PANAMA CITY, Panama — Effective lobbying techniques that foster less restrictive and more competitive service environments have proven effective in helping credit unions better serve their members in many countries, especially the United States. Executives from World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL) and the Credit Union Association of New York (CUANY) combined efforts earlier this month to bring some lessons in effective lobbying to credit union and association executives and volunteers from eight Latin American and Caribbean countries.
"Your lobbying success will hinge on presenting a single message in a unified voice that represents the goals of all credit unions in your country," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and COO, to 55 participants in the two-day Panama Advocacy and Lobby Training workshop in Panama City. "By following a ‘one message, one voice' strategy, your credit unions will demonstrate both a strength and solidarity that will make a positive impression on lawmakers and illustrate your commitment and capability to serve your members."
Seminar participants learned to build coalitions and marshal grassroots support for credit union issues, as well as how to craft and present an effective message that emphasizes key benefits of credit union development. Presenters also offered case studies of effective lobbying efforts in the U.S. to participants, who represented credit unions and their organizations in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Puerto Rico.
"Through our WOCCU Panama partnership, we've come to realize that lobbying and regulatory challenges facing credit unions in Panama are common among Latin American countries," said Patrick S. Jury, president and CEO of ICUL, which maintains a relationship with Corporación Fondo de Estabilización y Garantía de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito de Panamá, R.L. (COFEP), Panama's credit union trade group, through WOCCU's International Partnerships Program. "This inaugural Latin American lobbying conference allowed us to focus on common public policy issues that can improve the financial lives of credit union members."
ICUL also joined with COFEP and WOCCU to purchase the first-ever industry-wide ad to appear on behalf of Panama's credit unions in La Prensa, the country's most respected daily newspaper, which was published during the seminar. The ad's headline - "Credit Unions are here to serve YOU" - characterized the "one message, one voice" concept and illustrated the effectiveness of simplicity in reaching out to Panama's consumers nationwide.
Special consideration was given to the importance of ethical lobbying practices, since such efforts are not regulated by law in most Latin American countries to the degree they are in the U.S. Participants also were given specific credit union scenarios and asked to design personalized lobbying initiatives to overcome the challenges in their countries. A panel of presenter-judges, including Mike Lanotte, CUANY senior vice president and general counsel, critiqued the proposed initiaitives, noting strengths and weaknesses in individual plans.
"There was a real need and genuine interest in creating a credit union advocacy program among the countries that participated," said Lanotte, whose league maintains a relationship with Puerto Rico's credit unions. "The workshop created the perfect learning environment for this with its mix of presentations and interactive exercises. Its success was attributable to the commitment and expertise of WOCCU and the Iowa League."
The workshop, which opened with a presentation by Ana Giselle de Vallarino, director of the Panama Cooperative Institute, on the challenges facing cooperatives overall, was deemed a success by participants. Representatives from several participating countries asked for similar presentations that would help bring the advocacy message to their credit unions, and these requests are currently under consideration by workshop organizers.
"The outcome of the conference exceeded our expectations," said ICUL's Jury. "There was a high level of collaboration and idea sharing, with an emphasis on tangible action steps that could be implemented at home on behalf of their own credit unions."
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.