One of the world’s most influential writers, Victor Hugo, once said, “Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” And when it comes to embracing diversity as one of the credit union movement’s guiding principles, not only has its time come, but we risk having the opportunity pass us by if we fail to wholeheartedly embrace it.
Fifteen years ago, the leadership of the Iowa Credit Union League had a vision of how to better serve a rapidly diversifying population. Out of that vision and, in partnership with Warren Morrow, came Coopera, an organization specifically designed to tear down walls and build bridges between credit unions and the Hispanic community.
Since that time, Coopera has reached beyond Iowa’s borders to help credit unions nationwide serve the largest minority population segment in the United States. Ask any of those early adopters today, and it’s clear just how positive the impact of those efforts have been, both for the credit unions and the Hispanic members they serve.
But the past is only prologue to what lies ahead. Even with every credit union’s best intentions, previous efforts to increase diversity may have missed a critical need for representation at the highest levels, including the creation of diverse management teams and boards of directors. Such gap can certainly hinder our best efforts to continue broadening services to an increasingly multicultural membership base. In worst-case scenarios, credit unions run the risk of being less, rather than more inclusive, not only in providing services, but also in their governance and leadership structures. In the end, it is a matter of relevance.
Historically speaking, the global credit union movement has been guided by seven cooperative principles first drafted in 1844 by the Rochdale Society in England. These principles have been revisited over the years by other cooperative groups, but today include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members’ economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.
Although those principles do not specifically use the words diversity, equity and inclusion, each one of them touches on it in one way or another. All seven principles address the power of financial self-determination among members, but do not directly reflect the growing diversity of those members. Perhaps it’s time to make the credit union movement’s commitment more explicit. This is something that CUNA’s board addressed within the last month. It’s time to create leadership structures that better reflect the country’s changing demographics.
There’s been a lot of talk recently among credit union groups and individuals about taking action and making that commitment public. There will be even more conversations in the months to come. Given the current social and political struggles around these issues, credit unions – institutions that have been built on principles, not profits – must revisit, revise and restate those principles in ways that speak specifically to the 21st Century. These efforts start with each of us as individuals.
The Greek philosopher Democritus once said, “A wise man belongs to all cultures, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.” It’s clear the credit union movement was founded by wise men and women based on sound and equitable democratic principles. Let’s take those principles to decisively take the next step and make sure they include every member of our increasingly diverse population who needs and wants to participate equally and inclusively at all levels of their credit union, and, by extension, society.
Now, not later, is the time to act on an important idea whose time truly has come.Leave a comment