Poland's former President Lech Kaczyński (left) shakes hands with Grzegorz Bierecki, WOCCU's second vice chair and CEO of Poland's national credit union association.
MADISON, Wis. — The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) board of directors has unanimously voted to award Lech Kaczyński, the former president of Poland who died with 95 other government officials and their spouses in a tragic airplane crash April 10, the 2010 Distinguished Service Award. The honor, conferred during last week's WOCCU board meeting, recognizes the significant contributions the late statesman made to Poland's credit unions.
"Rarely does a head of state offer the level of support that President Kaczyński did to the credit union movement," said Pete Crear, WOCCU president and CEO. "Poland has one of the world's most successful and progressive credit union systems due largely to the direct involvement, support and friendship of its former president. His tragic death was a loss to all credit unions."
Kaczyński's relationship with credit unions first began in 1989 when he was a direct report to Lech Walesa, the former leader of Poland's Solidarity movement that helped secure the country's freedom from Soviet rule. Kaczyński charged one of his staff members, Grzegorz Bierecki — currently CEO of the National Association of Co-operative Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU) and second vice chair of the WOCCU board — to find U.S. banks that would help Poland stabilize its financial services sector. No bank was interested, but several suggested Bierecki meet with credit unions.
In 1991, WOCCU officials met with members of Solidarity, including Walesa and Kaczyński, the Ministry of Finance and the Catholic Church to examine the role that credit unions could play in helping Poland's financial services development. WOCCU conducted credit union development programs in Poland from 1992-1999, which played a large role in the formation of the vibrant Polish credit union system of today.
Between 1990 and 1991, Kaczyński was supervisory board president of the Foundation for Polish Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions created by WOCCU at the request of the Solidarity movement. Since then Kaczyński, who was a professor of law prior to his political involvement, has been committed to developing and strengthening Poland's financial cooperative movement. He was elected Poland's president in 2005 and continued his vigorous support for Poland's credit unions while in office.
WOCCU's Distinguished Service Award, the international credit union system's highest honor, will be awarded to Kaczyński posthumously in a special presentation at The 1 Credit Union Conference, the jointly hosted conference of WOCCU and Credit Union National Association, its U.S. member. The conference will convene July 11-14 at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., USA.
"Lech Kaczyński was one of the founders of our movement, but his interest in credit union development was not limited to Poland," Bierecki said. "His encouragement resulted in the development of credit unions throughout Central and Eastern Europe. He realized, as we have, that credit unions are schools of democracy and play an important role in a democratic society."
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.