). It was the first time the two trade organizations joined forces to present a major credit union industry event.
Officials from both organizations welcomed participants, stressing the need for greater global unity among credit unions and the inherent strengths offered by the financial cooperative model. Despite significant challenges, the global movement has made great strides during the past year, and the many ways credit unions around the globe define service expands the scope of that work to new levels.
"We in the U.S. marvel at the work credit unions are doing worldwide, especially in countries like Kenya and Afghanistan," Harriet May, president and CEO of GECU of El Paso, Texas and new CUNA chair, said in her welcoming remarks. "The compassion and creativity we see among credit unions around the world is amazing."
There is a need for greater global credit union unity. But that need requires efforts not only on the part of the institution and its trade association, but also from individuals involved in the movement, according to WOCCU Chair Barry Jolette.
"Individuals can and do make a difference," said Jolette, president and CEO of San Mateo Credit Union in Redwood City, Calif. in his welcoming comments. "We are all devoted to helping people and we all do it in unique and different ways no matter where we serve members."
Prior to Sunday afternoon's opening session, WOCCU held several other meetings for various credit union groups, including the second annual Global Women's Leadership Forum, part of WOCCU's Global Women's Leadership Network. More than 90 participants gathered for the day-long forum Sunday - double the attendance at the group's inaugural forum last year at WOCCU's 2009 World Credit Union Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The rapidly growing participation indicates increasing interest in the program designed to foster networking and professional growth for women credit union leaders worldwide, according to network chair Sue Mitchell.
"Women are central players in community development worldwide and if we can increase their ability to connect, we have a very good chance of changing the world," said Mitchell, CEO of consulting firm Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates. "We want credit unions to play a central role in this important effort."
Educational sessions during the forum focused on strategies to cultivate institutional growth and professional development for participants. In addition, Greta Greathouse, the head of WOCCU's development efforts in Haiti, gave a first-hand account of serving credit unions in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Currently, the Global Women's Leadership Network has 85 members representing 21 countries, but Mitchell expects that number will grow to more than 100 as conference attendees sign up to join the network. Sunday's meeting was preceded by a Saturday golf tournament that raised more than US$40,000 to help support network scholarships, she added.
The WOCCU Young Credit Union People (WYCUP) Program also convened Sunday, attracting 57 participants from 15 countries, roughly double the number in attendance at WYCUP's Barcelona program last year. Participants were able to network as well as hear from several educational speakers. Five of the program's nominees will be chosen for all-expenses-paid scholarships to attend the WYCUP 2011 event and WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 1 Credit Union Conference runs through July 14.
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 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.