(Rome, Italy) - The World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) kicked off its inaugural World Credit Union Conference today, headed by new CEO Pete Crear. In his first formal address to the international credit union system as WOCCU's leader, Crear demonstrated the passion for credit unions for which L.R. "Bobby" McVeigh, WOCCU chairman, later praised him. During Crear's briefing on the Present State of the Worldwide Movement, he noted that, though last year's statistics were impressive, "this movement is much more than numbers."
Presenting a short but comprehensive summary of 2004, he highlighted successes such as the immediate aid given to victims of the tsunami and the expanding IRnet program, and challenges such as the competition for donor funding. He also touched on the work in post- conflict nations. His conviction could be felt when he declared that we must not abandon such countries, saying, "though safety is paramount...our ability to affect social change is clear, and so is our responsibility."
Crear wrapped up by issuing a set of challenges, urging audience members to do their part in strengthening the credit union difference—and to start by reaching out to others at the Conference. He stressed his desire to meet as many participants as possible, to gain perspective on the needs of their respective movements and members. "We can meet our goals, but to do this we must work together," concluded Crear.
Monday's keynoter, Sherron Watkins, best known as the Enron whistleblower and a Time Magazine "Person of the Year," spoke to the audience about the need for good governance. She organized her talk around two central questions, the first being how an employee can keep from rationalizing when he or she realizes that something is amiss in the organization or is asked to participate in potentially illegal activity. She stressed that ordinary employees can be caught in a trap of illegality by ignoring their instincts for too long. Her advice on combatting this problem was to apply the "3-M Rule"—to imagine discussing the issue with a respected mentor, a mother, or seeing it in print by the media and to ask oneself if the situation brings about a feeling of shame. If you can say yes to any of the three, don't do it.
Watkins' second question is particularly pertinent to the credit union sector:"How do you make sure that the code of values you have worked so hard to develop—that mission statement—is not just a sheet of paper," Watkins asked. She described how Enron's mission statement was constantly touted even as corruption carried on for years. While describing her personal experience of being caught in the eye of the storm throughout one of the worst corporate scandals in recent history, she painted the picture of a larger corporate environment that has gone bankrupt in the area of moral responsibility. In the United States, she explained, CEO pay is up to 531 times higher than that of an average employee. She quoted Warren Buffett as saying, "corporate reform is alive when we see CEO pay go down."
Despite the outrageous abuses of power Watkins has witnessed and now recounts, her message was hopeful. She preached individual responsibility against passing the buck and groupthink. Instead of blaming the few in power, it is up to us to hold them accountable before the abuses start. "An Enron doesn't happen but for the rationalizations of the many," she said. To stop such crimes "takes us being angry about it—each one of us."
The day continued with a series of eight stimulating break-out sessions, headed by the presidents, vice-presidents and managers of many of the diverse credit unions associations in attendance. There are eight such sessions each day except Wednesday, when there are four. Today's covered topics ranging from "Mounting a Campaign Against Taxation," a talk led by Grzegorz Bierecki, WOCCU director for Poland, and Daniel Mica, CUNA and Affiliates president and CEO; to the popular Best Practices seminar. Both of these sessions, as well as several others, were offered in Spanish.
Other break-out sessions held today included "Mergers: What to Consider Before Taking the Plunge," hosted by Pat Fay, executive manager of the Irish League of Credit Unions and Bob Hoel, executive director of the Filene Research Institute, and "Global Regulatory Trends," hosted by JoAnn Johnson, chair of the National Credit Union Administration and Brandon Khoo, executive general manager of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority.
In the evening, WOCCU Supporters were invited to a special reception in which they visited the Sistine Chapel on a private tour. Every year, WOCCU honors those who have helped them make international development possible. After the official opening day of the packed program, WOCCU and the 1,124 participants in the world's first International Credit Union Conference are enthusiastic to proceed with what is sure to be a memorable four days for all.
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.