Calgary, CANADA—The final day of the 2007 World Credit Union Conference featured in-depth discussions on the relevance of credit union principles in today’s world.
The morning kicked off with a glimpse into the joint World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and Canadian Co-operative Association program to strengthen the supervisory capacity of the Uganda Cooperative and Savings Credit Union (UCSCU). In the video, low income credit union members in Uganda explained how credit unions had helped them increase their household incomes and send their children to school. UCSCU Chairman Moses Opio Ogal emphasized the importance of international cooperation when he took stage following the video, a message which resonated with the crowd.
Next, two highly accomplished industry leaders from Poland and the United States discussed how their organizations serve poor members. Kathy Bardswick, President and CEO of the Co-operators Group Limited of Canada, facilitated the discussion.
Grzegorz Bierecki, WOCCU director and President of the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU) in Poland, explained how a simple letter he received as a public official from a credit union volunteer eventually led to the creation of the country’s largest non-bank financial service network. The letter had outlined the credit union model as an effective vehicle for rebuilding a democratic Poland. Bierecki confirmed that credit unions are indeed key pillars of democratic societies because they provide economic freedom, community bonds and ownership of institutions.
In reference to usurious lenders, a topic both speakers broached in talking about their respective countries, Bierecki commented, “We think usury is the strongest enemy of democracy, because it takes away people’s ownership and freedom. If you don’t take a stand for justice and freedom, cooperativeness will cease to exist.”
Bierecki reminded attendees that although credit unions have made great gains in helping people lift themselves out of poverty, much remains to be done.
“Despite all our work, poor people are still being punished just for being poor,” he remarked.
Martin Eakes founded Self-Help Credit Union, which provides housing finance to minority and low income groups who cannot get loans from other financial institutions, right out of grad school in North Carolina. Having grown up in a poor community, he had witnessed how hard people worked just trying to provide for their families. He also knew that if you gave people living in poverty a chance—by giving them a loan— they would do everything they could to pay it back.
One of Self-Help’s borrowers was a woman who spent the first night in her new home staring at the thermostat in gratitude. In the new home, she would not have to heat the house throughout the night with an open oven, as she had in the low-income housing where she had raised her children. She was at peace knowing her grandchildren would be warm and safe in her new home.
“If you have the vision to see a problem, you have the duty to solve it,” Eakes reminded the credit union leaders.
Bierecki and Eakes both drove home the message that credit union leaders need to go beyond providing retail financial services and advocate for policies on the national level to create environments in which members can grow out of poverty. Bierecki talked about how NACSCU had lobbied for greater consumer protection in Poland, even though the consequences may affect the credit unions’ bottom line. And Eakes shared his experience advocating for stricter regulation of usurious finance companies in North Carolina that had been misleading consumers obtaining home loans.
In the afternoon, conference co-host Credit Union Central of Canada presented an interactive members’ forum in which participants shared their experiences and strategies on environmental stewardship in credit unions.
El Consejo Mundial de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito es la asociación gremial y agencia de desarrollo para el sistema internacional de cooperativas de ahorro y crédito. El Consejo Mundial promueve el crecimiento sustentable de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito y otras cooperativas financieras en todo el mundo a fin de facultar a las personas para que mejoren su calidad de vida a través del acceso a servicios financieros asequibles y de alta calidad. El Consejo Mundial realiza esfuerzos de defensa activa en representación del sistema global de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito ante organizaciones internacionales y trabaja con gobiernos nacionales para mejorar la legislación y la regulación. Sus programas de asistencia técnica introducen nuevas herramientas y tecnologías para fortalecer el desempeño financiero de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito y profundizar su alcance comunitario.
El Consejo Mundial ha implementado 290 programas de asistencia técnica en 71 países. A nivel mundial, 57,000 cooperativas de ahorro y crédito en 105 países atienden a 217 millones de personas. Obtenga más información sobre el impacto global del Consejo Mundial en www.woccu.org.